Okay, full disclosure:  I’m not exactly a gamer.  In my house, you’ll find the likes of Skyrim, Call of Duty, and The Sims along with more than one brand of video console, but none of these are mine.  When I was eleven, you see, my mother sat me down in the doctor’s office as my right hand cramped into a seemingly permanent knot, convinced I was experiencing some kind of debilitating vitamin deficiency.  Nope.  It was Atari joystick carpal tunnel.  That was a thing.  And now you understand.  I’ve been on the wagon since 1987, but I’m willing to bail for Meriwether:  An American Epic, a role-playing game-in-development created by Sortasoft LLC designer Joshua DeBonis and writer (and, full disclosure, my friend) Carlos Hernandez.  The two met roughly five years ago via the Board Game Designers Forum in New York City where Hernandez learned of DeBonis’ fascination with the Lewis and Clark expedition and DeBonis learned of Hernandez’s gift for narrative.  Thus the Meriwether wheels were set in motion.  As Meriwether gathers funds from its Kickstarter campaign as well as interest from the likes of The Atlantic Monthly, I asked DeBonis and Hernandez to sit down for a conversation that covered everything from game design to the craft of writing to Borges to Roger Ebert to my eminent retreat from the real world sometime around November of 2013 when Meriwether officially drops.

In kindergarten, I accessorized my “Save The Planet” t-shirt collection and kelly green stirrup leggings with a Fisher Price doctor’s bag. I was going to be a doctor, probably a heart surgeon.  My delighted parents added kindling to the dream by providing me with doctor stuff to play with – a subscription to the Time-Life Science Library, a chem set, and best of all, in fourth grade, a projection microscope.

Video games are better than movies because you can smash a head against a wall instead of passively watching a head get smashed.

I’ve been running through all three Gods of War. The opening sequence and level was insanely epic. Cut through a swathe of undead, ride a titan to the top of Mount Olympus, rip Greek god Poseidon out of a giant water horse crab’s heart, then twist his neck, causing an atomic explosion that raises the ocean.

Epic.

The visual style of the above sequence is similar to Zack Snyder’s 300. Slow motion violence set on Greek battlefields. I love both. I love both film and video games. Recently, however, video games have mounted a serious assault on my free time, leaving DVDs and BluRays in the dust collecting around my TV stand.

I first noticed how involving and cinematic games have become playing the Metal Gear series. By Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3, cut-scenes were the reward for difficult game play. Thirty minute sequences weren’t uncommon, and I relished every minute of them. Top tier games are becoming a hybrid of inventive gameplay and high-end animation – animation that, cut together, forms a film I’d watch even without the interaction.

But I get to interact with it! When Snake, Kratos or Kirby slices the throat of an enemy, I’m the one that chose the exact moment to strike. I’m not going to bother getting into the violence-is-ruining-our-kids debate. Boys are going to enjoy violent books, movies, games and inter-cranial virtual reality holovids forever. What’s exciting is that we’re creating newer, more immersive ways to be entertained, and the previous technologies are informing the new.

Movies got awesome based on their creators’ love of books. Video games are clearly influenced by movies. David Jaffe, creator of God of War, admitted as much in the special features of the game, speaking about the skeletal goons they ripped from claymation Sinbad and Evil Dead films.

It’s nice to know that in the year 3153, when kids are shooting aliens, their entertainment will be linked through inspiration and influence to the games I’m playing now, the books read of old and the cave paintings our ancient ancestors drew of Space Invaders.

Taken from the Introduction of Unsuspecting Souls

Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle created two of history’s most memorable detectives: C. Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes. Detectives so captured the imagination in the nineteenth century that writers borrowed the word sleuth, which originally referred to the dog that did all the nose work, the bloodhound, for that new superhuman, the detective. Those two nineteenth-century sleuths, Dupin and Holmes, came up with solutions for the most intricately plotted crimes—mostly acts of grisly murder. But the greatest crime of the century took place, over a period of time, right under their highly calibrated noses: the slow and deliberate disappearance of the human being.

One summer when I was in my mid-twenties, I visited my friend Jeff in New Mexico. We were going to do some hiking, but all the trails were closed due to extreme fire hazard, so we spent my visit on his couch, playing the video game Grand Theft Auto. Two grown men with master’s degrees, we couldn’t tear ourselves away, so addictive was the action, the anarchy. In what other world could you hijack a city bus and drive it the wrong way through a one-way tunnel, or trick a cop into getting out of his car so you could steal it and be the subject of a high-speed chase?

Three days of this had a noticeable effect. When we drove into town to get dinner, we passed a Porsche, and I thought, “Ooh! Let’s take that one!”

It was a brief impulse, but obviously some neural connections had been formed. I don’t know anything about neural science, but I picture nanoscopic tentacles reaching from one part of the brain to other, from want to take, from aggression to joy, from mayhem to happiness, each bridge strengthened by each robbery, each mauled pedestrian, each electrical pulse.

The Tibetan Buddhism scholar Bob Thurman once suggested that all that consumption of violence, even in the form of entertainment, has a profoundly negative effect on our perception of the world. Media critic George Gerbner came to a similar conclusion in the 1980s. He found that people who watched a lot of TV had wildly inflated notions about the frequency of crime in their cities and the likelihood of personally encountering violence. They were also more likely to think women should stay in the kitchen, and black people and white people shouldn’t mix.

In my youth I watched what in retrospect is way, way too much cable TV, most of it violent. I loved the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Beverly Hills Cop, and Die Hard trilogies, the first two Rambos and Terminators, the two 48 Hours movies, Commando, Bloodsport, American Ninja, Delta Force, even the Timothy Dalton Bond movies. I got a Nintendo when it first came out, and I spent months shooting pixilated ducks out of a pixilated sky with my plugged-in gun two inches from the screen. Maybe that was why, when my friend Bobby came over with his brand-new pellet gun, we immediately went outside and shot a pigeon. Actually, he shot the pigeon. I watched, and even though I’d told him to do it, when I saw the puff of feathers and the bird disappear over the wall, I turned on him: “What’d you do?!”

And there was my lily-white, 60% Jewish tennis camp the summer before seventh grade, when I first heard Eazy-E’s Eazy-Duz-It. What Eazy duz exactly, or did, was rap about armed robbery, “bitches galore,” killing “muthafuckas,” and “sippin’ eight balls.” I had no idea what most of it meant, but it blew my mind. When someone else had the Eazy tape, I listened to Eddie Murphy. He said “fuck” every third word, told stories of his mother throwing shoes at him and getting in fistfights, and he described in great detail what it’d be like to be raped by a “faggot” Mr. T.

Despite all of that, I don’t think of myself as a violent person. My life has been ridiculously peaceful by modern American standards, which puts it in the 99th percentile for most peaceful of all human history. And my instincts tell me it was ridiculous for people to blame Columbine on Marilyn Manson and for Dr. Phil to blame Virginia Tech on video games.

But I also can’t forget that fleeting moment in New Mexico when I wanted to car-jack someone. Or that time, at sleep-away camp, when I threw a kid to the ground and did my best Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka impression, which involved jumping as high as I could into the air and then landing on him with both my knees. His offense? He’d squirted me with a water gun, after I’d told him not to.

There was also the time in eighth-grade P.E. when we were on the field playing Bloodball, a combination of soccer, football and team handball. The coach allowed us to play “aggressive tag,” but not tackle. This kid Andy needlessly knocked my best friend Dougie to the ground. Dougie was very small, and I vowed revenge. While the ball was on the other side and Andy was trotting down the field minding his own business, I came up behind him, got next to him, stuck my leg out and gave him a shove. He slammed facedown, harder than I’d wanted him to, on a rock-hard patch of dirt, and I felt the same mixture of nausea and regret I felt after landing on the kid at camp. Andy looked up at me with shocked eyes, his freckled cheeks burning, and I said, “Maybe now you’ll pick on someone your own size!” like I was some divinely certified karmic repairman. Of course, as the words came out of my mouth, it occurred to me that I was much bigger than him.

Who did I think I was? The Lone Ranger? Zorro? The Fonz? Where did these impulses come from? I don’t know, but the rest of my teenage years were without incident. That might have had something to do with the fact that the other kids were catching up to me in size, and many of them lifted weights and studied martial arts. Also, I played football, and maybe the organized violence satisfied any desire I had to hurt people.

In college I didn’t play any sports, but the significant increase in my drug and alcohol intake left me docile as a lamb. Also, instead of watching movies full of explosions and blood spatter, I read Erasmus, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Dickinson, and Whitman. Eazy-E had long ago been replaced by the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and John Prine.

But sometimes the violence finds you. One night in my senior year I happened to arrive at the front door of my house just as some hooligans from the “hockey house” were hassling my friend Robert, a smallish guy who wore loafers and rolled his own smokes. One of the hockey guys pushed him into some bushes, and the next thing I knew, I’d stepped in front of Robert, and the guy grabbed me, and then he and I were tumbling over some bicycles and thrashing around on the grass. Due to a broken thumb (intramural flag football injury), my right hand was in a cast that stopped just before my elbow. Due to the fact that it was dark outside, I was drunk. When I got to my feet, I just saw shapes. I aimed for the closest one and flung myself at it. He ended up being one of the guy’s friends, and he went down easily enough, but then the guy, or a third guy, was punching me in the back of the head. Then people were pulling us all away from each other, when, just to put an exclamation point on it, I wriggled out of someone’s grip and threw a lumbering right hook with the club that was my cast. It connected with a dull smacking sound against the cheek of — no, not of the guy who’d started it all — but one of the guys who were holding him back. Now this guy wanted to fight. I apologized, and he made gorilla-like noises while he let his friends talk him out of it.

That was the only time I ever hit someone in the face, and it put to rest any notions I harbored about being able to handle myself in a fight. It seems fitting that I fought idiotically, starting a second fight while losing the one already in progress, then using what in court could be considered a deadly weapon, and missing with that weapon the person I was aiming for.

Since then, it’s been smooth sailing, with nothing more confrontational than a “Get the fuck away from me!” to a Manhattan con artist or Amsterdam junkie. Despite that Grand Theft Auto moment, and the occasional, brief revisit of my fantasy of leading a band of guerrilla fighters in a heroic and hopeless revolt against invading Russians (thank you, Red Dawn), I don’t try to solve my problems with violence. Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe it’s the yoga and vegetarianism. Or not owning a TV and not playing video games.

Even now though, I wonder if the negative energy that streamed into my eyes and ears for so many years is still affecting me. I have no desire to hurt anyone or anything, but maybe in a much subtler way I’m giving it all back. “There is no free lunch,” as my high school physics teacher always said. Actions yield reactions. I release the violence I’ve absorbed, not in a killing spree, but over a lifetime, in bits and pieces, arguing with lovers or relatives or customer service representatives, acting cruelly toward smaller or weaker people, cutting people off on the highway, cursing the people who cut me off….

The mythologist Joseph Campbell argued that human beings need to move beyond the notion of tribe — local, racial, religious, socio-economic — and think in terms of the tribe of humanity. Technology has shrunk the planet, provided us with the means to confront the truth that people in the next town, or the next country, or an ocean away, are just as human as we are. We’re making progress on some fronts. I suppose we should be proud of our civilization because we’re playing violent video games instead of going down to the coliseum to see the virgins take on the lions. (Lions: 11,202; Virgins: 0.) Maybe we’ll get our act together in time to avoid burning out in the great climate change, nuclear holocaust, or water and food shortages that await us.

But I doubt it. Our violent instincts are stubborn. They’ve even been naturally selected for, in that if you whacked the other caveman first with your club, he couldn’t whack you. We probably won’t learn to work together, and we’ll continue to bicker with each other even as we destroy our planet.

And every now and then someone will come along, like Jesus, like Martin Luther King, Jr., like John Lennon, and he’ll say, “Hey, we should all be nice to each other.”

And we’ll know what to do with him.