Sunday, February 22, 2009

Winning every game

[photo: Fantastic Worlds]
My poor grandson Otto. We are all trying to help him grow up and not kill himself in some idiot teenage thing. He is nine now, and he takes it pretty well. Yes, he knew what's happened to Michael Phelps. One foolish moment, suspended three months. When you're famous, you can't relax and be stupid like other people.

I haven't talked to him about A-Rod, the new worst case. If I did, I'd ask him, "There was A- Rod, on top of his game, more money than he could ever need, why did he take those drugs?"

Otto would answer with his usual simplicity, "He wanted to win." That would be totally self-explanatory to him. You want to win. Recently I talked to him after his team lost a game. I said, "It wouldn't be any fun if you won all the time." I could feel the scepticism over the phone line.

I'd like him to talk to my friend James. He belongs to a board-game club that draws over a hundred people to its meetings (yes, in this day and age). He told me that when he plays with three other people, he shouldn't win more than one-quarter of the time. "If I did, it would mean I'm not being challenged. It would be boring."

I mentally contrasted this refreshing point of view with another friend's conviction that there's a lot wrong with this world, that being, sickness, old age, and death; loss, suffering. He doesn't want to be in pain, or get old, or die; or have anyone else die.

"You want there not to be aging?" I asked, trying to understand.


"You want to live forever?"

"Yes, why not? I could have designed a better world."

Well, if he does, I don't want to go there. I mean, all those people trying to find some new hobby to get them through eternity. Knitting would get old. Exploring the Amazon river would get old if nothing could kill you. Imagine the family reunions, everyone still alive, including Uncle Jack. And if your ancestors are hanging around, people have to stop having babies, unless you're going to routinely ship the overflow into space. You'd have to have a lot of viable planets, but I guess a designer god could arrange that.

If I were working this into a science fiction plot, I'd open with the moment when some convenient plague bestows eternal youth on this planet, and watch the economy rearrange itself. What we are going through now is nothing in comparison. Medical care as we know it would collapse. Serial marriage would become standard; in a couple hundred years you've pretty much exhausted another person's intimate possibilities. Yet, getting married to someone new, that would get old too after a couple dozen times, for most of us at least. In fact, boredom would be the overriding problem, just as it was when we had all that affluenza. And when would you get to stop working on yourself, to decide you'll never be perfect?

This plot is refining itself as I write. I think I'd make it a short story. Two scientists talking late at night - they have just discovered this magical virus or unlocked the DNA, whatever. There it is, it's all possible. They're thinking about what it will mean. Are they going to unleash it on the world?

I don't know. But I know what to get my friend for Christmas (see photo).

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