There was a movie back in 1984 named “The Last Starfighter”
In the movie, an arcade game is dropped off ‘accidentally’ at a trailer park in Podunk, California, where a young man living at a trailer park becomes obsessed with the game and beats it.
That night, a mysterious man shows up in a futuristic car looking for ‘whoever beat the game’ – and takes the young man on the journey of his life, where he quickly finds the events depicted in the video game are very real, and the video games is being used as a recruitment tool for a very real war occurring in space – a war he subsequently wins for the ‘good guys’.
In 1985, a book came out called “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.
In the book which was subsequently turned into a movie, a young man named Ender Wiggins is recruited to join his planet’s military and begins his training with video game simulations.
The complexities of the game quickly shift in difficulty from single person to team based gaming – where he finds himself commanding his entire class – and he quickly rises through the ranks of his class becoming the bets of his class – as his instructors ‘look on’ nervously as he approaches the final scenario which is to defeat the bugger home world.
As he and his team are victorious – thinking ‘this win’ will allow them to go into real combat – they learn the cold hard truth:
“The game was real, son, you just defeated the aliens and saved our planet.”
Ender had just single-handedly committed genocide against an entire species and not had any clue what he’d done.
One question I have asked about history has been “How did Hitler manage to convince so many Germans to kill on his behalf in World War 2?”
In researching it, I see there’s mention of animosity repeatedly against the Jewish people, but nothing that would clearly elicit such a harsh response, let alone convince an entire country to systematically commit genocide against 6 million people.
What was I missing?
So I asked the question differently. “How and why did so many Germans convince one man to be their figurehead and leader knowing full well he’d go down in history with infamy?”
In 2011, I went to Beijing to interview with Microsoft’s Research and Development team for a role as Program Manager working on a 3d medically based application with a group of 300 very smart people, leading teams based out of Bangkok, Thailand, Washington DC USA, Seattle, Washington USA, and Beijing, China.
There’s a quite a few reasons I didn’t want the role: Being completely sincere, I didn’t have the leadership experience and personal confidence for a role like this. Second, the primary customer would be the CEO types at hospitals all around China, of which none spoke a lick of English, and I just didn’t feel comfortable not being a Mandarin Chinese speaker providing them the level of service they deserved.
But most interesting – and the final nail in the coffin for my interest was when I inquired about how much Microsoft research was leveraging the games division for their technology.
With so many cutting edge 3d games out that had already ’been there, done that’ for researching the technology the medical applications would use.
The response I received from my lunch partner that day was priceless: “Video Games? Why would we do that?”
I responded with “Wouldn’t it make sense as a business leader to leverage the work of your own company to both reduce costs and increase the chance of your success?”
She shrugged. I don’t think she understood, to be honest.
Microsoft invariably turned me down for that role, a role which had me dreading considering living in Beijing because of the air quality there, and a role which thankfully I didn’t have to decline.
On November 3, 1961 an episode of the television show The Twilight Zone named “It’s a Good Life” aired – which I saw sometime in 1978 – which featured a young boy with the ability to imagine anything he wanted and his thoughts would instantly come true. He didn’t like someone? *boom* they instantly disappear. He blocks tv signals. Causes cars not to work, and transforms his drunk uncle into a Jack in the box.
After Microsoft, I couldn’t help but begin to question technology itself.
There’s a saying “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
And another saying “Any sufficiently advanced intelligence is indistinguishable from God”
In a video game, I can look at a city and stop time for that city and look at the happiness of everyone around.
In a city simulation based video game, I can call for an alien invasion to keep my population from being too self-destructive.
In a war based video game, I can slow down time to individually select my units and put them in the best position possible, and as I am gearing up for war I can speed up time to increase the rate of production.
In a war based video game, I can test out numerous strategies and die, and then reload the same scenario again and again until I find the tactics that let me progress through the game.
In a war based video game, I can scout out my enemies forces, dying in the process, and reload the same scenario again and again remembering where the enemy is until finally, I load the scenario with tactics to guarantee the defeat of my enemy.
And if that wasn’t enough. I could hack the games to give me infinite money, power, and more when I just want to see what happens next.
In a video game I’ve defeated countless dragons, I’ve killed Aries, the God Of War, defeated numerous versions of the Grim Reaper, I’ve killed Medusa more times than I can count.
I’ve decimated A Russian Airport, nuked more worlds than I can count, and won more wars and been successful with more missions than I can remember.
In video games I’ve helped a family have a baby, I’ve helped a man get an education countless times, I’ve acted as leader and President of corporations, nations, deposed dictators, and lost and won against Julius Caesar, Gandhi, even George Washington himself, and more – so much more.
In video games I’ve planted farms, I’ve built roller coasters – and removed sections when I was bored to see the cars fly and people plummet to their death. I’ve piloted plains and even trained for my own pilot’s license, and I’ve even gone back in time and become a historical part of the reason the Vatican reformed after the Crusades.
In video games, I’ve gotten laid and had sex, I’ve gone to strip joints, and have shot more times than I can count. I’ve commanded a quarterback to throw a football, and commanded Wayne Gretsky to shoot for a hat trick.
But as I traveled back from Beijing that weekend.
As I realized.
I was commanding these people.
As I realized.
Science has proven everything is energy.
I had to ask.
Am I commanding real people to kill via energy?
Am I connecting to them as if they are robots displaced by time and space itself?
When I felt the little evil streak creep inside me as I intentionally killed everyone – civilians included – in a Russian airport in the game Call of Duty.
Was this more than a game?
Like the boy playing Last Starfighter, and Ender Wiggins – was Hitler nothing more than a child using a video game controller and computer commanding an Army to kill he thought – was convinced – was fiction?
And what did India – who leveraged the Swastika as a peace symbol and had Gandhi leading a revolution through peace – have to do with Nazi Germany and a world war at the same time?
The funny thing is : the hints had been there throughout my life.
What’s a game to me is very real to others.
As I commanded a Starship I had previously regarded as fiction in space.
300 people in the year 2409 had been assimilated for me by the Borg to command that starship.
As I commanded an assassin which talked to Davinci in the 1500s and became the reason that Da Vinci knew about the future…. I wasn’t aware that the man I’d commanded had been assimilated by beings led by me.
As I massacred countless people an airport in Russia. Chased humans with Terminators. Chased aliens with humans. Helped families grow and live. And both took and created life.
Am I the Borg?
I felt sick inside thinking any of this was at all more than fiction.
I cried a lot at first thinking about the magnitude of it all.
And seeing the evidence.
I took a deep breath.
And decided to take it all as an education in how to be me.
Understanding the decisions I’d been making all along had contrast in themselves. I’d killed thinking it was entertainment and wrote it off as fiction. But later evidence demonstrated those killings may have been real – and may be doing things involuntarily based on my commands – and may be victims of mind control technology.
Which begged the question.
How much of my own life had I been manipulated similarly?
This is the real benefit of leadership training.
That’s what the bible was for me.
Being a leader isn’t about making the easy decisions that everyone’s going to love you for.
It’s about making the decisions that benefit both you and balancing that with those you represent.
And to some. ALL the decisions you make will mean war and death and pain. You cannot avoid that.
Being a leader isn’t about being everything to everyone.
God, you taught me this.
It’s about being something to ourselves, and then letting people choose to follow accordingly without telling them they have to.
God, that’s why I hated church.
I didn’t want to be told to believe.
I wanted to understand why it was my choice to believe.
Being a leader isn’t about suffering and sacrifice.
It’s about teaching yourself and those around you how much you already sacrificed to achieve your position, and to get the hell out of your way or else – respectfully speaking of course.
And finally, being a leader isn’t about weathering the storm of feast and famine, of peace and war.
It’s about being the calm in the middle of the storm. And you are the storm. And you are doing precisely as you dream without apology.
Somewhere in this all.
I came alive.
And realized. God’s not Dead.
The modern day equivalent in a world that desperately needed hope.
A hope I had to provide to myself when no one and nothing else would.