Monday, October 8, 2012

When the Game Gets Real

Insignia (Insignia Trilogy)
I hear adults complain all the time about kids playing video games. But what if the world's safety rested in the hands of kids who were essentially gamers, but who were given control of military space ships fighting an interstellar World War? Would you want to pry them off the couch then? Or would you recognize their skills for what they are: soldiers on the front like. S.J. Kincaid takes teens and makes them heros (and villains) in Insignia.

Tom Raines doesn't live your normal life. An invested gamer with an addicted gambler for a father means he bounces from city to city with nothing in the way of stability except his Virtual reality games. His mom left his deadbeat dad for a corporate snake, and on a larger scale, the world in embroiled in an war fought in the stars and controlled by private companies. The times of governments fighting governments and ravaging Earth's precious resources are gone, but the war in space still has its casualties. With the world split in two, companies controlling the world will stop at nothing to win, even if that means implanting computers in the brains of teenagers.

Tom has watched the space war rage on, but he never thought he'd ever have a chance at getting to know Camelot Company from the inside. When he is recruited to join the ranks, he sees it as his one ticket out of his pathetic nomadic life. What he doesn't expect is to become part computer and be transformed into a super human. Add to that the ability to actually make friends and the government becomes the driving force that Tom needed to change his life around. But he is different from his fellow plebes. They are all decorated with special achievement after special achievement, so why is Tom, poor, achievement-less Tom, here in the first place? And how far are these companies willing to go to win this war?

As we, as a society, become more and more "teched-in" we find ourselves trying to juggle the world we once lived in compared to the world we currently live in. Teachers complain about video games the same way teachers when I was young complained about comic books as source of "intellectual decay" amongst our children (ironic if you think about how socially accepted comics and graphic novels have become by now!). And it is no secret that many of our kids love to play video games, so how do we navigate this new plugged in world? We start iPad programs and use apps for "educational" games (because those are deemed acceptable). We have teacher websites and communicate with parents via email and use our SMART Boards. If we have recognized the need to be tech-savvy, why to we begrudge our students the opportunity to play their video games for entertainment? Well, Kincaid wasn't afraid to ask those tough questions in this book.

Insignia isn't just a fun a science fiction novel. It was also an examination into the high-tech lives we lead. How far is too far when it involves our children and technology? Are video games ok? iPads as a means to keep your kids occupied when you need them to be quiet? Video games? Installing super processors in their brains to help fight our wars? We know that is wrong, but it is also hard to find the exact line where we reach too much technology. By using an extreme example like making teens into super-soldiers, Kincaid has invited us to have this conversation, and I can guarantee you it is one children and adults alike will speak of with strong opinions. 

As a non-gamer (barring a small college obsession with Snood and Tetris) who is married to a gamer (I so dread the new World of Warcraft expansions), I can see the constant struggle between generations who have never enjoyed video games and generations who do. Like any generational gap, there is tension and people don't see eye to eye. That is the reason I liked this book as much as I did. If you took out the tech and war and "cyborg" effect, you have a simple story about a boy who has never fit in until he found his purpose. Sound familiar? I bet it does, as it is an age old story told in an infinite amount of ways. But that doesn't make this story trite, by far. Instead, it is retold in a way that will get your video-game playing children reading and engaged. The characters are relatable and the story is familiar, but the message is modernly universal. So, ask yourself. How much technology is too much?

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