Control(er) Issues

The Cast: Chad (the game guy), Erich (struggling), Myself (surprised), Rawlin (well…).

The year: 1972. The invention: Pong. The world: Changed.

Radio Shack game system, circa 1976. My family had this game system.

We all have those people that come into our lives that affect us, both in good and/or bad ways. I believe that this is God’s way of blessing and/or testing us. He allows us to learn from others or with others—it depends on what we do. I saw a quote, the other day, attributed to Socrates. The “truth” algorithm of Facebook (groan) said it wasn’t his—and took it down—but that doesn’t even matter. The message was good, and I believe it to be something worthwhile and valuable. So here is the not-Socrates quote: Intelligent individuals learn from everything and everyone; average people, from their experiences. The stupid already have all the answers.

There you are. Good stuff right there. And it’s true. If you are smart, you will learn from others. But if your smarter (intelligent), you will soak it all up and learn from everything and everyone. They all have something to teach you—even if it’s: Don’t be like them!

I once had a commander tell me, “Watch and learn from every commander you have. If you like them, and trust them, learn why. What is it that they do? Then use that. If you don’t like them, or don’t trust them, learn why. What is it that they do? Then don’t do that. Take everything good from everyone who leads you. If you do that, you will be the greatest commander of all time.” I’ve never forgotten that advice. I’ve also tried to use it as often as possible. I see the stupid in others and try to avoid it like a plague, but sometimes I make a mistake or two (or more).

What’s all this have to do with Pong? Well, it’s important to understand a couple things: The first being that I have been alive since the first video games, and have been playing them since I was two years old—I am not claiming that I’m a champion, I’m just saying that I understand how to play a video game. The second thing is this, I’m intelligent (reference above quote if you need to).

While attending college, my brother, Rawlin, met Chad. Chad and I also became friends. We played the same table-top games, had similar interests and such. Chad was a great guy (still is). Once he graduated, Chad—for a time—worked for a video game company creating backgrounds, skins for characters, or whatever other artwork was needed. I’ve lost track of all the projects he worked on. One of my favorite ‘Chad’ stories was how he sketched a ‘filler’ image for a game instruction manual and the company liked his ‘filler’ art so much they scrapped the existing cover art and put his in its place (it won awards). Chad is that good. If you want to see more of his stuff go here.

Anyway, Chad would occasionally let me and Rawlin in on some of what the company he was working for was working on. We would get see some of the backgrounds, or characters, that he was helping develop. During one particular visit, Chad showed us a snippet of God of War (the first one). Just a small game segment. It demonstrated the gameplay. He was partially showing off (what was to come) and partially looking for feedback (for what was to come). Now, I’ve been around since Pong (fine, I came a couple years later), as I have already mentioned. I’ve been playing video games since they were invented. Including the amazing Atari 2600.

Atari 2600, September 11, 1977. I played this this system clear through high school. So much fun.

I know video games and video game play. My buddy Erich and I spent hours playing video games (Atari 2600 and the stand-up arcade machines). Quarters weren’t quarters, they were ‘video games’. That’s how we thought. “How much money you got?” “I have 6 video games, and the possibility of two more.” The ‘possibilities’ were nickels and dimes (if you’re gonna do something, be fully dedicated to the cause, man). There was even one time where we played all night and had become literally glued to the floor… Oh, that was fun! But that’s a different story. Back to God of War.

So, Rawlin, Erich, and I were visiting Chad’s office and he was showing us the game segment the company had. It was pretty cool. Rawlin had already seen it and was trying to explain how the interactivity worked. Chad was just standing off to the side, watching. Rawlin took us through the sequence, talked about the objective, and then handed Erich the controller.

Erich had no issues. He was moving along, interacting just fine. He had a few hiccups—come on, it was his first time on a new gameplay on a game that wasn’t even on the market, let alone finished. Overall, Erich was doing fine. As the three of us watched Erich handle the incoming enemies—and trying to enjoy the graphics—he hit a snag. There was this point where he had to move some crates to use as shields from incoming enemy fire. And while the ‘grab’ action was pretty simple, Erich was struggling to pick them up. Not because he couldn’t use the controls, but because the incoming fire was knockin’ him around and he was just trying to find the ‘timing’ of the events. He just needed a moment.

Chad was chuckling, I was snickering, Erich was a little frustrated (but only because he knew he could do it), but my brother… I say ‘but my brother’ because I mean just that. Rawlin was constantly interjecting comments about Erich’s play with phrases like, “Just grab it.” “Not like that.” “No, you just gotta…” “Just…” “Hurry, you just gotta…” “Pickitup!” and things like that. For whatever reason Rawlin was overly agitated. Then what happened next… What happened next will never be forgotten.

We all have those moments that are seared into our memories. Like we may forget how we got to the moment, but the moment… The moment is never forgotten. This was one of those moments.

I can still recall the dilapidated looking sofa Erich was sitting on. I can see the cables running across the floor from the controller to the console (wireless was new and not common, PS2 people!). The only light was coming from the television tube (yes, tube! Not flatscreen, 2004-5 people!). Chad was leaning against the doorframe of the room. Rawlin standing there becoming more and more agitated. Then, it happened.

Erich had maybe been trying to move the crates a few minutes. In real-life, maybe about two–three minutes. In video game life, forever. I exaggerate by a little. It felt like forever (no offense buddy) because of all the action. The enemies hurling debris and flames, the ship rocking, the new controller gameplay, the cheering and encouragement from us, Rawlin’s yelling, the stress of not wanting to die (in-game, in-game only. we didn’t have him hooked up to a death machine if he didn’t win or anything). It was getting tense. And we were getting frustrated. Frustrated for him. For him. Not at him. Well, that’s what Chad and I were doing. Rawlin was apparently at him.

Chad and I were all like, “Aww, man!” “Come on, you can do it this time.” “Oooh, soclose!”

Rawlin was suddenly just, “Gimmie that!” and snatched the controller out of Erich’s hands. No joke. He just reached out and yanked the controller out of Erich’s hands. Erich froze. I froze. Chad froze. Well, our bodies froze, but all three of us had the exact same reaction: Our eyes went big, eyebrows went up, breaths got held, jaws dropped, and we just took turns looking at each other. Chad to me, me to Erich, Chad to Erich, Erich to me, me to Chad, Erich to Chad… We just were riveted to our spots, all sharing the same collective thoughts (done through our eye exchanges), “What the…?!?” What just happened?” “What’d you do?” “I don’t know.” “Why not?” “Well, he’s your friend.” “No, he’s not. He’s my friend’s brother.” “Yeah, he’s your brother.” “What’s up with your brother.” Fortunately, I had an answer for them, and they for me, “I don’t know!”

“That’s how you do it.” What?!? We had been all so temporarily freaked out by what had just occurred that we sort of forgot about the reason we had to be so temporarily freaked out. Rawlin was now completing the video game objective. Politely, we collectively responded with, “Ahh… yeah. I see. Good job.”

Seared! Seared I tell you! Seared into my mind.

Recently Erich shared with me an image of Batman and the Justice League.

It has stayed with me, in my mind, and is pretty much the reason for this post. I understand why. It’s not about being the boss. It’s about control. Batman is not willing to put his life into the hands of others. If they fail, he dies. If he dies, he cannot help people. So, he must remain in control, as much as he can. As often as he can.

In recent years I realized I micro-manage (which I hate doing). Ironically, I despise being micro-managed (because I’m not incompetent!). I do this for the same reasons the comic-book Batmen does it (and I say ‘comic-book’ because we all know I’m Batman): To maintain the illusion of control over my life. I say illusion because that’s what it is. An illusion. I can make choices, but the consequences, I do not get to choose. I want to know how it will end, so I direct and oversee to ensure success. Because failure is not an option. It’s part of an old military mindset/hiccup I maintain: Failure = dead. Because in combat, if you die, you have failed. Or, if you have failed, you are probably dead. Thus, failure. Failure is not an option.

As I have struggled to deal with this need to control and not let go, I think about that night where Rawlin yanked the controler away. When I do, I soften the memory and make it more relevant. I replace my angry brother with a kind and loving God. I replace the forcibly taking away of the controller to willingly giving-up control. Then, I also replace the video game with life. When I do this, I feel a little better. It makes me think about letting God into my life more. Letting him help me out when life gets rough and when I just can’t seem to get the hang of the situation. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still am a little frustrated because I needed help. I want to be able to do it. I don’t think of it as a pride thing—even though it sounds like that’s exactly what it is. It’s not. For me, it’s more of a: I want to show you (God) that you can trust me, that I can follow you, and do what you ask of me.

I think we all need to be a little more willing to hand over the control(er) to God. Let Him into our lives more. Let Him show us how it’s done, and be grateful that He is right there, willing to help. God’s mercy and love for each of us is tremendous and eternal. We are His children. He is amazing. So, next time when you’re feeling frustrated, and upset because you just can’t seem to ‘get the hang of it’ (‘it’ being whatever is happening in your life), take a moment, and turn to your Heavenly Father, let Him guide you. Let Him show you the way. He loves you and wants you to get the high score.

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