Cure for the Common Universe

23656453by Christian McKay Heidicker
Review by KM

I’ll be completely honest; I was furious with this book when I read the back cover while checking it into my branch at the library for this first time. I was furious during the first twenty pages. But things started to get better. I’m left not absolutely loving this book, but definitely not feeling the rage I had when I read the description.

It’s no secret I’m a heavy gamer. I have over a thousand hours clocked on Guild Wars 2 alone, not to mention my hours spent playing BioShock or Portal. I have commissioned art work of my characters. I have the support of an amazing guild (shout out to the wonderful Skritt Kings). Even as I read this book and wrote this review, I was logged into TeamSpeak and listening to my guild play Overwatch.

Summary

Sixteen-year-old Jaxon is being committed to video game rehab…ten minutes after meeting a girl. A living, breathing girl named Serena, who not only laughed at his jokes but actually kinda sorta seemed excited when she agreed to go out with him.

Jaxon’s first date. Ever.

In rehab, Jaxon can’t blast his way through galaxies to reach her. He can’t slash through armies to kiss her sweet lips. Instead, he has four days to earn one million points by learning real-life skills. And he’ll do whatever it takes—lie, cheat, steal, even learn how to cross-stitch—in order to make it to his date.

If all else fails, Jaxon will have to bare his soul to the other teens in treatment, confront his mother’s absence, and maybe admit that it’s more than video games that stand in the way of a real connection.

From a bright new voice in young adult literature comes the story of a young man with a serious case of arrested development—and carpal tunnel syndrome—who is about to discover what real life is all about.

Musings

I have extremely mixed feelings about this book. I loved all of the gaming references. The metaphors were the best thing ever; I kept reading them aloud to my husband. There are some amazing insights made and there is some rocking character development. I guess I just don’t like the way gaming itself is depicted.

I can admit that gaming addiction is real. Back during our freshman year of college, when my husband and I were doing long distance, we’d spend hours playing Guild Wars together and prepping for the release of the second. When I wasn’t online, I was going to classes and getting on the Dean’s list. When he wasn’t online, he was playing Magic: The Gathering, skipping classes, and ended up on academic probation.

But the numbers in this don’t really make sense to me. “You’ve clocked more than two hundred and fifty hours in this past month alone,” Jaxon’s father had said. I can tell you that last Summer, while I was working forty five hours a week, I was clocking in 250 hours on Guild Wars 2 in a month. I do a lot less now, since I’m working on my MLIS and helping run our Summer Reading Program, but I still probably average in a hundred hours each month right now in gaming time (but a lot less in Guild Wars 2, unfortunately. Hope the next expansion actually offers what it advertises.).

While the book explains in some points that gaming itself isn’t the problem, it’s the prioritizing it over everything else that is the issue, I feel like that got lost in the shuffle often. It was buried under all these conversations about how the characters were using gaming to escape reality, to earn fake achievements to give them higher dopamine levels instead of facing the real world. I can say for my guild, despite the fact most of us have legendary weapons and clock a large number of hours each week, we don’t game for those reasons primarily. Most of us have degrees, work full time government positions, and have a giant group chat running through Kik for our lunch breaks. We game for our community. Our relationships aren’t false because they’re built online.

The most brilliant thing that redeems this entire book in my eyes is that, despite being the main character, Jaxon isn’t a hero. I certainly wasn’t rooting for him. He was the guy cursing you out in PvP, the one you ended up reporting for anger issues at the end of the match. When he finally realizes what a fedora-wearing dudebro he is, it is great. There is no immediate resolution over this. Life is a process of growth; you don’t hit a point and deem you’re done growing.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. I loved the references, the lingo, and a lot of line had me cracking up. It was refreshing to have a book where the plot line didn’t end the way I expected it to.

To leave us off, the best quote I have to explain what kind of guy Jaxon is, is from the movie The Social Network:

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