Commentators frequently blame MMORPGs for an increasing sense of isolation modern life. But virtual worlds are less a cause of that isolation than a response to it. Virtual worlds give back what has been scooped out of modern life. The virtual world is in important ways more authentically human than the real world. It gives us back community, a feeling of competence, and a sense of being an important person whom people depend on.
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Fighting is really, really rewarding. I truly enjoyed it. I got feelings from fighting that were bigger than those I had experienced in almost any other realm of my life. It made me feel awake in a way that I had never been awake. Those kinds of big emotions and big experiences may come with a heavy price tag.
The top fighters spar hard. They're really sparring for two reasons: One is to improve their technique, but the other, which is just as important, is to build endurance, toughness, and courage. They want to practice as realistically as possible so that when they go into a real fight, the transition isn't as jarring.
In an effort to civilize combat sports, authorities mandated padded gloves and instantly made the sports far more savage. Granted, putting gloves on the hands seems like a nice thing to do. If you were being punched in the brain by a powerful man, wouldn't you rather he strap a pillow around his fist? But the glove doesn't do anything to diminish your brain damage.
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I can walk into a gun store in my town and buy military-grade weapons. You'd be shocked by the amount of firepower you can buy - 50 caliber sniper rifles and the same shotguns the Marines carry in Iraq or Afghanistan. It doesn't matter whether I know how to use these things - I can just walk into a store and buy them.
What you do in a fight gym is learn how to be brave. You're learning how to punch and kick in a proper way, of course, but above all else, a fighter is someone who's got courage, who's dead game in a fight. Most guys don't come into the world that way. You learn to be brave through that process of getting your fear and timidity beaten out of you night after night after night.
In boxing, where most of the guys are from lower-class backgrounds and have darker skin than most of the fans, one might fear that the athletes are being exploited. But that narrative doesn't hold up very well in the world of MMA, where 99 percent of fighters are amateurs who will never earn a dime. They aren't seeking fame and fortune. For the most part, these guys are fighting because they want to and because it gives them an opportunity to strive for something big in their lives. It gives them a chance to become their best selves.
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It's an empirical question whether training makes one more or less likely to get in a fight outside the gym. In some ways, I'm probably more likely to get into a fight, because I feel more competent, and I know what it's cost me in the past to back down from fights, and I don't want to feel that way.
In my profession more generally, it's not an exaggeration to say that masculinity is viewed as the root of all evil. If you were to take a literary theory course, you might think it would be about literature, but it's really not. It's about all the various forms of oppression on earth and how we can see them playing out in literary works. And behind all these forms of oppression is a guy.
My reason for arguing against abolishing these types of sports isn't some kind of lofty, philosophical rationale. It's just that I did it and I liked it. It comes down to a libertarian issue for me. I feel that if I know the risks and I want to take them, I should be allowed to do so.
Putting gloves on the fighters was a symbolic change that suggested that we were now making it a civilized sport, and it was no longer this crazy gladiatorial throwback to ancient Rome. It's even in our language: If you want to get serious and violent, what do you do? You "take the gloves off." Bare-fisted is supposedly a much more dangerous way to hit someone. But we've got it completely backward. The glove is a weapon. It massively accentuates the ability of the fist to do harm.
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If I do get a handgun, I can take it to the sheriff's department, and in about as much time as it would take me to order a value meal at Wendy's, they will give me a concealed-carry license. There will be no screening at all to see whether I'm qualified to carry a gun in public - which I absolutely am not. That's one of the reasons I haven't gotten a gun in the first place: I don't know how to use one.
The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness, and coincidence. It is addicted to meaning. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can't.
I have this little neighbor next door. He comes over and tells me about playing Call of Duty, and he's talking about, 'Aw yeah, I slit this guy in the throat and then I stuck a grenade up this guy's ass.' He's describing it in all this detail, and that makes me uncomfortable. I don't think that's good for him.
Fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape.
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Whenever I was confronted in the schoolyard, I found some way to avoid the fight. I ran for it. I backed down. Psychologically and emotionally, that isn't a low-cost course of action for most boys. You avoid a physical beating, but you pay a real social and psychological cost for it. Those moments of walking away from fights, even though I knew it was the rational and civilized thing to do, cost me tremendously.
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Until recently we've only been able to speculate about story's persuasive effects. But over the last several decades psychology has begun a serious study of how story affects the human mind. Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.
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