You mention in your book that Snowden's moral universe was first informed by video games.The thing I just read that made me want to show you that is Nick Gillespie's article in Reason titled "Are Video Games Art?/Why games should be taken as seriously as novels, films, and other forms of creative expression." Gillespie quotes the film critic Roger Ebert: "Video games can never be art," because they "do not raise my hopes for a video game that will deserve my attention long enough to play it. They are, I regret to say, pathetic."
In Hong Kong, Snowden told me that at the heart of most video games is an ordinary individual who sees some serious injustice, right? Like some person who's been kidnapped and you've got to rescue them, or some evil force that has obtained this weapon and you've got to deactivate it or kill them or whatever. And it's all about figuring out ways to empower yourself as an ordinary person, to take on powerful forces in a way that allows you to undermine them in pursuit of some public good. Even if it's really risky or dangerous. That moral narrative at the heart of video games was part of his preadolescence and formed part of his moral understanding of the world and one's obligation as an individual.
Gillespie and Ebert seem to be talking about what is good art, but what I'm concerned about here is the way art affects us, the way minds are formed by the experience of art as an alternative to the experience of living our own lives. Whether the art we consume is good or bad and whether it comes in the form of novels or films or paintings or comics or video games — or holy scripture! — it displaces life in the concrete world where what we do and say has consequences on human beings whose facial expressions we see and who talk back to us and take actions that can benefit or harm us.
Edward Snowden — who acted so drastically to affect millions of people in the real world — acquired his moral structure through the playing of video games. That's important! What is the morality learned from video games? I'm afraid of the new generations that will take on power in the real world based on this particular artificial experience. It's not that I feel good about all those other artificial experiences that inform an individual's morality. But it seems especially dangerous for young minds to develop within such a pervasive sensation of alternate reality.
And yet where are all these young male heroes, deeply imprinted with a grandiose sense of mission and an urgent call to go on a quest for survival or salvation? I'm guessing mostly they're trapped within their games, clamped into virtual reality, and never coming out. That's something else I'm afraid of!