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Utah author’s ‘Cure for the Common Universe’ explores video game rehab

SHARE Utah author’s ‘Cure for the Common Universe’ explores video game rehab

For author Christian McKay Heidicker, finding out his good friend decided to write about zombies was probably the best thing to ever happen to him.

With this discovery, Heidicker could ask to use the friend's other brilliant idea: to write a novel about video game addiction and rehab. And that's where "Cure for the Common Universe" (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $17.99, ages 14 and up) started to take form.

This first novel by Heidicker, a Utah native, features a 16-year-old named Jaxon who gets committed to video game rehab at an extremely inconvenient time. He just set up his first date ever with a girl he met at a car wash.

But to leave the video game rehab center and keep the date, Jaxon has to earn a million points in real-life skills — not just earning points fighting the bad guys on screen and leveling up by saving the princess.

Heidicker decided that to accurately write about video game addiction, he had to put himself in the shoes of the gamer.

"I bought myself a month's vacation and purposely tried to get myself addicted (to video games)," Heidicker said. "I played anything from 'World of Warcraft' to 'Candy Crush' and just played them obsessively throughout writing this book."

The book is swimming with video game references and characters, though Heidicker did admit obsessively playing video games was difficult for him.

"I trained myself, when on a deadline for writing, to become much more gratified when achieving real-world accomplishments, so that's how I'd been and now I had to shun that process and just play video games," Heidicker said.

In addition to the surface-level references to popular video games, the book also explores themes of addiction and "gamifying" life, as well as the positives of playing video games. The reader is left to decide for themselves whether or not video games are good or bad.

"At the end of the day, every single thought that was conveyed in the book is a feeling I've had about video games," Heidicker said. "I think they're amazing and do wonders for people who are looking to gamify their lives and establish steps for which they level up their exercise or accomplishments."

But he also sees the antithesis to that argument.

"I also see it being used as a type of drug for people of all stripes to escape or use it as a cure for loneliness," Heidicker said.

Certainly Jaxon, the main character in the book, feels some of both the positive and negative effects of video games as he works throughout the book to earn enough points to get out of rehab. Though no one has ever achieved that many points that quickly, Jaxon will stop at nothing to be on time for that date, even if it means he has to cut corners a little.

Heidicker created a compelling story and handles words in a way that intrigues the reader, as prevalent from the first line of the book, "I was 16 the first time I made a girl laugh."

He said that line came to him early in the morning.

"I'm pretty sure it was one of those 3 a.m. moments where your brain is perfectly aligning the meaning of everything and just delivers the sentence that if you don't write down right now, right that moment, you'll lose it forever," he said.

His character descriptions drive the book's plot, and readers will find themselves exploring the baser mind of an adolescent teenage boy. Heidicker said this book is, in a way, an opportunity to evaluate his adolescent self and be honest about how adolescent kids are thinking, though sometimes it may be distasteful.

Heidicker has worked as a freelance writer for the last six years, and "Cure for the Common Universe" is his first published book of five books total that he's written. He considers those "failed" books helpful stepping-stones and recently sold his next book "Throw Your Arm Across Your Eyes and Scream" to publish. The title references a quote from the movie "King Kong" when the director told an actress to "throw your arm across your eyes and scream."

"Cure for the Common Universe" contains frequent strong language, moderate references to drugs and a few instances of sexual innuendo. There are also a few mentions of violence and bullying.

Email: toriackerman@gmail.com