No Extra Lives

While all his friends were learning skills
To gain them wives or pay their bills,
John fought with monsters on a screen,
Got knighted by a game world’s queen,
Amassing troves of digi-treasure
That bought eight bits of gaming pleasure.

But as the habit lasted longer,
John’s dungeon shackles grew much stronger.
His friends moved on and all gained wives
While he sat gaining extra lives—
One-upped by men just half his age
Who’d put in time and earned life’s wage.

One day, much older, John awoke
And felt his electronic yoke:
No friends, no wife, and children none,
His life still stalled at World 1-1.
No princess wishes to be saved
By a gaming hero thus enslaved.

John’s game-themed room now seemed a waste,
An emblem of his time misplaced.
No dragon’s hoard of jewels and gold
Could buy back time and youth he’d sold
For shiny bits of program code—
He wept beside perdition’s road.

But, leaving home and breaking free,
He had no guide for strategy.
The social world seemed too complex
To a man who lived in pixel specks,
And so he ran back home to game,
Never quitting, to his shame.

The moral of this tale in rhyme?
Work while you’re young, don’t waste your time.
Don’t put your life goals off till later;
Shoot down your schedule’s space-invaders,
Or, like our captured gamer guy,
You’ll find your life has passed you by.


Poet’s Notes:

Eight bits: Early video games were run on processors that could only run eight bits (binary digits) per data block; this constraint gave rise to their distinctive graphics and sound effects.

Extra lives: additional chances to play, gained by obtaining certain items or otherwise playing well; also known as “1-ups,” hence the next line.

World 1-1: the first obstacle course in the first themed section of a finite video game using a particular coordinate system.

Strategy guide: a step-by-step manual detailing solutions to a particular video game.



Joshua C. Frank works in the field of statistics and lives near Austin, Texas. His poetry has also been published in the Asahi Haikuist Network.

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23 Responses

  1. Michael Pietrack

    Well played. It’s amazing how much of a time-drain such hobbies can be. If not curtailed, they become a life-drain.

  2. Paul Buchheit

    Very cleverly put together, Joshua. Sad but true for a lot of young (and not-so-young) people.

  3. Paul Freeman

    Though many Pac Men he evaded,
    life was not through games upgraded,
    for by his mum he was upbraided
    when hopes of snotty grand kids faded.

    Just thought I’d add my tuppence worth.

    Thanks for the read, Joshua. Unfortunately this youth addiction to gaming is only getting worse.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Good one, Paul! Your quatrain made me smile.

      It really is getting worse. You can tell from this poem that I was quite the connoisseur of Nintendo games growing up… but I still had lots of time playing with actual, physical toys, and even played with other children. Today’s young people have spent their whole lives in the digital world.

  4. Margaret Coats

    Josh, this is very well done. I, who have never played video games, can understand it without notes (although you needed to put them there). The especially sad part about gaming life, as you rightly say, is that it stalls the player from developing real-life resources. Having heard from one escapee, a recommended approach is to start with physical exercise. Even if running and body building become excessive, they are still better than gaming. And they require discipline that helps the person move on to spiritual life and better performance in work and society. Society, of course, shouldn’t mean social media, but real meetings with friends. I’ll say as well that this is one effective poem where I definitely approve of adding the explicit moral!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you Margaret! I’m glad to know you could understand it without the notes. That’s really helpful advice for someone who wants to quit; hopefully someone will read the poem and want to break the addiction, and then read your comment and see how to break it.

  5. Brian Yapko

    Josh, I agree with all of the above comments — a very fine poem on a surprisingly important subject. Videogame addiction isn’t just for kids and it isn’t just on TV screens. Ten years ago or so I got caught in a Candy Crush loop, spending more and more time on sheer nonsense, getting adrenaline rushes every time I succeeded in passing a level, getting short-tempered if I didn’t and obsessively returning to the game every chance I got. There were no real adverse consequences to me, but I was astonished at how easily I fell into the manufacturers’ trap. It’s insidious, toxic and a massive manipulation: the manufacturers design the games to be as addictive as possible to make money. The best thing to do is to recognize what a waste of time such games are, delete the app (or turn off the set) and get a life. I feel sorry for your captured gaming guy who couldn’t move on. I’m sure there are such people.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Brian! I remember Candy Crush; I ended up getting frustrated with it fairly quickly when I saw what a Sisyphean task it is—you pass one level, and then your “reward” is the privilege of going through an even harder and more maddening one.

      But, yes, those things are addictive; I’ve read some heartbreaking stories about people just like John—many years of their lives taken from them just to make some electronic drug dealers some money. It’s awful.

  6. Julian D. Woodruff

    Excellent and timely, Mr. Frank. But don’t forget: it’s very often a case of
    A “handmaid” wishing to be saved
    From a gaming hero thus enslaved.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Joshua, this is a really fine poem — lucid, fluent, arresting in its images, and right on the mark when it comes to describing the real human cost of being addicted to a computer screen.

    This couplet is particularly memorable, both for its meaning and its rhyme:

    The social world seemed too complex
    To a man who lived in pixel specks…

    I also smiled at this one:

    One-upped by men just half his age
    Who’d put in time and earned life’s wage.

    This couplet (with the excellent and striking verb “one-upped”) shows the advantage of pure monosyllables in making a point succinctly.

    The problem described here is very real. Older persons are baffled by the sight of healthy, vigorous young people sequestered in a room with a screen showing a fantasy world of brainless images, and playing pointless “games.” And when these screen addicts leave the room, what do they do? They hold some little electronic rectangle in their hands, and are fixated on typing messages on it. Are these human beings, or androids?

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you so much, Joe. This is a real compliment from someone with your qualifications, maybe the best compliment I’ve had on my poetry. It means so much to hear this.

  8. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Great and cleverly devised poem to those who truly are wasting their lives on the things that do not matter.

  9. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Josh, this poetic Hilaire Belloc style warning is superb for its smooth flow, its clever and excellent imagery, and most importantly its grave message to all those too busy steeping themselves in fantasy to know the real meaning of life and the gifts it has to offer. When history reveals the harm this materialistic techno-world has wrought, no one will indulge in bytes of an Apple again. This poem needs the widest audience it can get. Very well done, indeed!

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Thank you, Susan. It’s always nice to hear from you. What a compliment it is to hear that this poem needs the widest audience it can get, especially from you. Hopefully the readers will spread it around the world, and it will influence some…

      I love your phrase “the bytes of an Apple.” It makes me think of how the symbol of a bitten apple on all Apple products hearkens back to Adam and Eve. The acceptance of both kinds of apples by mankind has resulted in the banishment of mankind into a much worse world.

  10. Patricia Allred

    Josh, a marvelous write! I’m going to play contrarian here because I think it’s necessary. I have no idea why the media and others make out all children to be idiots who really play games nine hours a day. I don’t understand what they get out of that.. adults do all kinds of weird things, drink drugs, getting drunk, fornicating ,illicit sex, and that’s OK.??
    Let’s not talk about that. However,
    Youngsters can’t play video games really? Be in top honors programs, serve their community, be an honor to the school, and yet they better not be seen near a video game. I know teens who study the Bible online everyday because they love it.
    Well adults use porn sites and gambling sites t
    and we don’t know for how many hours.??
    Children are not going to hell for playing games that’s my opinion. And I can assure you they do not play it for the hours said on TV.. They do community work and chores at home. We paint children like air-headed morons? Not I. Nor the ones . I know !I’m being very contrarian to the other comments, but I do respect them!!I just think it’s hyper exaggerated.. I know too many great teenagers, who are nothing like that. They are going to be good Americans and contributing to this country. And yes, there are some that are hooked on horrible technology.
    The thing is Josh that we adults pretend we’re perfect.I think not.)) I say we are equally addicted in our own way. Brian’s example of Candy Crush is perfect.! And also parents need to be called on the carpet for a horrid job of parenting.. as adults, what about us? Addicts to commenting, texting and cell phones glued to our heads. Parents should parent. They do not…. Not all of them.
    You expressed yourself excellently. Forgive me, but this needed to be said. I think NO human is perfect. I wanted to add they work out at gyms, daily, attend honors classes and love this country. They are star athletes on Varsity teams, lastly, they play, piano, have jobs and astonishingly WRITTE POETRY.
    Enough from me.

    • Joshua C. Frank

      Hi Patricia, thank you for commenting. I’ll address your points individually:

      1. This is not saying all young people are video game addicts. It shows the problems with those who do become video game addicts, and by extension, those who waste their time on anything, be it television, pornography, romance novels (which are really pornography that caters to women’s tastes and is therefore acceptable in an age of feminism), the misnamed “social” media, relationships that go nowhere, or any other addictive vice. I chose video games as an example because I’m familiar with them.

      2. I agree, no human is perfect. That’s why we need to read stuff like this so we can see the damage we’re doing to ourselves with technology addiction in a world that encourages it. I struggle with too much screen time myself. If digital technology were something we smoked or drank, we’d want the government of make it illegal, or at least we’d plead with our younger selves to stay away (I’m indebted to Michael Warren Davis for this point).

      3. People don’t go to Hell for smoking, but no one would argue that this means smoking is a good or healthful habit.

      4. I have taught today’s teenagers, and they are significantly less educated than people my age were at the same grade level. Technology addiction really is a more significant problem in the younger generations. The same Michael Warren Davis gives his shocking testimony as a member of Generation Z (he’s 29 now): https://commonman.substack.com/p/revenge-of-the-real

      It speaks volumes that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both raised their children away from computers.

      • Patricia Allred

        Hi Josh!

        Thank you for clarifying everything. I really appreciate it..
        You are a scholar, poet and stay in touch.
        The children I know at present, never been in a public school .. They have ethics, commitment to theLord, and I see a bright future for them all and have families that see to it they are not
        I will check out the link tomorrow, thank you for hearing me out,
        Keep up your outstanding work

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