This past Christmas my wife and I visited my family in New York. We had a merry time hanging with the parents, siblings, nephews and in-laws for 10 solid days of Christmas tidings. It was such a successful visit that there was only one notable family argument.
See, my parents bought me an Xbox 360 for Christmas, and, because I am a raging geek, I promptly hooked it up to the TV in their den and flitted on up to Xbox Heaven.
Now, my sister Barbara Jean has two boys: Little Michael, 7, and James the Barbarian, 10. Like most boys their age, they love video games. The minute I hooked up the console, they were bugging me to play. The problem was, the only Xbox games I had were all about death, and screams, and murder, and, worst of all, blood splatter—especially on head shots that, in one particular game, shatter your victim's brains like an M-80 in a can of red paint. The game is called “Call of Duty 4,” but it should be renamed to “I Murdered You in the Face with Lots of Blood Splashing 3: The Sickening.”
Naturally, I said yes.
How could I not? I'm supposed to be the cool uncle from California. You know, the type of uncle who teaches them how to fart with their armpits. The cool uncle from California does not say, “You cannot play these video games because they are too violent.” He says, “Hell yes, boys. Prepare to get wasted.”
So, Little Michael loaded “Call of Duty” into the console and, wouldn't you know it, the little punk lit me up, snorting and chuckling and making bellicose remarks like, “You're so dead now” and “That was soooo easy” as he emptied his clip into my already dead body.
James the Barbarian was getting a kick out of it, too, giggling hysterically every time Michael snuck up and slit my throat with his assassin's blade.
“You're not very good at this, Uncle Ed,” he snickered.
Oh yes, we were having a great time, uncle and nephews together, laughing and bonding and blasting each other's brains out for sport, when my mother walked into the den and witnessed the slaughter.
Keep in mind, The Mother, as we lovingly call her, is a disciplinarian. Not quite the evil matriarch of a V.C. Andrews novel, but she can be quite the hard-ass just the same.
“What is this game rated?” she demanded.
“It's rated ‘M,'” I said.
“What does ‘M' stand for?”
“Um, ‘Mostly acceptable'?” I responded. She stood silent, grim, scowling.
“Would you believe, ‘Mommy approved'?” No response.
“OK, OK,” I conceded. “It's rated ‘M' for ‘Mature.'”
“I do not want them playing this game,” she said, asserting the full weight of her grandmotherian authority. I got mad then. We were having such a good time until the Kapitän of the Fun-Troopers barged in.
“Well, guess what, Mom,” I snapped. “You don't get to decide what they can't play because you're not their mother.”
She stood there for a minute, processing the remark and fuming ever-so-slightly. I thought for sure my gambit would shut her down. But The Mother is an all-pro. She just reached into her matriarchal bag of tricks and pulled out Ol' Reliable, a familiar ploy she used so many times throughout my youth.
“My house, my rules,” she barked.
Bah! Foiled again, Der Mütter, my arch nemesis.
Later that night, I apologized for snapping at her. I did not, however, apologize for playing the game with my nephews. I really didn't see a problem with it. I've always thought that, if I ever had kids of my own, I would allow them to play these types of games. Not often, mind you—I probably wouldn't let them own the game, but for special occasions, like when the Cool Uncle from California comes to town, well, then, yes, I would. Of course, it's easy to be permissive with imaginary kids you don't have, but I've always been of the opinion that when you shield your children too much, it can result in your children becoming, well, too shielded.
But lately, I haven't been so sure.
Upon returning to San Diego, I signed up to Xbox Live and started playing the games online. For those unfamiliar with first-person war games, here's how they work. You join a lobby, choose a weapon class, then spawn into a map where—just as in real life—people from all around the world can shoot, stab or explode each other in all sorts of exciting and fascinating ways.
I prefer the shotgun. It doesn't have any range or accuracy and is generally an inferior weapon choice. However, when you turn the corner of a building and suddenly come face-to-face with WreckerOB or EvilQuint1—man-oh-man, is the shotgun the weapon to have. You just blast one into his teeth and he crumbles to the ground like a Jenga tower made of bloody sausage links.
It scares me how good it feels to do that, like a gooey warm placenta of bliss that envelops my entire body. I imagine it feels similar to what serial killers feel when they kill for real.
I'd be embarrassed to admit this, except that I know I'm not alone. I know this is why millions of people play these games. They're chasing the warm goo. And the more you play, the less you mind or notice that you're tapping into something ugly and profound, that you're tapping into the heart of darkness of mankind—the same darkness that keeps the planet in perpetual war; the same darkness that drives the world's holocausts, tyrants and thugs; the same darkness a child's brain is not developed enough to safely navigate.
This is no treatise for an all-out ban on violent gaming. But I think, at last, I'm starting to see Der Mütter's point. I think my opinion has swayed in her direction. And though I have no say on what games my nephews play, I have made the decision to forbid the imaginary children I don't have from playing these games just as soon as they are born, which will be never. Got something to say? Email us at email@example.com. Or, to blast a cap in Decker's face, search gamertag “Citizen Deck” on Xbox Live.