I've been struggling lately - trying to explain and rationalize to my son (who will soon be eight years old) just why toy guns and video games can be bad things. It's usually about this time - twilight and before bed time - that I usually sit down in front of my computer and start playing "Civilization." It's my time-sink of choice; a way to unwind after a day of herding cats as I move the Aztecs or the Mongols toward eventual world domination. I like to kid myself that there is nothing visceral about what I am doing. I'm just moving bits and bytes around and trying to keep the culture I'm creating from turning into a corrupt military industrial complex. Then I get to the point that my science advisors suggest the Manhattan Project. It takes just a few turns, and before you know it: ICBMs. Just like that. If somebody comes and starts messing with me after that, it's nuke city for those bad boys!
I digress. I found out the other day that my son had been playing "Grand Theft Auto" over at a friend's house. I told him I didn't want him to do that anymore, since that game wasn't rated "E" for everybody. I'm not even sure what it is rated, but it started making me extremely agitated to think that my son was careening about a virtual Los Angeles in a Humvee, looking for virtual trouble. Am I worried about the effect the game will have on my son? I must be, since I felt compelled to tell him this story:
A few years back, at a high school in Colorado, some very confused boys brought a bunch of guns and some bombs and tried to make a video game in real life. These boys played violent video games. They listened to scary music. They went bowling before they did this bad thing. Video games didn't make them do this stupid thing. Scary music didn't make them do this very stupid thing. Bowling probably didn't make the stupid thing happen either. But a bunch of people died. One of them was a teacher. I came home that day and took "Doom" off my computer. I don't think playing "Doom" was going to make me want to hurt anybody - but it made me feel like I did something. I still have the Marilyn Manson songs on my MP3 player.
So here I am, tonight, not launching nuclear warheads into unsuspecting and "more backward" countries on my computer. I'm thinking about my son's ninth birthday - and his nineteenth. What little fences will I be putting up when he is sixteen? I think he gets it already. Dylan and Eric didn't.