Amongst my Rowdy Mom friends, there has been much discussion and debate over video games and said games’ influence on our pre-teen boys. The pervasive, unspoken question is exactly how many hours does it take for a 10-year-old boy engaging in virtual violence to become a homicidal sociopath? Like "how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop,” the answer remains a mystery. The world may never know. Apparently, every child, Tootsie Pop, and homicidal sociopath are different.
Rowdy discussions on electronic entertainment focus on what we did for fun as children, ‘cause we didn’t have Halo Reach, Call of Duty, Gears of War 3, Mortal Kombat, and Kill Zone 3 to play like our vitamin D deficient, muscle-atrophied, vampiric children. It only seems logical that we should coax our children to do the same things that we did for fun as children, because we turned out so great. None the Rowdy moms present as homicidal sociopaths, so I took a little survey…Amy played with baby dolls…how stereotypically sweet. Melanie read inappropriate books…how fitting. Renee rode her bike, and Angel swam and water skied. Debbie, Christie, and Heather did not respond to my survey, so I am making shit up for them. Debbie knitted shawls for the elderly, Christie played hide -n- seek with cute neighborhood boys, and Heather attended save the manatee rallies. I built moss furniture in the pine thicket for my imaginary troll family. Thus far, I am the one that should have the most sociopathic tendencies, given my delusions were present at age seven.
Paying more attention to my son Wesley’s recreational habits, I began to question the influence M rated games had on his elementary school psyche. He began to use terms like “strategic placement” in describing the positioning of the dogs’ food bowls at each end of the kitchen to avoid potential canine conflict. He also referred to searching for the mate to a dirty sock in the chaos under his bed as a reconnaissance mission.
Even though my general approach to raising Wesley is inactive parenting, these new terms peppered into his 10-year old vocabulary gave me pause. I made an exception to my low key style to avoid future holiday celebrations at Central Prison. During Wesley’s next video-gaming binge, I asked my son to take a break before he had a seizure. He responds, “And do what?” Thanks to my Rowdy moms, I had several options. “You could ride your bike, read inappropriate books, or water ski.” I received a flat affect, followed by an eye roll. “Well, we could find some moss and build miniature furniture for make believe Teddy Troll’s family.” “Really, mom? Really?”
I gave up (or gave in), and asked my son Wesley to teach me to play Call of Duty Black Ops. Why not meet the enemy? Dance with the devil? He handed me the X box controller, which resembled an alien death ray gun, I would imagine…if I knew an alien…and he was packing. With multicolored knobs, keys labeled A, B, X, and Y, as well as various other gears, the controller was intimidating, to say the least. When pressed in the right series, keys would signal characters to perform various tasks, ie--standing, jumping, and, yes, selecting a weapon and shooting. Giving the endless sequences, I am sure baking cookies, and playing a sousaphone were probably options. Hell, with the X and Y keys, a baby being made was not out of the question. During my virgin voyage into the synthetic war zone, I couldn’t figure out how to stop shooting my own character’s feet and my health meter glowed red continuously. Obviously, I sucked at the game, so I just watched Wes. I became shamefully proud of Wesley’s gaming abilities, as he mowed down the enemy time and time again. His tactile skills were awe inspiring…perhaps a career as a surgeon? Truthfully, I saw little blood and gore, just random splatters that quickly dissipated. Soon Wes completed the level, and said, “Okay, Mom. I think I will go outside and ride my bike.” Go figure.
I know my childhood experiences and activities shaped who I am today, as will Wesley’s. I do have wonderful memories of growing up in Hooterville (Cousin Beth’s moniker for the geographic area encompassing
’s Lawsonville and North Carolina proper, as well as surrounding boondocks). I remember skipping to my grandparents’ house every weekday after school, making mud pies with Beth, having homemade ice cream on Sunday afternoons, and, yes, playing in mossy pine thickets. But there was a dark side to country living. Truthfully, Hooterville wasn’t exactly rated E for Everyone. Sandy Ridge
Every week or so, there was at least one animal cut, shot, beheaded, or gutted somewhere on the farm. From a partial pig hanging in the old house to various deer draped across the hoods of pick up trucks, carnage inundated our peaceful farm. The stench of death permeated the rural air.
I saw my loving, God-fearing grandmother murder chickens regularly. She wrung their necks, hung upside down on the clothes line, then cut their heads off to let the blood drain from their bodies. As far as assassin skill sets, I would put Grandma Hall up against Black Ops’ Alex Mason any day. Actually, Grandma would be the premiere protagonist in a farm-based video game, the description of which would go something like this….
Hooterville Granny’s Poultry Massacre is a first-person game of farming mayhem. The player assumes the role of Grandma Mae Overby-Hall who can wield various weapons, of which two at a time can be carried; throw machetes, butcher knives, and pocket knives; and use other equipment, ie--a butter churn handle, tobacco stick, and a hoe as weapons. A player close enough to gilded swine can kill with one knife stick. The character can take three stances: standing (when dressing rabbits, canning at the stove), crouching (when slopping pigs, hoeing in the garden, collecting eggs from the hen house), or prone (when storing sweet potatoes under the bed for winter). Each affects rate of movement, accuracy, and stealth. The player can dive prone from a standing position when running after domestic fowl. The player can momentarily sprint but will then grow tired. The screen glows red to indicate damage to a player's health, which goes away after eating biscuits and rabbit gravy. When the character is within the stench radius of live swine, a marker indicates the direction of the pig next up for slaughter, helping the player effectively hurtle over the sty fence, wade through
6” feces, approach beast from behind, and slit its throat. (Rubber boots are an optional, yet prized feature unlocked after achieving level 5 status). Among the game's weapons are crossbows, a .22, a plow head, and ballistic knives, gut buckets, and the most powerful weapon, Old Testament scriptures from the King James Version of The Bible. Unfortunately, the game does not allow players to turn down the blood to suit their needs. There is no profanity used in Hooterville, ‘cause that just ain’t right.
So, is it so important that our kids have similar childhood experiences as we did to turn out as great as us? Naw. We just need balanced experiences: A little virtual blood splatter, a bicycle ride around the neighborhood; a few murdered chickens, constructing a lichen divan. Whether backwoods or virtual, brutality must be countered with humanity…or at the very least, a Tootsie Pop. Wow, that’s a little deep for the Ballerina.