I was sitting at the bar in my favorite Japanese restaurant just days after 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
It was dinnertime, maybe 6:30, and families could be heard enjoying the antics of the Hibachi chefs in the adjoining dining room. Waiting for a friend to arrive, I watched a college football game on the television.
Then an ad for Far Cry 3 ran at the commercial break.
I was stunned. One of the most unapologetically violent video games I’ve ever played was being featured on television at dinner hour. If I was home, there’s a good chance my kids – five and three –would have seen it. They would have seen people murdered by guns, knives, arrows and explosions. They would have seen pirates – the real kind, not that Disney shit – take hostages for ransom and slavery. Years of pre-screening media to keep my kids away from these things would have turned to ash in 30 seconds because I decided to watch a football game.
It is the inconvenient truth I had denied for years: I cannot shield my children from our violent culture. You can argue whether I should even bother, but you won’t convince me that a five-year-old should see those things. I feel the same way about parents who take toddlers to WWE events.
I say this and often hear, “I did that stuff when I was a kid and I turned out okay.”
“Are you sure about that?”
I like to think that I’m pretty reasonable in this regard, but I’m afraid I’m in the minority. I know too many parents who buy Call of Duty for their eight-year-olds. I quit gaming online because I can’t stand to hear the word “HEADSHOT!” screamed by some middle school punk in California. Some of my daughter’s classmates, age five, were dressed as S.W.A.T. team members carrying plastic guns on Halloween.
I’m not giving up on keeping my kids away from violence, but it seems that my society has already thrown in the towel. And has done so with a smile, not a grimace.
I am writing this from America for a Canadian audience. I don’t know what life is like up there. I know my country – my small part of it – pretty well. I know America’s homicide by gun rate is more than seven times that of Canada’s. We may be at the top of the pile when it comes to private gun ownership, but Canada boasts 24 firearms per 100 people.
Like many countries, Canada devours America’s most violent video games and media. The obvious difference is that Canadians don’t slaughter innocent people as often as we do. I can’t do anything about the prevalence of guns in the world, but I will do everything I can to raise children who won’t slaughter other children.
Far Cry 3 was my favorite game of 2012. I beat it once and immediately started a new game on the hardest setting. Other games are more violent, such as Grand Theft Auto. Its violence is almost cartoonish compared to Jason Brody’s (Far Cry 3’s protagonist), progression from frat boy to assassin. I can’t remember a game that successfully took me from innocent victim to ruthless freedom fighter with such a smooth arc. For an adult, the opportunity to murder my oppressors and liberate my adopted people was thrilling. The level of violence suits the game, and suited me just fine.
But I’m a 40-year-old man. I know the difference between fantasy and wish fulfillment.
I am certain there are children in the world who don’t know that difference that are taking control of Jason Brody right now. They are adept at the stealth takedown, in which Jason stabs an unsuspecting victim through the heart with a knife the size of a crowbar. They are holding their virtual breath to line up headshots with a silenced sniper rifle. And they are listening as a pimp slaps a prostitute in Badtown while Jason is following the Man in White.
This is not appropriate. Children should not be exposed to this kind of violence.
Gun and mental health laws that seem to work in other countries cannot be applied to the United States. We have a problem that goes beyond gun control and a failing mental healthcare system. We have a culture problem in America. I realized this the last time I played Halo online. I didn’t know any of my opponents. Based on the accents I heard through my headset, I asked around and found a few of the guys were from London, a couple from Ireland, and the rest were American. The guys from London and Ireland were polite, funny, and intelligent. The American guys – probably in their early teens – were uniformly racist, homophobic, and ignorant. This story is anecdotal, but if you’re a gamer you know it’s not the exception. We seem to raise assholes in this country. Other countries do it, but we’re the experts.
As a father faced with a culture that will bombard my kids with garbage, I have to fight the fights I can win. I will not raise a couple of ignorant bigots. I will not ignore any signs of mental illness in them or their peers. And I will not break down and let them play Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 because all the kids in school are playing it.
I owe it to my kids to prepare them for the world, and I owe it to the world to prepare it for them.