Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Should I Answer the Call or Hang Up?

While I haven't done so recently, I've certainly played my share of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox.  Time that often should have been spent doing laundry, paying bills, reading or anything other than lying prone on my bed with a headset microphone in front of my mouth, sweating from the stress, was spent playing it online mostly against complete strangers.

It was always done during my free time late at night, however, after my sons were tucked in their beds, preparing for the following day of school and while my wife was still in her last few hours of work.  There are two reasons for this.  First, while video gaming has been and continues to be an important aspect of my life and who I am (I shudder to think what my life would have been like if not for those early year spent with Pong, Combat! and Pitfall), I try not to take away time from my wife and sons to play.

Second and more of a motivational factor in my decision to hide in my room alone late at night to get my fix is the fact that I (my wife) didn't think my (her) sons should be exposed to the violence from the CoD games.  I (again, my wife) thought the intensely realistic gunplay and blood were a bit too much to expose them to just yet at the ages of eight and seven.

But those became the rules in our (my wife's) home.  As I learned early on in my own gaming experience, when you go to another kid's house, you play by the other kid's rules.  Thus, if his parents allowed him to play violent video games you too are allowed to play violent video games.  My sons figured this out pretty quickly as well.  When one of their buddies down the block spoke frequently of his adventures on Call of Duty 3 (a title in the franchise I had never personally played), they became very curious.  When they asked me if they could borrow CoD3 from him to play at home I (glanced at my wife who shook her head, then) answered, "No."

However, this was merely a speed bump in my sons' eventual exposure to the game.  By the next day they had figured out that if they went over to play at their friend's house and played CoD3, then they weren't technically breaking any of our rules.  They had successfully navigated a path to playing the game they so badly wanted to play.  But make no mistake, they did not lose sight of their original goal of playing CoD in their own home.  During a visit to their grandparents' house, they discovered that there existed a copy of CoD3 on the Wii in the basement.

"We've played this game before," they sweetly told my parents, who naturally believed them, caved, and allowed them to play it, telling me after the fact.

I wasn't really upset at all.  "It's just shooting and we allow them to play with Nerf guns at home so what's the difference," I reasoned based on my experience with MW2.  They have done a good job distinguishing the content of video games from real life despite the realistic graphics.  They've watched cartoons without subsequently dropping anvils on one another's heads so I wasn't too concerned that they might go out and procure an M-16 to shoot at each other with.

Then, after a sleepover with my parents, the CoD3 game ended up returning home with them in one of their miniature suitcases.

"I never play it," my father said.

I shrugged, my wife (surprisingly) agreed that since they've been playing it anyway, they might as well be able to play it at home and so it became allowed.  I didn't think anything else about it.

That is until I personally witnessed a level during which an enemy combatant goes hand to hand with the player, attempting to take their rifle from them.  I found myself watching them play the game and as my seven year old did not manage to wrestle his firearm back from his assailant, blood covered the screen.  While I could handle this, the disturbing portion came when the camera view showed the enemy soldier standing over the now injured first-person hero and kick his boot into the hero's face with a sickening crunch.

When it ended, I noticed myself staring at the screen, a mild horror eating away at the lining of my stomach, cringing.  Maybe I (my wife) was right in thinking these war games too intense for them.  Maybe I (my wife...no wait, I) should not have been permissive enough to allow it into my house.

Shortly after the completion of the level, all kids inside the house were kicked outside to play.  I then grabbed a hold of the game disk and box and plan on hiding it away somewhere so my sons can't play it again until I sort out the details.

In the meantime, I will be playing it while they're asleep.  You know, for research purposes.

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