Monday, February 11, 2008

care to be an armchair anthropologist with me for the day?

Yesterday, my 12-year old son Ethan explained to me his theory about why so many teenage boys are obsessed with the combat video game Halo. Ethan isn’t allowed to play Halo (or, if I have any say in the matter, even be in the same room while someone else is playing Halo; I think the popularity of the game is a sign of all that is wrong with our society and I’m sickened by the fact that in the first ten weeks after the release of Halo 2, players spent 91 million combined hours playing the game online, but don’t get me started on that rant…).

Anyway, Ethan, the properly brainwashed child that he is, tells me he doesn’t really want to play Halo because it is too violent. The problem is that many of his friends in Junior High think or talk of little else and Ethan sometimes feels a bit “out of it.” Frankly I wish I could shake some sense into those kids and get them to pick up some less dangerous hobbies (playing with matches anyone?) but I’m afraid it’s a lost cause.

So, here’s Ethan’s theory (much paraphrased and simplified; his analysis was far more complex than mine, I promise):

The reason why young boys are attracted to violent combat games is because we have evolved as a species for the hunt. If we still lived out in the wild, boys Ethan’s age would be learning to throw spears or shoot guns. They still have this natural instinct even though our meat now comes wrapped in plastic at the grocery store or rolled in a tortilla at Taco Bell. Halo and similar games give boys a chance to act out in a virtual world their historical roles as young hunters.

I admit he makes an intriguing argument but I still don’t want to believe that there’s anything “natural” about these games or the impact they are having on our culture. If this is a vestige of a human behavior once necessary for survival, I’d like to hope we’ve gotten past it by now. What do you think?

Velazquez, Prince Baltasar Carlos as a hunter
vs. Halo Fighter


An Ordinary Mom said...

I am glad to see there are still mothers out there teaching their children good and upstanding morals. I applaud you and Ethan!

My son is only 3 (well, tomorrow he will be 3) and I fear for the things that will be around 10 years from now vying for his undivided attention. That's why they say, we have to teach them while they are young.

Jenni said...

I think Ethan makes a very good point. Isn't it funny that there are parents who would allow their kids to play Halo but who would completely freak out about their kids going hunting?

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Good point. Comparing my childhood with that of my children, and hearing the stories of my uncle's and my grandpa's childhoods I can't help but long for the freedom that children had in the past (although many were killed at young ages because of their antics). But surely there are other things we can have our children do to direct their hunter sensibilities.

Good for you for not following the herd in a bad pastime.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

I agree with Ethan, but I still hate Halo. It's violence divorced from meaning, violence for violence sake, rather than hunting animals for food or protecting loved ones from predators.

Lawanda said...

Uhhh, yeah. What exactly is Halo Fighter hunting?? That is the scary part of the whole thing to me. Is he hungry? NO. He is aiming that sucker at other people. (Well, other video game people, but you know what I mean.)

I hate video games.

Candace E. Salima said...

I don't know about Halo but I know there are support groups for women whose husbands are addicted to WarCraft. Young men not going on missions because they can't be away from WarCraft. And young men coming home early because they are missing WarCraft too much.

And I think Ethan makes a good point. It's not something I'd thought of. Smart boy.

Inkling said...

I have always thought that sports fulfilled the gap left when hunting became uneccessary. Didn't most sports evolve as practice for battle/hunting anyway? I see NO need for kids to play these kids of games. And I worry when my middle schoolers write their essays as Halo (or other video game) scripts. Still, my ten-year-old is really into Runequest, and I have my doubts about that one too. I have read articles that make a very convincing argument in favor of video games, but I have never read any research in favor of gratuitous violence.

Lisa writes... said...

We have four sons, but no Halo. However we have had guns and swords made from sticks, legos, sandwiches, you name it. I'm thinking Ethan may be on to something.

Sandra said...

No Halo in my home but I do need to make this point. There are people that allow these types of games, but then refuse to allow their sons to enlist in the military because it is too violent! Excuse me? Protecting our freedoms is too violent, but mindless killing is not? And the mind cannot tell what is real and what is fantasy, by the way.

Those children that grew up playing video games and then do enlist, they are better at strategy, using the virtual technology that is available to them, but they are also void of compassion in their decision making.
(fyi, as I said, no alo but 2 Marines and proud of them)

Cakes said...

makes sense if they were wanting to play an elk hunting game, but Let's face it, in Halo they are not looking for food. It's not a matter of survival.

This has more to do with their War Gene and the need to dominate other men.

Luisa Perkins said...

You've clearly taught Ethan principles of clear reasoning; good for both of you.

My boys can't play Halo (or anything like unto it), either.

Shalee said...

Ethan would get along beautifully with The Girl. We've taught ours well that being just like everyone else is not always in their best interest. Surprisingly, The Girl is holding her own and swaying others to her thinking.

For example, when at a sleepover, her host suggested a movie that was PG-13. Knowing that the rating was one that was iffy for us, she told the host's parent that she shouldn't watch it without permission from us. The parent called. I asked a lot of questions about it and we both agreed that it probably wasn't a movie that was appropriate for them. They chose something else instead.

It's hard to get them to understand, but once they do, it's amazing to see where they're going with it!

abrightfuture said...

My boys are only 3 1/2 and 2, but everything becomes a sword or a gune or a wrestling match with them. I can only imagine what it'll be like when they're 13 and 12.

A friend of mine and I were recently discussing an article published in some psychology magazine. The article discussed a study that was done involving 3 and 4 year old children. The children were each given a stick and in the study an overwhelming majority of the boys turned the stick into a sword or gun, while the girls turned theirs into wands or rulers. Hmmmm.

So although my boys won't ever play Halo, I'm with Ethan on his theory.

Jenna Consolo said...

Boy, this is a tough one here. I forbid video games in our house, until I married a man whose favorite hobby is video gaming. We have a no rated T or M rule, but every now and then a T slips through the cracks. No bloody games for sure, though. Your children are old souls, Julie. You seem like a primo mother, and I'm glad you're raising boys who will truly combat the ugliness of the world, in the way that matters.

stay said...

You seem to have a fairly homogeneous reader-base. Allow me to provide an alternative point of view, which will doubtless get me in huge amounts of trouble and bring all sorts of condemnation down on my head.

It's just a game. Like just a movie, or just lego swords, or just cowboys and indians, or just little plastic army men.

Is it mindless violence? If you define any fictional violence in an entertainment media as mindless violence, then sure, I guess so. But boy, you'd better not enjoy another action movie ever again!

And, to pretend a few of those questions were not rhetorical:

What is the guy in Halo fighting? Aliens. It actually is about (fictional) survival of the human species, believe it or not. One of the things that's causing anti-video game craziness in the media lately is that people tend to freak out about stuff without actually knowing anything about it.

Isn't it funny that parents will let their kids play Halo but not hunt or actually kill real people? Keep in mind that playing a game won't actually kill your son, but a real man in the desert with a real gun will.