The following was printed (The Boise Weekly) on January 15, 2003
My family has been very fortunate. Very fortunate, indeed. We’ve managed to get through the last decade with what has to be a magical combination of blessings: 1) a kid in the house, and 2) no video games in the house. (Admittedly, my little Mac has an old solitaire game tucked away somewhere in there, but that doesn’t count. It hasn’t been used for so long that by now, I imagine it’s forgotten how to play.)
I can’t say my daughter made it through her childhood un-tainted. Heavens, no. We frequent certain public places where virtual entertainment is widely available to anyone with the proper coinage, and I don’t have to tell you how tough it is to steer a youngster past a bank of those big, seductive, wide-eyed machines, do I?
“Dad, can I have a quarter?”
“Sorry, Hon, I don’t have any quarters.”
“You do too. When you bought those cigarettes, you got two quarters back. I saw them.”
“You’re right, Sweetheart. I did have two quarters, but they fell through a hole in my pocket and rolled down a heating grate. You didn’t see that part, did you?”
“You’re lying, Dad. Now can I have a quarter?”
Well of course I gave her a quarter. Hundreds of quarters. How could I not? I love her. I want her to be happy. I want her to have a better life than her fore-bearers. I want her to feel comfortable with her times and experience her generation from the inside out rather than merely observe it from a distance. I don’t want her to be an unfulfilled spirit, disembodied from the zeitgeist of her cultural gestalt. I want her to be Isadora Duncan, Zelda Fitzgerald, Bianca Jagger … J-Lo. I want no wallflower misfits in my house. I want her to live life to the fullest … to jump in with both feet and come up independent, brilliant and laughing her pretty head off. Not that I’m going to let her leave home at 15 and follow Phish around the country. But hey, it was just a few hundred quarters.
Then she asked for a video game for Christmas—something called The Sims—and I thought whattheheck! I got it for her. Really, she might have asked to have her nose pierced, so I figure I got off easy. It’s a harmless game, I think. There are no beheadings, no mass slaughter of Ninja thugees, no reptilian aliens ripping the spinal columns from corpses, no dungeons, no dragons. All the game amounts to (I think) is that my daughter makes up a family and provides them with the elements of a normal life. It’s like playing dolls, only with a virtual infinity of options. She can choose their ages and what color hair they each have. She sees to it if there are a dozen kids in the family, or an only child. She picks their clothes for them, their neighbors for them and their jobs for them. She decides on the house they’ll live in, then decides on the furnishings. If they have a pool, it’s what my kid wants them to have. If they have a yellow sofa instead of a green sofa, same thing. She determines if they are individually messy or neat, out-going or shy, nasty or nice. She is master of their destinies. She even decides how often they go to the bathroom. In fact, as near as I can tell, the only option that is not available to my daughter as she manipulates her simulated family, is that they become Iraqis. Ma and Pa bin Sims and children, going about their normal lives in Bagdad, with but a few weeks to live.
* * *
Oh golly, that just sort of slipped out. So sorry. Believe me, I sure didn’t set out here to talk about how young Iraqi girls are on the verge of being splattered all over ancient Mesopotamia any time one of those GPS-guided smart bombs of ours goes Edsel on us. Gracious, no. I only meant to relate how much fun my daughter is having with her new video game. You know ? … one of those “Mercy me, look what young’uns are up to these days!” kind of stories. So let’s get back to that, okie-dokie ? And forget I said anything about how thousands and thousands of innocents will likely be blown to bits soon because a few guys in Washington are just itching to try out a new game plan.
* * *
So I say to my daughter, “What’s so fun about making a normal, made-up family do normal, made-up things on a computer for hours at a time, Honey?”
“Shush, Dad! I’m trying to figure out how to make Bobby Sims talk his mom into buying him a Nintendo. You’re messing up my concentration.”
Aaah, what a wonderful father am I. My efforts to move my child into the zeitgeist of her cultural gestalt have been a resounding success. No longer will she be sitting on the sidelines, watching her generation sitting at a computer. She’s a first-stringer now, relishing every program command, savoring every jiggle of the joystick.
And just think of the future before her! I envision a time when every possible scenario, from a girl’s first love to a reasonable Mid-East policy, is honed to perfection in cyber simulation. When people can build upon their dreams and/or their battle plans, pixel by pixel, then transfer it to a CD-ROM for later editing. When we techno-blest Americans can populate our imaginations with nothing but options for our personal, virtual fulfillment. When troublesome people, troublesome thoughts, even entire troublesome nations, can simply be deleted with but another jiggle of the joystick.
January 15, 2003