Jam of the Week: 'Polish Girl" by Neon Indian.
It's night in the Middle East. Deep within a terrorist compound, I, Sam Fisher, a government secret agent, hang in the rafters under the veil of darkness. A lone terrorist stands guard between me and information that could save thousands of American lives. Undetected by the base's occupants, I am faced with a choice. Do I try and sneak up behind the guard and incapacitate him, with the chance that if he is later found by fellow terrorists that he could compromise my mission, or do I try and shoot him, giving me the safety of range and the security that he will not tell the story of his attacker?
It was at that moment that my dad came downstairs to me playing "Splinter Cell," a video game I played as a young teenager. My dad's footsteps down the stairs spooked me as I lined up my shot, and caused me to miss the guard by inches. As I was quickly cut down in the line of duty, my dad asks me what game I'm playing.
I explained the situation as I reloaded my game to the point prior to my missed shot, as well as the dilemma of whether to beat my obstacles lethally or nonlethally. I told him how I figured lethal was the best option, considering the circumstances, and he responded in a way that I will never forget. He was disappointed with me.
The option between lethal and nonlethal is not exclusive to "Splinter Cell." It goes back to games that were before my time, and continues with a game released yesterday called "Dishonored," which offers similar stealth-focused gameplay. In these games, the nonlethal option is often the harder path, but occasionally offers benefits. That aside, I felt dishonored to hear the negative tone as my dad spoke down to me from the stairs.
At the time, I thought he was completely bogus. These were virtual characters in a setting where my choices didn't truly matter. No Americans would actually be harmed if I didn't find out this terrorist group's plot, and the man I almost shot would not be missed by real family or friends.
"Splinter Cell" had many sequels come out, and I played several of them. It wasn't until I challenged myself to do a nonlethal playthrough of one of those games that my dad's point sunk in. I know he didn't care about the game, he cared about me and what my thoughts were as I played this video game. He made me think about that dichotomy and the importance of human life as I sat on the couch, fingers encrusted with the dust of chips.
I've heard varying accounts from reputable sources on whether video games cause aggression in players. It's not hard to imagine what my stance on free speech and expression, which the supreme court has ruled that video games are, as a journalist. I also know that video game ratings and comprehending some of the virtual situations can be difficult for my elders.
I also think that all of that is less important than the impact of having my dad watch just a small portion of my game and making me think about my actions. Having a parent there to question what I was doing broke up the robotic and calculated actions I took as I progressed through the game. I don't think I've ever properly expressed how my dad's simple act changed how I looked at the game. Maybe if you are a parent and you show the same interest in your child's game, they will have a similar reaction. Maybe your words won't affect your child until later in their life, like they did for me.
What I will say is that I think, regardless of the game, film or other media, your input as an elder is important. It's more important than what anyone else says about it, and I would urge parents to act as a voice of wisdom and guidance for any actions your child takes.