Dear U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander,
You are concerned about the effect of violent video games on children, so I wanted to explain.
I am the person who keeps you awake in the night. I am the one who makes you palpitate and clutch your Smith and Wesson between sweaty hands. I am the one who interrupts your locked-and-loaded lullabies.
I am a gamer. I am the one who played Doom and Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto as an impressionable, malleable youth. Even worse, I have spent my career working in public schools. I also have a dog in my personal care, who has violent tendencies towards mice and squirrels and other rodentia. Has he acquired this sadism second-hand, sitting in my lap as Skyrim loads?
The president believes that we are ignorant about the effects of violent video games on young children. I believe that there have already been enough studies to put this issue to rest. But until these new leviathan longitudinal studies have been completed, I think it's best for us gamers to come out of the electronic closet.
During the week, I really don't have time to play video games. I usually have enough time to squeeze in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation before bed, which can involve a nasty phaser burn or two, or maybe someone being incinerated by a Romulan disruptor. And on Saturday mornings, when all is as quiet as Christmas morning, I creep towards the computer or the Playstation and plot the annihilation of the world through nuclear weapons. I snipe from rooftops and collect stacks of money as my unjust reward.
My poor parents limited my video game intake at an early age, setting timers to keep me from getting lost in the Mushroom Kingdom. Like a recovering addict, I still get goosebumps at the sound of a warp pipe. My parents were diligent in monitoring my use of Mario media, which was good, since I would shift to reading books (which were, at times, also about video games) as soon as the timer buzzed.
And yet here I sit, writing this piece, thinking about the unfinished quest, the road not taken through the heart of darkness -- if that darkness were a dwarven ruin haunted by mummified, reanimated Viking warriors. On Friday, I will put on a suit and mentor high school students. On Saturday night, I will debate education reform over a bottle of good wine. On Sunday, I will lay waste to an empire and re-forge Rome from the ruins.
I'm sure that there are those who would call this behavior hopelessly immature, depressing, and sad. I should at least get a gym membership before I develop carpal tunnel. Yet I can honestly say that the act of playing video games -- deep, involved video games, which require thought and planning and strategy -- activate some part of my brain that relieves stress and brings clarity to the problems of the week.
Perhaps I am merely deluding myself into thinking that video games do more than activate my dopamine receptors. But I spent a lot of time hiding my video game use as an adult. Whenever it happened to come up in casual conversation, I would get a surprised, "You play video games?" Apparently, I am not supposed to have a relationship and a career and a serious video game habit. I am supposed to be lurking somewhere with ghouls and goblins, fighting acne by day and orcs by night.
So let's study video games some more, sure. I'm all for some post-doctoral student in sociology having a job. But it's ludicrous to suggest that we, as human beings, are incapable of discerning fantasy from reality. When madmen descend into insanity, it is their own illness. It cannot be transmitted nor acquired through a screen.
However, if we limit their access to instruments of terror, they become like so many noobs -- rudderless Level One archers without an arrow in their quiver. They couldn't hit the broad side of an orbiting starship.