Boys, War, and Call of Duty

I have not been a video game kind of guy for a very long time.  Once the original Nintendo Entertainment System was replaced with the Super Nintendo, I was done.  (I am old enough to remember owning and playing an original Atari 2600, now those were the days!).  However, about a month ago one of my closest friends, and former NES aficionado, called to inform me about a new game we could play together through the marvel of online gaming called “Call of Duty.”  It was a first person “shooter” game, of which I normally am not fond of, where we would be in a warzone together fighting for our lives and trying to eliminate enemy targets.  I told him I would give it a try, so I borrowed a Nintendo Wii from my brother, rented the game, and gave it a whirl.  It was a blast.  So, my friend and I have reconnected (he lives in TN and I live in CO) and we are having fun with the game.  My brother also has jumped on board. 

Well, a couple of teenagers at my church heard that one of their pastors was playing “Call of Duty.”  So, they rented the game and we played online together, having a good time.  The next Sunday one of the parents of this student approached me with a smile and said, “I trust your judgment on this you know.”  I was glad to hear that the parent was paying attention to what their son was doing on the television.  This past Sunday, yet another parent approached me in a light-hearted manner and said basically the same thing.  So, I thought it was time to write down some of my thoughts.  Here it goes.

Boys will be boys.  We can try all we want to encourage a 21st century concept of equality in all aspects of life, but such efforts are mostly ineffective and from a Christian perspective, not biblical.  Boys want danger.  Boys want to blow things up.  Boys want to be aggressive.  Boys want to be rambunctious.  Brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden have written an incredibly fun and insightful book called “The Dangerous Book for Boys.”  The book is a practical manual for parents, mostly fathers, to engage the active minds of their sons.  It talks about a boy’s passions for soldiers, wizards, adventurers, and Morse Code.  The book explains how to make a battery, read cloud formations, build a tree house, and create the greatest paper airplane in the world.  Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Trachtenberg explains:

The unapologetic message is that boys need a certain amount of danger and risk in their lives, and that there are certain lessons that need to be passed down from father to son, man to man.  The implication is that in contemporary society basic rules of maleness aren’t being handed off as they used to be.

My mom and dad were incredibly gifted in this way.  Although church life was at the very center of our family and my parents desired nothing more than for me to have a personal, intimate relationship with Christ, they did not prevent me from being a boy.  I had the largest collection of toy machine guns you have ever seen.  Me and my friends would play “war” all night, setting up ambush points and trying to put into action everything we had learned from the movie “First Blood.”  The same continues to ring true today.  My brother competes at a national level at a game called “Laser Quest.”  This is war using lasers (although the corporate office tries to gear its terminology to avoid such a concept).  It is not surprising that an overwhelming majority of Laser Quest competitors are guys.  Its just the way it is.  So, before I address the “Call of Duty” question, I first want to make very clear that I believe parents have to let boys be boys, and that means a certain amount of danger is always around the next corner.

There are, of course, limits and boundaries.  Every parent must take into account their own child’s make-up and understand what is too far and what is acceptable.  When addressing a game like “Call of Duty” there simply is no “right” answer.  I would encourage parents to think through the information listed above and then take a close and hard look at the game.  And then just use Godly wisdom.  Now, there are clear exceptions.  Some games are based on rewarding individuals for acting in criminal and at times downright disgusting ways – the game series of Grand Theft Auto comes to mind.  For me, this game would cross the line of what I would want my son to be playing because it rewards the player for acts such as killing prostitutes and setting up a successful criminal organization.  That crosses the line of boys being boys. 

Another concern, that was addressed recently even by my sister-in-law, is the issue of desensitization by the realism in the graphics.  This is certainly another issue to think through.  However, there simply is no way in our media-soaked culture to prevent our children from seeing images that will have the potential to cause some desensitization.  The only way to prevent that is to completely remove all media, especially television and movies, and enter into an Amish lifestyle (hey, that might not be all bad!).  Thus, this issue again comes down to the parent’s discernment of their own child, keeping in mind that boys will be boys and at some level, playing war is not only normal but healthy.  From what I have seen, “Call of Duty” is certainly graphically intense, but not near at the level of some of the other games which might cross the line.

So, would I let my boy Justus play “Call of Duty?”  Yes.  But he will have to practice hard if he wants to prevent getting his butt kicked by his dad.  Will I keep an eye on what he is doing, the other games he is playing, as to make sure it does not cross the line of boys being boys?  Yes.  And if necessary, I will prohibit some games and some actions.  But only after I pelt him in the head with my new Nerf Dart gun right before tucking him into bed.  Because that’s what boys do.           

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2 Replies to “Boys, War, and Call of Duty”

  1. Phillip,

    The timing of your blog is a God send because my 14 year old son is asking for this game for his birthday. I am forwarding your thoughts to my husband and thank you!

    Julia Hartske

  2. Excellent post Philip and you make good points. Also don’t forget that these games do have benefits especially in much increased hand eye coordination, as well as twitch muscle reaction. In fact it has been shown that surgeons that play video games are better at surgery.

    But also there is the parental aspect which you mentioned and I want to reinforce. Parents need to be aware of the games their kids play, and how their kids relate to those games. By aware I mean parents need to get out and do research. Don’t go by the name, don’t go by the rating. If your kid wants the game go out and read reviews or rent it yourself and look. Chances are you know a gamer so go ask them their thoughts.

    BTW, when are we going to play again?

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