I’m practically a pacifist — I’ve never been in a fist fight and never held a gun — but I must admit that I found it a little thrilling to pull a stranger from his car and kill him in the street.
This, of course, was done in the imaginary world of Grand Theft Auto V, a video game that has turned more normally docile people into psychopaths than a Stanley Cup loss to the Bruins.
I’m not particularly fond of, or good at, video games but at an engagement party I attended recently the evening wound down to a small group of people playing Grand Theft Auto — what a lucky bride-to-be, by the way — and I was handed the controller and told to go nuts. My extended stretch of perfectly legal driving — “which button makes me wave thanks to that guy who just let me merge onto the freeway” — was not much of a crowd pleaser. So I was instructed to run up to another car then hit the Y button to open the car door followed by the L button to pull out a pistol followed by the W button to wave goodbye to my childlike innocence followed by the R button to shoot the unsuspecting motorist in the face.
It was thrilling and mortifying all at once. Seconds later I myself was shot to death by a video game cop, which was actually OK because I’d been sitting on the couch for so long I was long overdue to hit the P button.
This was one night before the series finale of the wildly popular TV show Breaking Bad. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t seen it yet. The series is about Walter White, a middle-aged chemistry teacher who one day “breaks bad” and becomes a drug dealer to make money for his cancer treatments. Two questions the series seems to centre around are 1) Does Walter break bad because he has to or because he wants to? and 2) How many times is too many times to see a middle-aged chemistry teacher in his saggy underwear?
The confluence of Breaking Bad and Grand Theft Auto got me thinking about good vs. bad. Is it better to be the friendly leprechaun who just wants to feed nutritious marshmallows to children or is it more fun to be the low-life thugs who are always after his lucky charms? Is it more fun to be a giant friendly nerd like Big Bird or to be a grouch like Oscar, the Grouch? Is it more fun to be a straight shooter like Dudley Do-Right or pure evil like Miley Cyrus?
Those are all fictional characters but as a father of two young boys I feel like I’m watching an ever-evolving, real life experiment in human nature. My little North Vancouver basement suite is like a petri dish except with more mucus.
It’s too early to tell if my seven-month-old is good or bad — the giggles and smiles are all good but the 5:45 a.m. screaming could be a chilling foretaste of a deeply troubled life to come. Or it could just be poo.
My older son’s path is a little more telling. From age zero to three he was practically a saint, a little Baby Theresa. Even when his little brother was born he didn’t display any of the typical sibling jealousy, instead turning tiny baby kisses and hugs into his own little cottage industry.
As age three approached, however, his hugs and sunshine routine often turned into something else. What’s better than saying “OK Daddy” in an adorable little voice? Saying “I don’t like your hair Daddy” in an adorable little voice. What’s more fun than kissing your little brother? How about double knee drops to the ribs?
I’d like to think that every kid goes through this phase, that every older sibling kicks his little baby brother in the butt a few times just to see what happens. And when I say butt I mean face. And when I say a few times I mean 35. Per day.
They say kids learn their behaviour from their environment but I can say without a doubt that neither my wife nor I have ever kicked a baby in the face. At least, not while my son is watching. He’s never been to a UFC fight or seen a violent movie either. He barely watches TV at all — just a little Blues Clues and the movie Cars.
No Cars 2 though — those cute little cartoon vehicles from Cars get loaded up with missiles and guns for the sequel. Uh, OK. The FCC receives more than half a million complaints when Janet Jackson’s nipple is exposed for half a second but nobody cares if the most popular movie series of the past decade aimed at very young children features machine gun battles and a rocket-launching submarine? Don’t they know that Cars hero Lightning McQueen is Christ-like to little kids? He’s frickin toddler Jesus, the kids worship him, and you’re going to put him in a movie full of gunfights? Oh, America.
If my son didn’t learn violence from us and he didn’t learn it from TV, then those kicks and punches seem to have been conjured from the depths of his little toddler soul. I hope it’s just a phase, but I don’t really know. Maybe in four years he’ll be cooking meth with his Grade 2 chemistry teacher.
What I do know is that my boy always seems to go back to being a sweet little angel whenever we get his sleep and snacks right. In fact, sometimes he’s the best at calming his little brother down with a beautiful song after, say, the baby gets kicked in the face or something. Maybe that’s the answer to all of this. Maybe all Walter White needed was a couple of Fruit Roll-Ups between classes. Maybe if Grand Theft Auto had a Nap button we could stop all the violence.
In fact, that’s a great idea. Who’s ready for Grand Nap Auto? Anyone? Anyone? Hey, put that gun down.
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