On a cold, foggy Saturday night, my daughter, Lauren, has her boyfriend, the Tall One, over for pizza and a movie. The kids are probably not that thrilled to spend an evening with me especially when I sit them down to watch Dog of Flanders.
As I hand the Tall One a slice of pizza, I explain, “It’s almost over. The boy is going to sketch his grandpa, and he’s going to fall asleep and die.”
The Tall One looks concerned.
“Mom, are you crying?” Lauren asks.
“No.” I lie.
I grab a Kleenex, hand another slice of pizza to the Tall One, and say, “Kitch is at Lucas’s house; they’re having a LAN party. How would you like to crash it?”
His face suddenly lights up with a big smile. “I would like that a lot,” he says.
We hop into the car and head to Lucas’s house. As we approach our destination, we encounter the mistress of the house pulling out of her driveway in her SUV. We roll down our windows.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m out of here. Taking the younger boys to the movies. Can’t take the noise.”
“Noise? Isn’t it quiet with all of them concentrating on their controls?”
“Heck, no. You’ll see.”
As we walk up the pathway, the intermittent shouts of about 20 men and boys can be heard. We knock and walk in. Encountering a boy of about 14, I ask simply, “Where is it?”
“In there,” he nods toward the family room.
“I’m Kitch’s mom. I had to come. I just had to see a LAN party.”
He looks dreamy and replies with a smile, “It’s a beautiful sight.”
And indeed it is.
The family room is darkened, lit only by the glow of four large television screens. Four X-BOXes are all networked together; LAN stands for local area network. Each screen is further divided into four screens with a different set of actions taking place on each of the now16 screens. Four sets of controllers per television were each connected to a player. The result? Sixteen boys all playing the exact same video game.
It takes my breath away.
The boys are divided into two teams: Red and Blue.
Boys are simple creatures.
Some sort of war is being waged and they know at all times who is trouncing whom. There are shouts as someone goes down. But he’s not down for long as he is soon cloned, getting another life — in this game, you get up to five deaths. They shout at each other.
“You committed suicide!”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Why’d you shoot me? I’m on your team.”
Indeed, they verbally abuse one another.
The Tall One informs me that this game is called “Halo.”
“How can a war game have such an angelic name?”
“It’s played on a planet shaped like a halo.”
I search the sea of heads for my son. I recognize the back of it as it bobs and sways somewhere down in the pack. They are having so much fun.
I want to be a part of it, so I study the screens and try to figure out what is going on. It is futile. It makes absolutely no sense to me.I wistfully think back to the days when I enjoyed playing Pong. For the first time, I truly envy the male sex and their undeniable affinity for video games. And it’s not just a youth thing. There are fathers here playing with their sons and keeping up with them.
Eventually, the Red team is victorious and whoops and shouts go up from the winning side. Insults come from the other side.
I see that the Tall One is anxiously chomping at the bit, hoping for a chance to play. Mr. M, the owner of the home, notices and points out a vacated controller for the lad. Lauren’s boyfriend leaves her flat and disappears into the pack, becoming just another head bobbing and swaying.
“See how quickly they abandon you for war?” I say. “Take note.”
“This is so funny,” she replies.
Mr. M presides over the gamers, pizzas, candy bars, and sodas with the magnanimity of a country squire. Amazingly, there are entire pizzas untouched on the tables.
“Capture the flag!” Mr. M shouts. And a new game begins.
One of the other dads, Mr. B, explains to me. “It’s like playing warwhen you were a kid, only better. You get to use better equipment and,”he pauses, “you see blood.”
At this moment, I realize anew how thoroughly the male sex must be hard-wired for war. It’s a good thing they have computer games and sports for an outlet or the bloodletting would be nonstop. Of course, the reality of a real war is also a deterrent. It was Robert E. Lee who said, “It is a good thing war is so terrible; else we should grow too fond of it.” But I digress.
I have often criticized computers because sometimes people spend more time interacting with a monitor than with their own families. But as I see buddies, sons, and dads all playing together I may have to revise my former criticism and welcome this new method of male bonding. It’s just another way for a father and son to shoot hoops or play catch, only maybe more fattening.
Lastly, I quote Christopher Wong of OnePC.net who gushed about the fun of a flesh-and-blood game rather than a game played over the Internet, “nothing quite replicates the thrill of trash talking your opponents in person after a particularly glorious victory.”
Well said, Mr. Wong. But do this mom a favor and tell the boys to keep it clean.