I remember bar none the most shocking purchase my mother ever made when I was a child.  We were in a Sam’s club, and it was myself, my brother, Jon, and our mom.  If pressed, I could not give you the exact year, but it must have been around 1993 or 1994, and she bought us a Sega Genesis.  Now, we had the original 8-bit Nintendo at my house, but this was THE upgrade, and what shocked me is that my mother always seemed to hate video games (to be honest, I think I have Tetris to thank for her softened attitude).

Mine was the first generation that really grew up with video games.  I think I was ten or eleven when the Nintendo came into the house, and 13 or 14 when we got the Sega…but even before that my father had an Apple IIe computer, and I remember playing Pac-Man on it.  All of this is along way of saying I grew playing games.  Were they Grand Theft Auto IV or God of War, or Gears of War? No. But I remember being a kid and walking by the video arcade and seeing Sub-zero in Mortal Combat rip someone’s head off and the blood drip down the dangling spine.  So mine was not a blood-free gaming experience.

Like all people who commute on a large mass-transit system, I have a routine I follow in the morning.  I’ve bought an iPhone not too long ago, and already I’ve made the switch form my morning paper to surfing the BBC or Foreign Press app, but normally I read the news on my commute into work. This past week though, I had to leave my phone in my pocket one day and to stop and pick up the free daily, the Express.  On the cover was a shot of a video game, where one character is about to bludgeon another from behind with a baseball bat.  In a blood-splatter caption the headline is: CHILD’S PLAY? Do states have the right to forbid the sale of Violent games to kids? The Supreme Court will decide.” Personally, I think the splatter was overkill, but then this is about video games, and in those you can literally pick up the BFG-5000 (That’s Big-Fucking-Gun for those of you who don’t know), so who am I to take umbrage over aesthetics.

Now, I should add that I do own a Playstation 3 and five games, of which one, Fallout 3, is rated M for Mature.  The others are rated T for teen, but there is also an E, which is for everyone.  It’s like the moving rating system before the introduction of the PG-13 rating for flicks, and as you would expect, the games are rated based of the level of the sexual content, violence, and maturity of themes.  Now, the fact that this system exists and is voluntarily followed by all the video game makers is a fact excluded from the article, but it does point out that every state that has passed a law targeting video games to date has been shot down. The gist of the argument against the games is not necessarily that they should not be made, but that they should be treated under laws that restrict the sale of sexually explicit materials to minors and the like…in essence people are asking society to alter their definition of obscenity under the First Amendment.

I could see why this would fuss people.

Now for the real irony in the story: the law under appeal is from California and has who names on it? Oh, yes. You guessed correctly: Schwarzenegger, hisownself—the man who single handily ran his car though a building and then executed an entire police station full of officers in Terminator; who made such peace-loving flicks like Conan the Barbarian— where he responded in all seriousness to the question of what are the best things in life are with “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women;” and who’s taste must be called into question if only because he voluntarily got on board with the making of Batman and Robin (not to mentioned a few other like Jingle All the Way or Junior).  But let’s be fair, as here is what he says in regards to the subject at hand: “We have a responsibility to our kids and our communities to protect against the effects of game that depict ultra-violent actions.”  I hate to burst the bubble on the governor, but I don’t think a law will do anything.  And what is this we?

Parents have a responsibility to their children.  The article points out that there are several psychological studies that strongly suggest that “participating in the playing of violent video games by children and youth increase aggressive though and behavior; increase antisocial behavior and delinquency; engender poor school performance; desensitize the player to violence; and reduce activity in the frontal lobes of the brain.”  I will not disagree with one point of any of that, but I will ask the question how much playing are the kids in these studies doing?  I’m guessing it is a solid amount of time.  I’m also guessing those are the same underage kids I see at the R-rated movies with their parents.  Whereas, my parents not only made sure that I never played games for hours on end (Sunshine and running around is, in fact, good for children), but they also denied me violent content until I was old enough.

Now, we had cable, and when I hit puberty, I got really, really interested in Showtime late nights.  I also began to watch more violent movies and play more adult games.  But by that point I was firmly rooted in reality, and my parents made sure I knew the difference between fantasy and reality.  This, I think, is more of a challenge for people today.  Part this may, in fact, be due to the reality that video games are much more realistic today then they were when I was a kid.  From in-game-physic-engines that make sure cars crumple the way they do in the real world, to graphics and high-def TVs that just about allow the user to smell the stench of cordite, stale sweat, and the rank odors of the bodies left over from the aliens or people you just went head to head with.  I think the second reason though has a lot to do with parenting style.  Heck, they put video games in cars anymore.  My suspicion is it is not so much to entertain kids as it is to save parents the trouble of keeping their kids in line on those long road trips.  Much like TV, they are frequently used as a babysitter by many parents.

Not the attitude we are looking for!

Of course it is a mistake to over-generalize, but I was a teacher at one point.  From my own personal experience I noticed a direct correlation between my students who were problems and the amount of time they spent playing video games.  There was also a direct correlation between those students and the amount of involvement their parents had in their lives.  The more time the parent spent, the fewer hours of video games played and the better adapted the student was to life in general. To my way of thinking, I would like studies that break down the amount of parental involvement vs the time played and the degree of social acceptace of these kids.

Do videos games need to be banned?  Not so much in my opinion.  Are all parents using videogames as baby sitters?  Of course not.  But bottom line, anytime someone calls any form of entertainment is a corruption of youth, or that “we” need to protect “our” children all my red-flags get raised. I say, “Fuck you,” Jobu, I do it myself.”  And besides laws like that never work.  Kids will just their older siblings to buy the game, or if they don’t have an older sibling, there is always one store somewhere, that won’t check the ids.  It happens all the time.  So, it is time for that old nasty phrase, “parental responsibility,” to apply to video games.  Know what your kids are playing, and mom and dad don’t like it, hit the power button.  That’s what it is for.

It is often the case that when hanging out with my friend Mike that we have, as he puts it, “wacky adventures.”  This may be due the fact that we are both rather easy going, so when things go askew, we are more apt to adjust to the new circumstances then become bent out shape.  Of course it could also be that we are rarely out do anything of major importance to anyone but ourselves.  Such was the case this past weekend when I flew in to visit my friend after a three year hiatus, and we went in search of a working and entertaining pinball machine.

We undertook our quest in a 1987 BMW that no longer has a functioning odometer, sports a broken passenger-side door latch and faded paint job, and what is thought to be over 200,000 miles on it.  The car also handles, accelerates, and sounds like a racecar, and it has, in fact, been used as such.  Thus, we were perfectly equipped to search out a form of entertainment that is just as exciting as any race, but which the general public’s eye would slide off just as readily as most people would discount this marvel of German engineering and durability.

In the age of the iPhone, movies on demand, the PS3, and a marked decline in the prevalence of arcades, pinball machine have all but disappeared.  The bumpers, lights, ramps, all became either too costly to repair or simply no longer generated profit enough for most companies to justify the expense of making new ones.  Mike and I were both aware of this, but it did not stop the quest.

So we searched.  Not in any planed way, but by driving to the local Dave and Busters to see if they had a machine. Predictably they didn’t, and while they did give us a lead on a place that might have a machine they were not really sure anyone still had them.  This particular arcade had dispensed with their last pinball machine over a year ago, and both the employees that we spoke to felt that most other establishments would have done the same.

With no other real plan, we wandered the midway.  There were games aplenty, but for the most part they were video games (one that caught both our eyes was a “Rambo” game…we decided it must not have been any good, as they only showed clips from the various movies and not the actual game).  But lo! There was something hidden in the bowls of that room that was worth the trip, a coin drop machine.  Shaped like a pentagon, it has two levels both loaded with coins.  The object is just to drop a coin on the top level which slides back and forth, so that the drop-coin, when compressed into the mass of other coins, forces one or a group of coins to move and forces those perched on the ledge of the first tier over the lip and down below where the process in repeated.  The more that fall, the more tickets you get.

While enticing, it would probably not have sold us, if it were not for the CD kiosk hooked up to the iTunes store.  But once that gleaming display of near obsolete technology showed itself to us, we were both hooked, and dutifully began the process of acquiring enough tickets to make a rocking burn-CD.

It took both of us playing the coin machine for fifteen minutes and more than 20 bucks to get enough tickets to claim our prize.  However, in the end, both of us stood in front of this kiosk, iPods in our pockets loaded with music, and made a CD.  We took it in turns to pick a song, which were mainly old hip-hop and rap (think OPP and James Brown).  We never did find a pinball machine, but we did wind up finding a technological relic (the CD) nevertheless.

On the way to meet Mike’s fiancée for diner we rocked that mix-CD harder than Motley Crew hit the bottle.  We zoomed down the road with huge grins on our face.  Our mission not even remotely accomplished, and yet, it was an awesome outing.  The kind of trip that results in a story that will be probably be told, exaggerated, warped, and recounted more than once.  In short, the kind of story that we all have with our good friends.  So if you have a story like that with a friend that you’ve not seen in a while, call them up.  Share a laugh. And go find a pinball machine (Particularly in the Washington DC or San Antonio areas) so I will know where to go get my fix!