Hey, Your Kid Knows Uncharted 2 Isn't Real

I can't say I was happy when my wife's friend brought over her seven-year-old terrorist of a child, Charlie, one summer afternoon in 2010, the same day I brought home a freshly cellophaned copy of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. All I'd wanted to do was pop it into my first edition PlayStation 3 (the one that looks like a Prometheus stage prop), sit on my arse, forget my name and blow some shit up.

The entire Uncharted franchise is basically a cross between the Indiana Jones movies (sans Crystal Skull) and every Die Hard ever made, and the truth is that when I surrender myself to such afternoons with my PlayStation, I'm partial to doing so with 16 grams of weed.

Charlie himself could be, as his mother was prone to say, ‘feral'. His fundamental impulse was to savagely attack the male testicular region with whatever object turned convenient. It didn't matter whose testicles they were. If a pair happened to enter his purview, he just lunged at them like a jaguar.

But when Charlie walked into my living room in a Captain Flapjack t-shirt, he was immediately intrigued by the Tibetan snow flurry conjured on my 27-inch flat screen. And truth be told, my heart just crumbled watching his lusty gaze. I felt…young again.

"Whoa…" he said, bushy hair practically shocked awake. He knew exactly what he was looking at. Every child does, whether from Oakland or Macau.

"Can I play?" he asked.

At the moment I'd failed to understand what sin I, Charlie, or poor Nathan Drake had just committed.

A question I found all too familiar. I'd grown up in the era of Megaman, anyway. Contra. Castlevania. Zelda. Duck Hunt. The Silver Age of Nintendo Power, both as a magazine and an idea. I practically spent my entire childhood uttering those very words: "Can I play?" with murderous insistence. In the moment, my insouciant childhood was jarred to the forefront, and suddenly I knew that if I didn't do the right thing here, I'd be exactly the type of person that, when I was seven, I liked to hate.

"Of course you can," I said, with what I hoped was a cool-grownup smile. My nether regions were no longer of concern. I was going to blow Charlie's mind. Not only was he going to play a video game. He was going to play the title IGN rated 9.5 out of 10, and that caused PlayStation Magazine to extol, "Forget Game of The Year. This is one of the greatest games of all time!"

I handed over the controller, which Charlie proceeded to examine like an alien landmine. The kid knew squat about the medium. Charlie's father's house was austere, moneyed and mirthless, and the man himself, no different. Charlie's mother's, an upbeat woman with a background in modern dance and a love for the Goddess, though caring and attentive, had lodged video games in a category as foreign as Statistical Thermodynamics. In her walk-up apartment were mostly books on Native American Basket Looms, and other things you tend to find in Bay Area, Feng Shui domiciles.

Charlie nibbled his tongue as he thumbed the wrong controls, so I repositioned them, encouraging familiarity. For anyone who knows Uncharted 2, I'd just watched the opening cut scene and now come back to the present, where, wounded, Drake picks up his first weapon, and proceeds to wind his way from a train wreck.

Charlie's eyes bulged as he shot that weapon. He became mesmerized at the cordite BOOMs on the screen. I had discovered a rehabilitation tool for budding ball-busters the world over.

But before he could finish the phrase, "This is soooooo cool," the living room door creaked open.

"Whatcha two playing?" Charlie's mother said with a fanciful hand flourish. Hers was a look of kind concern as she took in the images on the screen. Parenthood (especially when replete with a dubious partner) conjured a fair amount of trepidation.

"It's OK, mum," the seven-year-old whined, as if he'd anticipated what was to come.

His mother saw the gun on the screen. The bullets flying. The trains burning.

"No," she said. He winced as his mother gently began to drag him from the screen and into the kitchen. "Swords are OK. But not guns. Way too violent."

"But I know it's not real," Charlie said, his signature ferret-y grin returning as he struggled from his mother's grip. At one point, he gave her a smack. "I know it's not real!"

At the moment I'd failed to understand what sin I, Charlie, or poor Nathan Drake had just committed. Only after Charlie had been removed to the kitchen to recuperate did his mother came back to fill me in. With a mixture of sweet and stern, she thanked me for playing with him, appreciative of male guidance in his life other than his father's.

Children, even feral ones, however, whether born in 1982 or 2005, are experts at make-believe. They're also experts in knowing when someone crosses the line.

"He's just not old enough for guns," she said. "You'll understand when you're a parent. For now, only swords."

I nodded my head, a little embarrassed. As she left the room the reality set in that I'd been teaching her seven-year-old boy how to fire a virtual firearm. Uncharted's variation on the Colt .45.

For a while afterwards I went between feeling culpable and self-righteous. When not indignant, I couldn't keep from thinking, in retrospect, it had been my onus to protect Charlie from harm. We live in the age of Columbine, Springfield, Aurora. And I was the adult. The arbiter of good sense. I was, some might say, part of the village. And now, when I'd had my chance to embark some knowledge, as opposed to teaching an already volatile child how to play chess, I'd taught him how to gun down smugglers in the Tibetan frost in the aftermath of a train crash. What type of arsehole was I?

In the wake of recent gun violence in the United States, a phenomenon taking on the dimensions of an epidemic, there's been a lot of conversation about cause and effect. Who's accountable when a Jared Loughner patrons his local Wal-Mart to pick up ammo for his Glock? Or when a James Holmes dashes into a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, less than a mile from the house I grew up in, only to make you wish Batman really existed? Is it the fault individualism? Right-wing extremism? The PlayStation, the Xbox and the Wii? In the morass of Second Amendment bombast and counter bombast–much of which this debate revolves around–I found myself looking at the sources of American fantasy, and whether or not they truly, in some form or another, could be looked upon for slaying the sanity of our youth.

As a thought experiment, I decided to compare the video game I played as a seven-year-old, Contra, for the original Nintendo, with the most violent video game I came across in the last three years: Sniper Elite V2, for the PlayStation 3:

CONTRA (NES, 1987): Premise: Lance ‘Scorpion' Bean and Bill "Mad Dog' Rizer, are sent, side scroll, through what is practically Vietnam, to destroy the alien terrorist group Red Falcon. Weapons: Rifle, Spread Gun, Flame Torch, Rapid Fire Gun and Barrier Gun. Level of Violence: What made this game a challenge for me at seven (particularly until I found The Code) is that touching anything kills you instantly, an act depicted with a Brrrrzzzoowww sound, and a bloodless fade into oblivion.

SNIPER ELITE V2 (PS3, 2012): Premise: OSS Officer Karl Fairburne fights through Nazi and Soviet operatives in the final days of WWII in attempt to destroy ballistic missiles. Weapons: You have a variety of weapons to choose from, including sniper rifles. The game is stealth-based, which means most of it involves skulking about for your next target, and blowing it away from a distance. Level of Violence: The most controversial feature of SEV2 is the X-Ray Kill Cam. When you fire your sniper rifle, the Cam activates, following the bullet's trajectory in slow motion as it reaches its target, and then goes inside the target, tearing apart organs and bones.

Things had certainly changed since I was kid. If not in subject matter, then in the degree to of reality rendered digital. Maybe I really had made a mistake with Charlie, not thinking to realise that the world had become a different place since 1987.

There's something about narrative, however — perhaps in its inborn mendacity — that's hard to twist out of focus. I've always thought people who try to demonise entertainment culture, especially modules that feature violence, even in the modern age, are lacking in crucial grey matter. Obviously guns are an issue in this country. Though I might be able to see the validity in owning a Beretta for after actual psychological testing (not the current NICS-touted bullshit), there is no reason anyone not defending a full-on land war should be handling an AK-47. But at the same time, just because we should decrease our access to guns does not mean that art should be anaesthetised from exploring, or even acting out, images of violence, as a vaccine for the daily news. Reality and representation aren't mutually exclusive, even when they appear to be. And how important was it to eschew all references to firearms, or weapons in general, afraid of what exposure may bring? Are swords really ‘OK' for a seven-year-old, as opposed to semi-automatic weapons? I'd heard such logic used before, and was bothered by it. Swords are antiquated weapons, sure, but sheared flays of steel nonetheless, designed to maim, gut, slit, and splay. Just read a page from A Song of Ice and Fire (the grotesque and popular basis for Game of Thrones) to get a feel for how grizzly blades can be.

Children, even feral ones, however, whether born in 1982 or 2005, are experts at make-believe. They're also experts in knowing when someone crosses the line. If an injury occurs, a game is over. Adults are alerted. If negligence is at fault, someone gets in trouble. When I first began playing video games, no one had to tell me what was real and what wasn't. I didn't have a perfect home either, but I knew that only when you took a plastic cartridge with some sensational illustration, blew the dust away from the bottom, and inserted it in the electronic grey box, was an image was projected on a screen. If the power went out, the game was done. If you had no television, it never started. In some ways, I wonder if games with a high amount of interactivity served to strengthen my ability to distinguish the real world from pretend. In the digital world, you can defeat fire-breathing dragons. In reality, however, the place you call home could be a dragon itself, and you could never defeat it, no matter how hard you tried.

I'm not saying that I should have let Charlie play Uncharted 2 that day in my house. I might have considered that certain narratives appeal to children while others do not. And some subjects are premature. I wouldn't have dared show Charlie Grand Theft Auto, for instance. Or God of War I through III, for that matter, because someone's head is ripped off pretty much every six and a half seconds. But isn't it possible that a fear of new technology, and new modes of pretend, can also affect our youth?

I understood why Charlie's mother fretted for her child, and I'll never let anyone's child but mine touch anything I own without ironclad legal protection (a symptom of the 21st century if there ever was one). But I also don't know if Uncharted 2 would be capable of causing a young mind to snap. I saw the glee in Charlie's eyes that day. He'd begun to detach himself from the discord surrounding him in his daily life, disappearing into a less concrete world. Sometimes I just worry that if children can't decide on the boundaries between reality and fantasy for themselves once in a while, they'll become convinced that dark urges are only fit for real life, where the realm of make-believe is rarely welcome. And that would be truly frightening in my opinion. A genuine cause for concern.

Samuel Sattin, Mills College MFA, lives in Oakland, California. His debut novel, The League of Somebodies, which has been described by author and graphic novelist Mat Johnson as being 'so rich with originality that it's actually radioactive' is being released by Dark Coast Press in March of 2013. A recipient of NYS and SLS Merit Fellowships, excerpts of his work have been published in The Cobalt Review, Cent Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, and Generations Literary Journal. Sattin was raised the child of an ill-fit marriage between an NES and an Atari, and has been under constant psychoanalytic surveillance ever since.

This essay originally appeared on The Weeklings and is republished with permission.


Comments

    So swords are ok? Surely there is much more gore when swords are used - heads being chopped off, etc.

      Also, swords are approximately the same as Knives, and there are many, many, more knives available in everyone's homes than guns.

      My boy is three, and he's not at a point where games with guns or swords register on his horizon. However I'm pretty sure that he'll be able to handle them when he's ready for it.

      I'm guessing probably not. She might mean like Peter Pan or something. This is one of those articles where I wish I could ask the people involved.

    The rating on the box is there for a reason. I don't believe swords are any better than guns (see MG:R gameplay), but I believe that seven is too young to be exposed to that kind of stylised violence.

      i think in more of a final fantasy sense, were they are more or less bashing people with their swords, not slicing them to pieces like raiden.

        Don't you then run the even worse problem of an impressionable child being unable to distiguish between the fake "Kigdom Hearts-y" slashing of a sword and the real life counterpart of going to town on someone with 5 KG of sharpened steel?

    I think the concept of Novelty needs to be considered, as well as what is mentioned here.
    People argue that violent videogames are cathartic. I would propose that the cathartic experience would be aided by the novel nature of witnessing and taking part in these simulated acts of violence (i.e. the experience is unusual and has stronger impact because of it).
    If a child has.experienced this regularly from a young age, I'd say it's likely that the cathartic benefit would be largely reduced due to the normality of the event.
    So introducing children to violent games too early may rob them of one of their positive qualities, right?

    I agree that swords are no different to guns, sometimes worse! Besides, the intent is to physically harm, so the context is so similar that the instrument is probably laregly irrelevant.

    I think saying 'Swords are ok' is near sighted and the mother has missed a good opportunity to discuss with her son how games are different to reality. It seems that the kids who are overly sheltered or restricted are the ones that tend to rebel more when they're older.

    Games have certainly changed from old cartoon graphics to the near realistic of today though this story shows a failing on the mother's behalf to learn more about the medium. Understanding the difference between the available options, like those mentioned in the article (GOW, GTA etc), and monitoring and guiding kids through these as they grow would be a more responsible avenue for a parent to take.

    The intro into this article amused me greatly, very well written in all. As to the "swords are ok" argument, to me that comes down to the "stick-fighting in the park" concept of learning, someone eventually putting a little too much effort into a swing and causing a minor injury, bruise or what have you, authoritative figure stepping in to put an end to any further potential injury and so on.
    The "guns are not ok" side comes from Cowboys and Indians/Cops and Robbers where whilst it is still effectively "playtime", as no actual projectiles exist and the worst damage you might sustain is tripping over for not watching where you are running, there is less of a learning progression involved.
    Yelling "BANG" while pointing your fingers at your friends imitating the shape of a gun is a lot less dangerous than smacking someone upside the head with a tree branch and I suppose the logic is that playtime with guns distances you from the risk involved with them thus potentially leading to the belief that guns aren't dangerous.

    Merely my 2c as a non parent but it is how I view the situation from a child learning point of view.

      I should probably clarify my point about guns aren't dangerous as "in the mind of an impressionable young person"

        I like your consept of sowrds v guns in that. But would you not think that a video game is the perfict place to lern about how dangeres guns are? Short of showning an animal being shot, a game like Sniper Elite could be the most educaitanal tool we actually due to HOW it shows the person geting shot.

        Also, todays kids shows are about as bad as games. As someone who is the oldest of 11 bothers and sisters, some of witch are 10 and under, I can easly say that, as long as they know its not real, and there told that guns are bad, and that they understand that, then its fine. I let my 10 year old and 7 year old play Borderlands 1 with out probloms. I see it as a way to show them how bad guns can be but at the same time, I can have fun with them in the co-op mode.

          true, I myself, as a 27 year old, would see it as a potential learning experience however (and while this is extremely judgmental of me) the same cannot be said of the parents based on the impression the author gives. Painted with a broad brush, take anyone older than say 40ish and there is a fair bet there is some anti-technology mentality there, or at the very least a "video games are destroying our children" mindset so the leap to "video games are a tool for learning about life" probably didn't even occur to the parents of the child.

            which is not to say uncharted is a logical learning tool, it merely serves in this situation

    Firstly, I wouldn't let a 7 year old play Uncharted either. No way. Secondly, I applaud this kid's parent for actually taking a stand about exposing her son to violent video games. Whether her argument of swords, but not guns, is flawed or not is irrelevant. I'm happy to see a parent actually making a decision about what their child should be exposed to and enforcing it.

      How is it irrelevant? It displays the irrationality of her parenting method. faulting reasoning is in itself never a good thing, whether it leads to good outcomes or not. If the author had happened to have Ninja Gaiden sitting around and had chucked that on instead and the kid had spent an hour disemboweling and beheading people you'd applaud her on her not only making an illogical decision but on actively enforcing and perpetuating said decision.
      The kid was prevented from playing a game he (probably) shouldn't be playing, that's a good thing sure, but the mother is hardly deserving of praise because things just so happened to work out okay in this instance.

    on the subject of parents not wanting their kids to be subject to "real" violence.

    i remember i wanted to get devil may cry 3 when i was 14, too which my parent said no as it was MA, however, i explained that you are killing demons, not humans, and i managed to convince her. i don't know if it was maybe because i was almost 15, and she was a little more slack, but definately when a game doesn't look "real" people are less judging of it's violence.

    i'd go out to say one of the most violent looking games is the last of us, not because it is gory (i haven't seen much if any gore) but the very real and brutal deaths people have, while playing bulletstorm, that game was overly violent, but its over the top attitude to violence in some ways dulled it down. maybe it is just that i am getting too accustomed to ultra violence (even though i wont touch the saw movies with a 10 foot pole) but when a game is represented as being something that exists in a very realistic world, the violence becomes much, much worse.

    I have to side with the parent here. Kids can know something isn't real, but still normalise it.

    In a way guns are worse than swords, guns make it too easy to inflict harm. Swords are more personal, takes a bit more training, and make it a lot harder to mass murder people.
    You can't deny the influence games and media have on people. They show your mind how to do things subconsciously. I've reflexed karate kicks from watching movies and no training, and instinctively corrected a real life car spin thanks to playing daytona.
    The world wouldn't be missing much if they stopped making reality based open world crime games and first person shooters.
    If a lunatic runs around with a home made sword in a costume, at least more people would have a chance at escaping, and trained policemen could take him down.

    I just finished playing the first resistance with my 9 year old son, it was his first proper game exept for minecraft. I'm not particularly worried, if he ever does get his hand on a real gun people are going to have to watch their feet and there ceilings.

    on a related note, anyone know a few good split screen shooters to play together next??

      Have a look at killzone 3, can't Renner 1/2 have split scren but killzone 3's is great. If your ok with something more mature. Swearing ext.

        Rember... Dam phone key-pad

      Borderlands (still not suitable according to the rating, but that's your choice)

    Man, you misread the whole situation..and ruined what could have been an awesome afternoon.
    Hand the controller to the kid.
    Hand the weed to the hippy mum
    Sit back and bask in everyone having a good time.

    I sell video games for a loving. The best parental response I ever had was a mother who let her 8 year old child play violent games - to a point -but only at certain times, under supervision, and she would ask him what he thought about it. This resulted in her child saying things like 'I think it would be really wrong if someone did that in real life.' Boundaries established. I praised this mother on the spot.

      I know it is a typo, but your first sentence makes you come across as some sort of tech pimp :P
      It also presents the next sentence in a whole new light. The best response you had to selling video games for loving was when a parent let her 8 year old play video games...that you sold for loving...

      alrighty, exiting the gutter

      I must heartily approve of this typo.

    Wait , so someone who readily admits to using drugs while playing violent video games has a problem when a parent decides an m-rated game is not suitable for their 7 year old?

    /facepalm

      Thank you, im glad someone else picked up on this.

    I actually find the lack of detailed realism, and massive censorship, doesn't teach people to respect weapons for what they are (a way to defend yourself/family/country from harm). Alot of people really don't realise, or understand, what guns and swords actually do to the physical body. I find the chronic censorship, of actual reality itself, to be the most dangerous.

    video games are not real??? now I realise why the mountain of boxes in my room don't disappear even after I line them in a row...

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