My son, the First-Person Shooter

One of the things we agreed on even before we had children was no “war toys”. I spent my childhood days with the neighborhood boys, all of us armed to the teeth, playing war. My evenings were typically spent in front of the TV watching coverage of the real war. My spouse was ROTC and a crack marksman. One would think that it might have occurred to us that our own childhoods, steeped as they were in violent play, nevertheless produced the kind of adults that, well . . . ban war toys. Parenthood is not typically that clear-eyed, however.

People with all the trappings of expertise were telling us that toy guns were bad and turned innocent children into desensitized little monsters, so we listened. We also made sure that our kids never saw anything on TV more violent than the Muppets. We vetted everything they might watch and then insisted that TV only be watched with all of us together, on the couch, a throw over our laps. This would be our peaceful family ritual to combat the evil influences that strained and slavered for our precious children.

As anyone with more experience could have predicted, by two, or son was nevertheless pointing sticks, broom handles, even Barbies at people and shouting “bang bang”. He became obsessed with guns. And swords. And grenades. Pretty much everything, in fact, on that list of forbidden toys. It must have been Kmart, during the holidays, where my then three-year-old son stopped dead in front of a gun. The celestial choir sang as he said in awe, “that’s the Power Rangers GRK10 Thousand X,” (or some such) “its a laser pistol and a flame ray, and that part comes off and it’s a photon grenade”. (again, or some such; suffice to say, it was the ultimate multi-tool for mayhem.) In my most stentorian parent voice, I said “Now you know we’re not going to get you a gun.” He shifted to stand in front of me, looked me in the eye and, like someone trying to reason with an hysteric, said “Ima, It’s. a. TOY.”

I called one day from the kids’ favorite toy store. “Hon, you know how much he likes playing dress-up and there’s a suit of armor here that he’s just mad for and it is pretty cool but, well, it comes with a sword. I was just thinking that if it was part of a costume . . .” He got the sword.


He obsessed relentlessly over a cap gun he saw while on a camping trip. We gave in and got him the gun. It was the only toy he played with. For 27 hours. That’s how long it took for his gun obsession to vanish.



These days, his room harbors an arsenal: Bokken swords, Nerf guns, air soft guns, water cannons, six shooters, laser guns and more. He’s got a real Vietnam era helmet, a soft cover and a collection of replica service medals. We’ve moved from “no war toys” to an acceptance, even an appreciation of first person shooter games: Call of Duty, Halo Reach, Portal and a host of Lego adventures. The only time or wild child is not wild is when he’s parked in front of one if his video games. His body stills, his mind calms, his attention sharpens. He’s fascinated by World War II, writes his grandpa to learn about his experiences there, and has learned how to make chain mail armor.

He also dances ballet, makes animated movies and wants to be an artist. He’s sweet and patient with small children, tender-hearted toward animals and avoids fighting with anyone but me or his sister. God only knows how he’d have turned out if he was still obsessing over that gun.

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