12 year-olds playing multiplayer games piss me off. They are abrasive, racist, homophobic and purposefully caustic. They aren’t even old enough to drive somewhere to purchase, let alone own a mature rated game. Still, there they are, vomiting expletives, beat boxing and telling me how awesome they are at, “pwning noobs”.
Based on my negative experiences, it’s perfectly understandable that I stereotype all 12 year-olds and even place my son, Cam, in the same category. I assume that without parental filters, they’re delinquents all the time. They must be wandering the halls of middle schools across the country teaching each other how to chew tobacco while pontificating on the intricacies of tea bagging. I do not want to go to there.
Recently Cam approached me with, “Dad can I tell you something?” My past interaction with his age group leads me to assume the worst concerning the conversation we are about to have. Did he flunk a test? Deface property? Or worse, ninja loot from the other members of his WoW guild during a raid? At 12, he’s old enough to know better, but obviously that doesn’t stop his peers so why should it stop him?
“I want to talk about a kid at school that always sits alone at lunch,” Cam tells me. The discussion has obviously taken a turn I didn’t expect. However, I was still thinking doom and gloom. I knew my son would never tease or bully another kid but I thought I was about to hear how this kid, we’ll call him Ness, had spaghetti poured on his head or how he blew milk out his nose and now all the other kids call him “Cowboy”. I was prepared for the worst. Instead Cam told me a story that went something like this.
Last week Cam decided to sit down next to Ness and ask him why he always sat alone. He said he didn’t think the other kids on their middle school team liked him. He didn’t feel like he fit in. Cam began to look for any hook of a conversation topic; something on which he could hang a discussion the two of them could share. It turns out Ness is a big gamer just like Cam. In fact, he is not just any 12 year-old gamer. Ness is a fan of old school, Super NES games, and his favorite is Earthbound. He has even had some interaction with the Japan-only release of Mother. Cam was impressed. His only interaction with the series was what he had experienced in Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Nintendo Wii.
Ness plays Xbox 360 games as well and Cam made sure to get his gamertag so they could talk online after school. Cam also talked to his friends about Ness. He explained that he wanted to ask him to sit with them during lunch. His friends – other 12 year-olds – were very agreeable. Lastly, Cam privately let one teacher on his team know about his conversation with Ness and what he and his friends were doing to be more inclusive.
“Do you think I did the right thing?” Cam asked me as he finished his story. I felt like the world’s biggest ass. I was expecting the worst and ended up with a story that made me want to both hug him and buy him any game or game system he wanted. Cam reminded me that stereotypes are made to be broken. Blanket statements about gamers of any age are just as damaging as some adolescent telling me how much I suck at Modern Warfare 3 – maybe worse because the stereotype is usually false, but there is plenty of evidence in COD Elite concerning my current level of FPS suck-dom.
For those of us stateside, Thanksgiving is a tomorrow. As is the case every year, I am thankful for all the obvious reasons – health, family, and a job. However, this year I am also thankful to the online friends I have made that also accept Cam’s friend requests and help him understand what it means to be a civil gamer. Mostly, I am thankful for a 12 year-old kid with a big heart who was able to use a 1995 video game to discover a commonality with a peer who felt no one, “got him”.
Yeah, I think he “did the right thing” and I have renewed faith in future generations of gamers. Oh sure, I know the anonymity of online gaming means there will always be 12 year-olds (and 22, 32 and 42 year-olds as well) doing their best virtual impression of chest thumping. However, there are just as many kids that see the value and necessity of positive social interaction both online and off. For that, I’m truly thankful.