Crispy Gamer

GamerParenting: The 411 on 4/20


It?s Friday as I write this, but I?m too busy getting ready for 4/20. Just so you know, these are the most important numbers in my life. They guide me, challenge me, and hold my universe together. They force me to take a break and reflect on my career, my family and the choices I?ve made. Oh yes, I?ll most definitely have a party on 4/20.

It?s an interesting date, 4/20. It?s rife with meaning.

4/20/99 -- that?s when the modern age of anti-videogame sentiment began and I was tasked to cover it. Once upon a time, I did political news for CNet?s fondly missed GameCenter. I?d cover whatever politicians were saying about games. I usually didn?t cover breaking news, but during the week of 4/20, I was tasked with covering a different kind of story.

Remember Columbine? On 4/20/99 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold executed a plan that they had been nurturing for months. They hunted their fellow students methodically. First they set off a firebomb in a field about a half-mile from the high school to divert authorities and rescue workers from the scene of the next crime. They arrived at the school in separate cars, then killed 12 teenagers and two adults, wounded 23 more children, and then killed two more (themselves). They horrified a nation and sparked a debate that can basically be summed up as follows: ?What caused this??

4/20/1889 happens to be the birthday of Adolph Hitler, and the racist writings Harris and Klebold left behind did obsess on the date enough to make it clear that April 20 was chosen for a reason. Others blamed guns and our gun culture: How did two kids so easily obtain so many firearms and why didn?t anyone notice? Videogames were blamed, particularly the then six-year old Doom, and these guys were huge fans of violent movies. (Given that they?re teenage boys, to this point I say, ?Of course.?) Their rampage sent everyone casting about for reasons. That's an important human quality, seeking order in chaos, and since very few people (including 99.9 percent of the people who regularly play violent videogames) can actually imagine gunning down innocent people, it's natural to cast about for reasons why.

What I saw when covering this was that the news media wasn?t looking for reasons, it was largely looking for causes, and that meant reacting to everything but the real problem. Security was increased in schools nationwide -- despite Columbine, violence and crime was already down in American high schools, but people wanted to feel better now, so instead of funding guidance counselors or making an effort to help kids who might be on the edge, the focus was put on prevention and capturing kids before they committed a crime. Don?t even think about blowing up the school, man -- Big Brother is watching you!

I realized that a media willing to scare parents with lies and false information after a horrible tragedy is not a media looking to HELP. After something like Columbine or Virginia Tech, parents are already scared, everyone is scared. What they need are facts, not more fears. Think of all the parents watching the news and wondering if their "A" student upstairs is going to kill people because they let him play Halo. To a parent who has never played a videogame it sounds reasonable, but gamers know that it?s absurd. There is research that suggests violent media can cause short-term aggression, but there?s no research indicating that it changes personalities. It won't make a good person bad, but it could be a trigger if your child is already disturbed. Of course, anything could be that trigger. History shows it could be "The Catcher in the Rye," "Taxi Driver" or even the Holy Bible. The events of 4/20 helped launch and serves as an annual reminder to me of why I'm on this quest and how videogames are still misperceived in our culture.

A year passed and the planets aligned again and the path was further illuminated. My first child, Maggie, arrived on the morning of April 20, 2000, one year after Columbine. You might say that one 4/20 inspired the gamer, and the next one created the dad.

That?s what 4/20 means to me. It?s the day I became a parent, it?s the day I began my career and heard my calling, it?s the most important day in my life. Oh, yes, I am going to party, and at the party I?m going to have a hot dog and big slice of pink cake shaped like a teddy bear. I?m going to hug my little girl and we might put in a few rounds of Super Smash Brothers, Kabookii or LEGO Star Wars with the friends she has sleeping over. Aw? Who am I kidding? It?ll be Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour and High School Musical: Sing It! for us. Still, later on, after the kids go to bed, I might enjoy a single cigar to celebrate.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em!

Note to parents: If you can?t think of any more meanings for 420, and you hear your kids or their friends mention it, you might want to Google the term and get hip. This column only endorses 4/20 as a time for remembering Columbine and saying ?Happy Birthday? to Maggie.