January 26, 2010

Adventures in Parenting: The Nuclear Family

You never know where your next "teachable moment" is going to come along.  My ten-year old daughter and I have been occasionally playing the PC version of the turn-based simulation game Civilization IV, although never head-to-head against each other.  For those unfamiliar with the Civilization series, a player starts off in 2500 B.C. or so, as a classic society like the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, or Indians, and "grow" the civilization by discovering advances like the alphabet, iron-working, drama, etc.; building Wonders of the World like the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Great Wall; exploring new lands; setting up trade routes; and establishing new cities on continents near and far.   The game can be won in several different ways, including conquering all the other empires on the planet, Risk-style, winning a diplomatic victory in the United Nations, achieving a specific cultural score on or before the clock runs out in the year 2050, or sending a rocket out into space with the people and supplies to colonize a planet.  It's labor-intensive mouse-clicking trying to keep all your cities growing, protected from opposing armies, and ensuring that your populations are happy (which avoids rebellion and increases your GDP).  It's a time-burner and pretty engrossing from the get-go.

Of course, the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants parental part of me is proud that a ten year old girl (or boy, for that matter) is taking an interest in a game with such complexity, history, civics, and inherent responsibility.   But it's the last aspect or lack thereof that gave me pause last Sunday morning. 

While helping the five year old boy get dressed, I happened to chance a glance over at the computer screen where my daughter was playing the game.  I saw a series of mushroom clouds erupt across the screen.   Apparently, my kid found a cheat code, god knows where on-line, and was hammering the poor bronze-working Egyptian civilization with ICBMs; just mercilessly raining nuclear death from above without warning. 

 Now, I was a teenager during the eighties, when the Russians were the Evil Empire and the Cold War was in full icebox mode. Nuclear armageddon was the 800 megaton gorilla in the room.  Consequently, popular culture was obsessed with mutually assured destruction.   WarGames, Threads, The Day After, The Terminator, the Mad Max films, Testament, One Night Stand, and World War III in cinema and TV, Watchmen, The Postman, Red Storm Rising, Doomsday Plus Twelve, Akira, and When the Wind Blows, in comics and literature, video games like Red Alert and Missile Command, and songs like Nena's "99 Luftballons," Sting's "Russians," and this badly dated gem from Frankie Goes to Hollywood:

Paranoia involving death by immediate disintegration or slow, mutant-inducing radiation is a powerful molding force on a teenage brain.  Still, by the end of the decade, the Berlin Wall fell, there was a McDonald's in Moscow, and somehow I'd end up with a full-blooded Russian wife in the '90s (and a scorched earth divorce from the same in the '00s).

But, alas, the damage was done.  My liberal sensibilities are forever tied to nuclear disarmament, "peace in our time," and conventional war strategems.   In Civilization IV, I usually go heavy on ground troops and only attack when attacked, or more likely, if I'm terribly bored with the current political map or one of the other civilizations' leaders is annoying the shit out of me.  My belligerence has limits though, because after the United Nations civilization advance comes along, I finagle my way into the U.N. Secretary-General chair, and bully through a "no-nukes" resolution.  Nukes are still too scary for me to conceptualize usage of, even in a video game, particularly when I ostensibly need to drop them on other civilizations' cities indiscriminately.

My kid, on the other hand, has no such reservations.   Bombs away.  I try to explain to her that pets, grandparents and little children get decimated even in videogame nuclear attacks, but the hard line on armageddon is a little soft without a similar pop culture apocalyptic message immersion that I bathed in throughout in the eighties.   We just aren't making our kids paranoid enough about instant death these days.               

1 comment:

  1. Nuclear bomb cheat-- love that.

    "labor-intensive mouse-clicking"