I was at the high school tutoring today, and I’m nursing a headache from all the noise in the library. I sat at a table situated behind a bank of computers and helped my favorite student with his economics assignment. He left for a few minutes to key in the changes I suggested on one of the computers.
As I waited, I could see ten computer screens, and most of the kids were surfing the net. One kid was looking at different cell phones on Verizon. The rest were watching YouTube videos. Kids started gathering around one of the screens to watch a video game. They started getting pretty animated, and I saw the librarian get up from her desk and head toward their direction. Just when she was almost close enough to see what was on the screen, up popped a writing assignment. She looked at the screen and made a very educated guess that they were probably not getting all that excited about a Word document. She shooed everyone away, and kicked the kid off the computer. He gave her a bunch of lip but got up and left.
We didn’t have computers in my library, but we did our share of goofing off. We entertained ourselves with looking at naked people in anatomy and medical books, passing notes, or doodling—anything to avoid homework. These kids have a different medium for wasting time, but it’s still the same typical high school behavior.
As soon as the librarian walked away, YouTube magically appeared on the kids’ screens. One guy had a game on. The game made it appear that you, the game player, were walking along looking down the barrel of a machine gun hunting for people to shoot at. You were wearing an army camouflage shirt. Someone popped out from a doorway and fire flashed from the end of your gun while you repeatedly blasted them. A bunch of boys gathered around the screen, mesmerized. They weren’t actually playing the game; they were watching a demo video of it.
I was waiting for my student to get back, so I got up and went over and stood with the crowd. “What on earth are you watching?” I asked. None of them looked up, but they all answered, “a video game.” How they knew I wasn’t the librarian, I don’t know. I guess they could still see her out of their peripheral vision. “Are you actually playing the game?” I asked. “Naw, it’s just a demo.”
There was a pretty good crowd forming. You, the video soldier, continued to blast people. Although it was definitely animation, it had a fairly realistic look to it. One time the blasted guy was pretty close to the “camera” and the screen got splattered in fake blood. “Oooo that’s gross,” I said, but they were murmuring, “Cool!”
“Doesn’t this make you want to go out and kill people?” I asked. “Naw, it’s just a game.” I persisted. “Don’t you feel anything watching this?” And they responded like zombies, “Naw.”
“We used to play Pac Man where you blasted little alien things,” I said. “This is Pac Man 2” one of them quipped. I went back to my table after a couple of minutes, bored and scared the librarian would come over.
I’ve decided that it isn’t much different than when kids pretended they were in the old west and made their fingers into guns so they could blast each other. This was the high school version of that. I don’t approve of it, per se, because it’s violent and I don’t like violence. On the other hand, I remember reading that book, “All Quiet on the Western Front” when I was in high school and I could visualize those war scenes as if they were real. I can still see them in my head. At least you knew this was a game.
The librarian came back over and the kids scattered like a bag of marbles dropped on a concrete floor. Up came the Word documents just in the nick of time. She walked over to me and shook her head. “They watch a lot of YouTube,” I said. She glanced at the screens, “I’m going to get some monitoring equipment so I can see what they have on their computers,” she said.
She’s going to get an eyeful.