OpEd Columns

You won't find gift of death, violence under the tree (Indianapolis Star 12/13/08)

Dear Santa:

I can't sleep. It must be this sugar high I'm on. I scarfed my last six handfuls of Halloween candy as I was waiting in the snow at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, before Toys R Us opened the floodgates.

But I lost. I didn't get the video games I wanted. The games I wanted to give as gifts. The games I wanted to play.

And now I can't sleep. Too much turkey. Too much candy. Too many shoppers.
Santa dude, I need your help.

Santa, you probably know that, according to research by the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Mental Health and Media, M-Rated (for ages 17 and older) video games are the most popular games among young teens. And you probably read the Federal Trade Commission survey that found 42 percent of children reported they could buy an M-rated game if they wanted.

I know I'm supposed to be 17 to buy one. Whatever. Research confirms that two-thirds of boys in the seventh and eighth grade play M-rated games. That's me.

So don't act surprised when you see "Manhunt 2" at the top of my Christmas list. You know, "Manhunt 2," the new ultra-violent video game from Rockstar Games and Take Two Interactive? Please tell me you're not banning "Manhunt 2," like Target stores, and the entire country of Great Britain.

Because I really can't wait to play it, and be Daniel Lamb, the escaped inmate from the neighborhood asylum, as he goes crazy on a homicidal rampage. How cool is that? In the first "Manhunt" game, you could take a plastic bag and suffocate your victim as you watched them struggle to breathe and ultimately die. I hear in "Manhunt 2" you get to rip out a skull with a sickle, and beat a guy's head in with a fire extinguisher.

And I really want the Wii version, because then I can stand up and act out every murder with my handy nunchuk. Way better than just pushing buttons on the PS2 controller.

Santa, please don't think I'm too young to play "Manhunt 2." I read where a spokesman for Take Two said "Manhunt 2" was intended "specifically for those players mature enough to appreciate it."
And I appreciate it. Just like I appreciate "Gears of War," "Halo 3," "Call of Duty 4," "Resident Evil 4," "Ace Combat 6." Those are the ones I'm giving my friends for Christmas.

Santa, my buddy wants a game about date rape and one about lynchings, but I can't find either one. Maybe it's too tough to get past the ratings board. But you'd think if maximum carnage is usually the goal, what's the big deal? It's not like we're gonna go out and really commit a rape or lynch someone. I mean, I've never suffocated someone with a plastic bag in real life. See what I mean?

Can you help me Santa? Signed your friend, Tyler.

Dear Tyler:

Can I ask a favor this Christmas? Seeing that we are celebrating the birthday of Jesus Christ. And seeing that Jesus was the greatest peacemaker of all time. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want "Manhunt 2" for his birthday. I think if he opened it up on Christmas morning, he might politely smile and say, "Thank you." Then drop it in the trash. No, he'd recycle it. No, he'd probably tell a brilliant parable about the lost son and the video game.

I don't know. But I bet he wouldn't play the game. And I'm guessing he wouldn't want his friends playing "Manhunt 2" at his birthday party either. And he probably wouldn't want to see the day when human beings could conjure up a game about maximum carnage, or date rape, or lynchings.

Tyler, this Christmas season as you're shopping for your friends, think of this phrase, "Peace on earth, good will toward men." And if you absolutely have to buy a M-rated video game for your friend, because you just can't think of anything else better than giving the gift of homicidal gaming, save it for a time other than Christmas.

Love, Santa.

Ted Mandell teaches in the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre at the University of Notre Dame.
Copyright 2008 Ted Mandell