But there are some things that trouble me about it. All the hand-wringing about the "Hot Coffee" mod for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is nonsense, but if I were a parent I would worry about letting my child play Xbox Live. Players are not sorted by age—typically we'd be grouped with a 9-year-old, a 16-year-old, some twentysomethings, and 30-year-olds like us. The chatter among players that came over my headset during gameplay and the Postgame Carnage Reportswas usually vulgar, frequently homophobic, and sometimes racist.
I'm sounding like a much bigger prude than I am. But this anecdote illustrates one element of what makes me uncomfortable: I sent a "friend request" to a player who was particularly generous with advice. I immediately felt creepy upon realizing that I, a 30-year-old man, had just asked a 14-year-old boy to "be my friend." On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog. But it's also true that no one knows you're not a pedophile.
Seth: You're not a pedophile?
Yeah, I felt a little oogy when I was talking to a 9-year-old and I asked him, without thinking, where he lived. But mostly, I felt like I was the one who needed my innocence protected: All these little tweenie twerps, with their squeaky voices, kept calling me "dumb ass" as they were killing me. I'd chosen the screen name "sethdawg4000" because I thought it was archly funny in its utter screen-name-ness. After I got addressed as "homo-dawg" several times I came to regret the decision.
You're right that there's a lot of raunchy banter going on. I'm amazed Microsoft has not yet been called on this. If a few easily shocked parents sat in on a game of Halo 2, Congress would shortly be holding hearings.
Really, though, Xbox Live is just an online simulacrum of a middle-school cafeteria. The crudeness is coming from the kids, not being inflicted on them. If anything, the over-25s we met were an excellent influence. They tended to be polite and mellow and demonstrated good sportsmanship—like saying "good game" after they'd eviscerated me with various weapons.
For me, the two sociologically interesting things in this experience have been:
1) I'm right at the fulcrum point of gaming popularity. Almost everyone five years older than me doesn't really "get" video games and has little interest in playing them. Almost everyone five years younger than me can't imagine life without an Xbox (or PS2 or whatever).
As for me, I completely understand the appeal of these games—it's just that I suck at them and I'll never get any better. Having a job and/or girlfriend means not having the endless hours required to learn all the maps, determine which weapons work best in which situations, and so forth. There's also been some sort of evolutionary mutation that causes young people's thumbs to work better than mine. I simply cannot move my thumbs fast enough or accurately enough. I try to aim my plasma rifle and the thing is waving all over the place. Meanwhile, UrDeadHaHa147 has calmly sniped me 30 times from some hidden roost.
How are their thumbs so nimble and precise? It must be a genetic advance. In coming decades, I expect children will communicate complex thoughts using only thumb gestures. By the 22nd century, we will elect a thumb president. This is the path we're on.
2) People used to be all concerned about kids playing video games, and how isolating that is, and shouldn't they be outside playing kickball and stuff. But here we see these kids from all over the world interacting with each other for hours on end (if only to call each other homo). Is there some sort of counter- Bowling Alone argument to be made in favor of Xbox Live? I see your Bowling Alone and raise you a Disemboweling Together.