of a gun
crouching behind a wall, gun steady in my hands. My pulse is faster
than normal, I'm breathing heavily and sweat drips into my eyes.
I'm not safe.
They could be anywhere. Most of them are shorter than
me, eight years old. They're short, fast and hard to hit. The fog
and the darkness don't help.
I can't stay here forever. I need to get out, to shoot some of
these kids, score some for my team. I use moves I've seen in movies
and on TV. Out from behind the wall I pivot on my heel; I sneak
peeks around a corner, my gun barrel pointing at the ceiling, then
step out quickly, ready to shoot. I move through the fog. I accidentally
shoot members of my own team but keep going, grunting a quick apology
as I brush past.
I could do this all day, I think to myself. I could get
addicted to this.
But each laser-tag game lasts only 15 minutes. The game-over siren
sounds and my gun stops shooting. We return to the "vesting
room" to remove our light-up vests, return our guns to their
clips and re-enter the world of peace. I want to stay in the battle
room, though. I want to climb up to the catwalk and pick off little
kids below, or sneak up to a nest of enemies and blow them all away.
If not bloodthirsty, I am at least laser-hungry. I want to shoot
these kids. I want to hit the targets on their chests. I want to
rack up points and not get hit. (When you get hit, your vest makes
an explosion sound and your gun is unable to shoot for 20 excruciatingly
How did I end up here with my son's 13th birthday party, playing
laser tag against some eight-year-old's birthday party, aiming my
gun at small children in the dark and clouds of artificial mist?
When my son was younger, I was one of those sanctimonious pacifist
parents you hate. I forbade toy guns of all sorts. Water guns were
allowed, but only if in the shape of fish or elephants. When someone
gave my son a wooden, rubber-band shooting gun, I hid it from him.
When his dad took him to the amusement park and let him play the
Wild West target-shooting game, I felt anger and disapproval.
My core values had been betrayed.
Junior, barely five at the time, remembered that incident for a
long time not the target shooting game itself, but how pissed
I was at his dad. "Remember when Daddy let me play that gun
game and you got mad at him?" he said for years.
While Junior's friends were watching R-rated movies with their
older siblings, my son lived in a TV-free household, protected from
violence, the objectification of women, the hypnotic siren call
of consumerism in all forms.
Divorce, graduate school and a demanding new career wore down my
principles. Age softened my stance on toy guns. Junior is now old
enough to know why guns are bad, to understand the difference between
toys and the real thing.
We can talk rationally about Columbine and then he can go shoot
other boys with a Super-Soaker Uzi. He understands that shooting
people is wrong. Unless you shoot those people with lights or water.
Rubber bands are probably OK, too. Even those potato guns are probably
When my son invited his friends to a laser-tag party, I found myself
on the wrong end of the PC gun. Other mothers expressed doubts about
letting their boys attend. My son came home from school to report,
"Lucas said that Max's mother talked Lucas's mother into not
letting Lucas go to laser-tag."
I got a phone message, "I don't really want Nathan to go to
laser-tag because we don't do violence in our family, but all the
other kids are going, so ..."
"Oh yeah?" I wanted to say. "Well, we do a lot of
violence in our family."
In the end, all the kids were allowed to come and be corrupted
by me and my son.
But after the party, even more mothers expressed misgivings. One,
a sweet gentle soul told me how much she disliked the idea, "especially
with what's going on in the world today." I felt dirty. I looked
down, expecting to see blood on my hands.
Was I complicit in the war in Iraq? Was my enjoyment of laser tag
a tacit approval of all the violence around the globe?
I wanted to apologize. For laser tag. For war. For genocide. I
looked over at her son, pacing and ready to leave, embarrassed by
our conversation. I wanted to say what a good boy he is, what a
gentle soul he clearly has.
But I looked into her sweet, gentle eyes. "I actually really
enjoyed it," I said. "And, by the way, your son is an