“There, there…over there, get him!”
I’m sitting on the edge of the couch, frantically pointing my finger at the television. On the flatscreen a man wearing a long, dirty tunic and sandals is racing across a rubble-strewn field. A missile explodes thirty yards behind him, sending the remnants of a destroyed shack sailing through the air. The man dives over a rock wall and crawls behind a jumble of boulders.
I look over at my fourteen year old son, who’s squeezing a joystick with both hands. Underneath the communication headset his face is crumpled with displeasure. I reach over and pat his shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” I say, “there’s always a next time.”
My son exhales and sulks for a moment. I can tell he’s dying to whip the controller across the room. He’s been at this all week, yet success remains elusive, a difficult thing at this age. But then he brightens suddenly. He flashes a grin and says, “Guess what…last week Billy took out a whole group of bad guys…it was awesome.”
I get up off the couch and head into the kitchen, thinking about how much fun these kids are having with Young Patriot. The “game” is pretty damn expensive, but parents are somehow finding the money as kids everywhere clamor for it. It’s a whole new concept for gaming that started when the Defense Department came up short in their funding last year. With budgets tightening, their solution was to turn real Predator drone attacks into a highly competitive online sport played by everyday private citizens. A few years ago this wouldn’t have been possible, but wireless technology and data packeting has come so far so fast that now it is.
Here’s how it works. Each family pays $500 per month to participate. For that, you get two guaranteed missions each day, and as your kill rate improves you get assigned more missions with increasingly difficult objectives. The kids that excel also see their monthly costs go down. Take out enough terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and pretty soon you’re playing for free. My son’s friend Billy is up to three missions per day and is only paying $250 per month now. It’s pretty ingenious, if you ask me – why pay some guy $60,000 plus benefits to do the work that a teenager can do just as well for free? And, the department gets to enjoy the windfall from a million other hopeful kids paying $6,000 a year for the same chance. Money like that can fund a lot of missions.
“Dad, I’m on again!”
I race back to the couch and drop into position. My son adjusts his headset and says, “This is Agent Orange, go ahead Command Center.” The flatscreen snaps to life with a real-time video showing two men sprinting away from a stone hut. My boy swivels his joystick and aligns the crosshairs on the back of the guy that’s falling behind. He thumbs the Fire button on his controller and we lean forward, holding our breath. A missile screams past the man’s head and slams into a pack of goats. A small puff of white appears on the screen. Then nothing.
My son rips off his headset and tosses it across the room. His face goes slack. Then it reddens in pure, adolescent frustration.
“I’m no good at this.”
I lean towards him and say, “Hey now, let’s think about this for a moment. The terrorists need to eat, right?
I’m surprised by how quickly I’m thinking on my feet here. Those parenting classes must really be paying off. My son looks at me through watery eyes.
“And what do they eat.”
My son looks at the parched landscape on the TV, seeing nothing but red sand and bone-dry hills. He sighs and says, “I don’t know…goats?”
I smile and say, “Yup, that’s right. They can’t eat sand, that’s for sure. So you’re helping indirectly, on the starvation front.”
He wipes a hand under an eye and looks up at me with doubt.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get your kill soon enough.”
My son smiles and says, “Thanks dad, I think you’re right.”
I grin with relief and say, "Hey, wanna watch SAW again?"
Copyright: © 2010 Thomas Sullivan
Copyright: © 2010 Thomas Sullivan
Thomas Sullivan's writing has appeared in 3AM Magazine and Bad Idea Magazine, among others. He is the author of Life In The Slow Lane, a comic memoir about teaching drivers education (available from Uncial Press at http://www.uncialpress.com/books/lifeinth/lifeinth.html) To view more of Thomas’ writing please visit his author website at http://thomassullivanhumor.com/