Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been particularly sensitive to depictions of violence against animals. My mother learned early on that I couldn’t handle Tom and Jerry, the Roadrunner cartoons, or Sylvester and Tweety. “But he’s a carnivore!” I would cry sympathetically. “He’s just hungry! Turn on the Snorks, Mom.” And that holds to this day.
But apparently I was much less bothered by anything involving humans wailing on each other. Shortly after graduating vet school, my husband bought an XBox. After four long years of labor and toil, I needed a little decompression, and one day I turned on a game called Morrowind. For several months, I would grab my longsword, beat other characters over the head, and steal all their stuff. I was heady with my virtual strength, pillaging and intimidating my way through the lands. It was fantastic.
Then I got a job, and had kids, and did all those things not particularly compatible with online gaming, and Morrowind remained on the shelf as I resumed my normal adult activities.
This Christmas, my husband got me the latest game in the Morrowind series, a game called Skyrim. Mostly popular with teenaged boys, I nonetheless thought this would be a good nostalgic diversion for those five seconds of free time I now call my own every day.
“Can we watch?” asked my kids as I pulled the game out of the cellophane.
“Sure,” I said, popping it in. I would just have to be sure to keep the bloodletting to a minimum while they were around. Surely, I thought, it couldn’t be that bad at the start.
The beginning of the game is exposition, with you sitting in a wagon while the story unfolds around you. It becomes apparent a couple of minutes in that you are heading to the headsman for crimes unknown. No matter, I thought, obviously you find a way out of it and the game then gets underway.
We arrive at the chopping block. In the distance, a man pulls a hood over his head. I look at the kids. They are entranced.
The person to my left is pulled out of the wagon by a guard. I begin to get nervous. They aren’t going to go all Game of Thrones on me in the first two minutes, surely.
The guy is thrown down on the block. The headsman raises his axe. Realizing my mistake, I feverishly look for the pause button, but it’s been ten years since I’ve held a controller and I’m a little rusty.
Too late. The axe swings, and plop! Off with his head, which flies off the guy’s body and rolls onto the ground. My kids look at the screen. I look inward to my soul.
“Why did his head pop off?” asked my son. “Do heads just pop off like that?”
“NO,” said my daughter, “They chopped it off.” They look at me. “Why? WHY????”
This is the sort of gaffe that mothers everywhere scream at their husbands for subjecting their children to. I, the person who doesn’t even watch the news when the kids are around, the great pacifist, have no one to blame but myself for subjecting them to their first graphic decapitation. What is seen cannot be unseen.
My kids sit in shocked silence. “I don’t want to watch this anymore,” my son said. So I turned it off, and that’s as far as I’ve gotten in Skyrim. I don’t think it was really meant for moms in their late thirties anyway.
Maybe I should have just turned on some nice pleasant fare for them instead, like Tom and Jerry. Or Breaking Bad. My Bad Mommy credentials are accumulating at an alarming rate.