Just as we come into summer, Olle has developed an obsession with football. Any type of football will do - soccer, Australian Rules, rugby (or what passes for these at his feet...) One of the benefits of having two dogs to walk is that we regularly find balls which have been left behind in the local parks. So Olle has a constant supply of socccer and rugby balls and lately he spends every spare moment throwing or kicking these around inside our house. It takes him about three seconds to go from front door to back door in our tiny house, so we had to quickly branch out and start going out to the park not to walk the dogs, quel surprise, but to throw a ball around.
It turns out (we're women, we didn't know this) that wherever there is a boy throwing or kicking a ball, there are other boys and men who will join in throwing and kicking the ball - or who have their own balls which Olle is welcome to join in with. So in the past few weeks, when this passion of his has been in full bloom, he has been making new pals at a a rapid rate - every second day we spend an hour or two round the corner at the park. I throw frisbees for the dogs and Olle plays with a motley crew of all ages.
But none have been as wonderful as Lewis, a nine year old who goes to one of Sydney's most elite private schools, with whom Olle spent three full hours playing last weekend. I stayed home that day, so I haven't yet set eyes on Lewis, but I've heard all about him. Yesterday we had to go back to the park at exactly the same time in case Lewis turned up again (Olle didn't realise it was a case of 'in case' - he thought it was a fact of life that Lewis goes to the park at 5pm every Sunday.) Lewis wasn't there but other boys with balls were and the game went on...
Earlier, during some heavy rain, Olle wanted to go onto the computer. Lewis, he said, had told him that you could play Playstation online. So I Googled 'Playstation online' and found the site. But it took just one glance to see that the 'featured games' were awful: Ratchet, Deadlocked, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, US Navy SEALs, Brothers in Arms, Earned in Blood (yuk!) and Blitz, the League, which was apparently a gridiron football game. I told Olle that they were all horrible games about war and soldiers, except for the one about football. He wanted to look at that one. So I clicked in...
On the right, in the ratings section, it told me that this game includes: Blood, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs, Violence.
In the game summary, is this: The League includes on-field injuries, ranging from snapping bones to bloody, career-ending hits.
Snapping bones?! As a marketing point? Clearly I am out of touch. I knew there was a horrible world of online violence for boys out there but I've mostly managed to avoid that world. We do have teenage friends who play games like Grand Theft Auto (even though it says it's only for over-17s) and in fact, in my job, which may or may not have something to do with journalism, I encounter reviews of online games which provide me with glimpses into what's around. So I am not a complete naif. Still, 'snapping bones' was a surprise to me, a horrible surprise. (Third time I've used the word 'horrible' - I can't think of an alternative.)
Olle is a complete naif and was quite happy to get the hell out of there when I told him it was far too violent for us. Instead we went to the website linked to one of his CD-ROMs, Ollie Saves the Planet - it's a little bit old for him but at least there are no snapping bones. I left him to it and went upstairs to read in bed. After awhile he came up and joined me and we both fell asleep - the first afternoon nap for either of us in years. Daylight saving has a way of doing that. [Co-parent was elsewhere, minding a two year old whose pregnant mother, our friend, was sick and also needed to sleep the afternoon away...]
Maybe Lewis had another Playstation site in mind. Maybe. The point is that these are the sorts of influences that surround our sons - this is the sort of information that boys swap as they play football with other boys in the local park - "go to this website, it's great!" It's not, it's horrible.