I was Long the Terror and Scourge of Mario Land. The Stalin of Marios.

Illustration for article titled I was Long the Terror and Scourge of Mario Land. The Stalin of Marios.

There's a place called "The Gun Store" in Las Vegas where you can shoot a real AK-47 at different targets (including zombies and Osama bin Laden, though I suspect the latter has been discontinued). It's expensive, over a dollar per round, and as you can imagine, those will mount up pretty quickly when you are shooting an AK-47. They have loads of other guns as well, including a 1911 Colt .45.

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The Yelp reviews for this place make for scintillating reading. I especially liked this one:

"Our Rangemaster Scott was the best! He was very patient with all of us (2 Adults/ 2 kids Seven and Eleven Years Old) and we literally had a blast shooting various types of M4's Pistols, M249, and various rifles!!!!

"He made sure to give us very ample time to safely pose with each gun as well so we could capture the memories!

"It's cool to see my 2 boys knowing all of the names of almost all of these guns (Call of Duty!) and firing them in real life; all the while learning to respect firearms and the responsibility and seriousness of them all in real life."

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"What could be more fun than shooting zombies?" asked another satisfied Gun Store patron. "Shooting zombies with a .44 Magnum, of course!"

The idea of playing a game with real guns scares me, but I have to admit it that part of me may recoil, so to speak, yet another part can hardly wait to try it. There is a vertiginous appeal in the idea of reality inching just that little bit closer to the fantasy. After all, one has already killed quite a lot of zombies, one way and another. With a real .44 Magnum? Now that's a game.

Fantasy murder is the best kind, no doubt. If you actually had to go through with killing someone, all kinds of disagreeable realities (e.g. blood, guts, irreversibility, a grotesque corpse to dispose of, plus shame, remorse and possible detection) would be bound to come in and ruin the whole thing. "I could kill him/her!" we often shout, apropos of whatever politician, athlete, musician or family member we are momentarily enraged with. Ever so violently, ever so briefly, one is seized with the desire to strangle or dismember. We want to kill someone for a moment, we really do, but not really really. Not so you'd have to go all Lady Macbeth about it afterward.

This paradox has long been understood by the generations of geniuses who produce cartoons for children. Long before Itchy & Scratchy, the deceptively peaceable-seeming Road Runner was, in essence, a murderous character, constantly contriving to have Wile E. Coyote plunge off a cliff, shoot out of a cannon and into a wall, etc. Still earlier, the stars of Merrie Melodies were constantly being blown up, or having 1000-lb. anvils collapsing onto their hapless heads. Yosemite Sam seemed to spend half his pint-sized, furious existence covered in post-explosion soot.

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These abstract, violent and yet harmless deaths are perhaps the precursors of game murders, pleasantly refined so that the player is the one doing the ultraviolence.

That is exactly the sort of murder I have in mind for my own adversaries, by the way. And by "have in mind", I mean, "imagine constantly". They will be flattened under one of those massive anvils or blowed the hell up, and then they will return in the next frame, suitably chastised, dusted with cinders or comically squashed, maybe wearing a Band-Aid, who knows? I find dreaming up such scenes to be deliciously soothing; it expiates the rage, all by itself.

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In game play, of course, one begins by being a murderer despite oneself. I was long the terror and scourge of Mario Land. The Stalin of Marios. Not because I was any good at those games, mind you, but for exactly the opposite reason. Any Mario with two brain cells to rub together would be running the other way the mere sight of me, since he was almost certainly about to be incinerated, mushroomed, smashed etc.

One dealt out death in the old games, with their strangely bewitching music and rudimentary but hypnotic graphics, with very little fanfare. Marios do not suffer even today when they are dispatched; they do not bleed even a tiny bit, or put up much of a fight to speak of. Today's Mario is still merely surprised by the sudden appearance of deadly peril and just flies off the track with a little squeal. How I loved the way they used to float down with a thin, lovely cry of 8-bit surprise, softly falling, not accelerating at all, sweetly tragic in their helpless unrealness, down into those mysterious and inaccessible worlds below the screen.

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But the way of the old games, where a character would just shrivel a little bit, whine or go pale, has given way to the pseudo-realistic "gore" of today's games. I remember Doom and Quake being particularly thrilling to many in this regard. I would argue, though, that this is just another kind of abstraction, with unreal conventions borrowed from slasher films rather than postwar cartoons. There's very little in the way of actual suffering depicted even in Grand Theft Auto, no, not even when you run over a lot of hookers, which many adolescents find so entertaining.

Warring sociopolitical camps have long disagreed over whether or not violent video games promote aggressive real-life behavior, and studies have been commissioned to prove the claims of both sides. The gamers of my own anecdotal acquaintance tend to be surpassingly gentle creatures, so I am tempted to believe that this is because any murderous instincts they may have are fully expiated by their death-dealing exploits in the realm of fantasy.

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And yet. There really is a cloudy line between game play and real-life violence that can be exploited, as I was suggesting earlier, to take us just a little closer to the real thing. The zombie firing range, the extra-gory Halloween haunted house and underground LARPs such as Killer (and their precursors) share this aspect of bringing a little something quite a bit more like real violence into play. (For those interested in this aspect of game-psychology and its underpinnings, I can highly recommend the novel "Fifth Business" by the great Canadian novelist, Robertson Davies.)

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Some of us do want to escalate things a little bit. The real gun; the frozen paintball. Almost-violence, almost real. How dangerous is it to access the murderous impulse that is buried, however deeply, in us all?

Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

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DISCUSSION

I'm from West (by god) Virginia, which needless to say, is gun country, but in spite of that (or perhaps because of that) I feel, and always have felt that guns should NEVER be put in the hands of children. (Or 99% of adults for that matter.)

Guns are frikkin dangerous! And it isn't the incidental danger involved in most activies either... guns are literally designed to kill!!!!

Toy guns.... sure. Guns in video games... also fine. (But damn, COD is an adult game, kids shouldn't be playing it due to the fact that it glorifies REAL war, which should never be glorified.) Real guns, NEVER.

Using the Wile E. Coyote example above. You wouldn't give your kids dynamite or cannons or anvils to play with even if the target was a picture of a cartoon coyote would you? Why? Well those things are incredibly dangerous and the kids could accidentally hurt themselves couldn't they. So how is that different from guns again?

And since we are going there anyway, the ownership of guns by a private citizen in a first world country, for any reason is archaic, primitave and just plain wrong.

Keeping a gun for protection? Ignoring the fact that statistically speaking guns are NOT a valid method of protection what you are saying is that you would be willing to kill a person. Killing people is wrong. Stopping people, even seriously injuring people for the sake of saving yourself or loved ones is acceptable (barely) but killing people is wrong. And for the record, no war doesn't justify it (at least not in a modern age of non-lethal stopping arms) nor does "justice" nor anything else.

How do I know it's wrong so certainly? Well imagine a person. Now imagine killing a person... imagine them falling to the ground dead and lifeless. Did it give you a good feeling? If Not then congradulations, you are human... if it did then seek professional help immediately.

Ok how about collecting? Seriously do I have to even go into this one? Collecting old guns is like collecting rods of uranium. They might look pretty, but there is a valid risk of someone eventually getting hurt. And collecting ridiculous hunks of metal, particularly the overtly dangerous ones like automatic weapons is not a right. Let's put it this way... if somebody told you that your baseball card collection, while inert in your hands, contained explosives and people were using it to blow up hospitals would you bitch and moan about your right to collect them when the goverment insisted to take them off the market? Because that is EXACTLY what is going on in terms of gun control vs collectors.

Ok how about hunting? Well I'm not going to go as far as to say that killing animals is wrong. We are omnivores afterall and we have a genetic hunger and need for meat. With that being said, killing for food is one thing and killing for sport or fun is just sick. You shouldn't find the act of killing a beautiful, living creature that has done you no harm enjoyable. And no, saying "we eat everything we kill" doesn't excuse yourself because you went hunting for fun, not for food. Our primative ancestors did it because they had to, not because they wanted to. They might have even enjoyed it, but remember how murderous and barbaric people were in the past. Now we don't need to so we shouldn't.

Again, how do I know this is wrong so certainly? Imagine your favorite pet. Now imagine shooting it dead. Not a pleasant sight is it? Oh but it's different because we don't hunt pets? In what way? An animal is an animal... sorry.

You see the problem is, like most things in this world, these horrible actions are socially acceptable because a lot of people do them. You know, prior to the 1800's a lot of people owned slaves and that didn't make it right. There was a time when leeches and mercury were used in medicine, but we know how ignorant and stupid that is now.

The point is things change, and I think that we are in a point in society in which we can do without firearms and lethal weapons, at least on the private level.

And don't throw the second amendment at me either.

I will remind you of the following things:

1. That was written in 1775, when we had the French to our south and north, the english at our shores, Spainyards to the west, millions of natives and a vast untamed wilderness to deal with. All of which, I might add, wanted us either out or dead.

2. In 1775 an "arm" generally referred to a knife or sword of some kind. Muskets weren't particularly practical back then if you wanted to fire more than one shot. Reload times could take minutes, range was poor, and reliability was even worse. Long story short the law wasn't designed to handle semi and full automatic weapons that we have today.

3. The original amendment was writen in such a way that it basically says that you have the right to bear arms for use in the militia. This makes sense as there wasn't a regular army back in the day and the goverment was too poor to furnish muskets to all the men.

4. The Constitution is a fluid document and nothing there is set in stone. If it was then alcohol would still be illegal black people would still be slaves and women or black people wouldn't have the right to vote.

And just for the record I love violent television and violent video games, even the gritty, realistic ones. That because they aren't real and I know that they aren't real so I can work out any primative, violent urges without hurting anyone. It's when we stop using toy guns and start using real ones that I get angry.