As Pac-man turned 30 last week, it’s interesting to place that harmless little gobbler in the context of 21st century mayhem. Most videogames today being nerve-wrackingly loud and violent, there is something to be said about a generation that is disturbingly at ease with all that virtual blood and gore. Not for them the mind-numbing banality of Ludo or the cunning charm of chess.
Technological advances apart, it might seem like an entire value system is at stake in this seemingly epic mismatch between the popular moral templates we grew up with and the ones on offer today. But, to be fair to this generation, old stuff should also come with its own caveats.
Before leaving on a visit to the US, I asked an old friend if I should get her children animated versions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, to supplement her efforts to keep them grounded in Indian culture. Her quick “no, thanks” was followed by an account of such ‘initiation rituals’ in the past. “How”, she asked, “do I explain all that promiscuity and polygamy, burning people and turning tricks to my four-and six-year olds as God’s work? I can’t even tell them the legend behind Holi or Sita without finding an explanation for people consigning themselves to flames at the drop of a hat!”
To be fair, it took me years to acknowledge just how violent that old favourite Tom and Jerry really is, right before I realised that in the real world you can’t marry five men. Not at one go, at least. And, that, unless you’re God’s mommy, you’d need at least one to perpetuate the lineage. The thing is, we never saw the flattening of a pesky tomcat by a naughty little mouse as anything but cathartic. Cartoons were fun and tales were, well, tales and gods were plain cool.
Not so anymore. In an age where children are growing up faster than we do, maybe it’s time to re-visit our epics and lock them up till the kids reach double-digits. In the meantime, ‘Grand Theft Auto’ anyone?