Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bad Robots

Sooner or later they all rise up.
This is the little guy’s latest obsession. Well, not pixellated webcomics per se, but the subject matter above: bad robots. Not only does he bring them up often (and almost equally often, apropos of nothing) but they show up in the freestyle artwork he brings home from daycare. At this stage in his neuro-motor development his renderings consist entirely of monochromatic marker scribbles, but when we ask him “oh, what is this a picture of?” the answer is generally some variation on “bad robots”.

On one hand I find this really fascinating because it taps into an interesting element of geek morality. With all the tropes of action-adventure and problems-solved-through-violence inherent in everything from comic books to video games, there comes a point at which you have to ask if it’s really ok for the supposed hero to deal so heavily in carnage and death (perhaps exemplified best in the Clerks-esque discussions of all those faceless stromtroopers who are annihilated when the Death Star explodes). But there are ways around that kind of moral thorniness. Zombies are a standout example, embodying bad guys who are (a) already dead and (b) impossible to stop without destroying and also (c) capable of making the case that destroying them is actually a kind of mercy. Robots, or certain versions thereof, are very similar: lifeless, mindless, and plausible enough to throw at the good guy in automaton hordes, allowing the good guy to cut loose with wild abandon and dismantle them with untroubled hyperviolence.

The little guy has the capacity for hyperviolence, of that I have little doubt. He’s been known to very calmly, sweetly even, confess to my wife, “Mommy … I just like hitting.” So by all means, if he wants to channel that aggression toward the destruction of bad robots, this is in my view something to be encouraged (as long as the boundaries implied are rigorously observed). But the funny thing is, I certainly didn’t plant this particular idea in the little guy’s head. I have no idea from whence it springs. I have to assume he picked it up at school, the only time he’s really receiving ideas unobserved by either his mother or myself. Some other little boy who has an older sibling into Transformers no doubt suggested fighting bad robots on the playground and it just clicked into the little guy’s receptive imagination.

At the Super Bowl party we all attended, my buddy Clutch dragged out many toys (his own, for he’s a man after my own heart) for the kids, including Rock’em Sock’em Robots, which the little guy was of course instantly drawn to. I was amused by the fortuitous coincidence myself, and acquiesced several times when the little guy wanted to pull me away from the football game in the living room and over to the robo-deathmatch game in the playroom. The game was one of the newer editions, not an antique from the 60’s, yet inevitably still prone to the same mechanical limitations as always. I found these worked to my advantage, though. The little guy and I would both flail away at the punch controllers in a very loud stalemate, and whenever I decided I had had enough I would just shake the movement lever back and forth as hard as I could, which was generally sufficient to unhook the catch inside my robot’s head and cause it to sproing upward, at which point I could tell the little guy “You win!” and everyone was happy. Of course, this is a matter of some contention in the household at the moment, whether or not three, almost three-and-a-half is an age at which we shouldn’t always let the little guy win, and at which we should expect him to play games by their established rules and not make up his own, but that’s something to be settled another day (or which very well may simply settle itself).

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