This Local.se report details the story of a Swedish father who is taking a little bit of heat from other parents for taking his two young sons on a trip to occupied Israel and Palestine in order to teach them about the realities of war. Yes, video games — specifically Call of Duty — is part of this story. Carl-Magnus Helgegren is a journalist, university teacher, and a father of two boys (ages 10 and 11).
When his boys expressed interest in playing the new Call of Duty game their father made them a deal: they could play whatever video game they wanted as long as they went with him on a trip to Gaza. Helgegren was familiar with the ongoing conflict in the region, having spent time in the Middle East as a freelance journalist when he was quite a bit younger. He was concerned that his young boys didn't understand the realities and the impact of war on real people. His sons agreed to the trip and off they went.
"It wasn't until the second day when we were there, eating at an Israeli street food stand, when they asked, 'Dad, are we really here because of the games?' And I said yes. Yes, we are here because of the games. You need to see this," the father told The Local.
He recounted the other places he and his sons visited including a refugee camp in East Jerusalem. They stayed in the region for ten days, and at times the trip was tough for Helgegren's sons.
"I had to explain quite a bit. I was especially thorough when explaining the politics, and pointing out that the Israeli politics do not necessarily reflect all parts of Israeli society," Helgegren explained.
When they returned home the two boys no longer wanted to play Call of Duty, and while Helgegren thinks the trip was a success, other parents in Sweden think he's not a very good father.
"I have received messages calling me the worst parent in the world, saying that I am traumatizing my children, that I am a pompous bastard, and that I should be doused in napalm," Helgeren told The Local. "I didn't really expect such a reaction."
He thinks some of the criticism stems from people not reading the article thoroughly and thinking that he took his children on the trip recently. The trip happened well before the most recent round of fighting broke out.
And Helgegren at least has support from some in the Swedish games industry; Johanna Nylander from Swedish Games Industry said she thought Helgegren was setting a good example as a parent about responsibility, but also added that you probably don't need to drag your children into a war zone to do that:
"But I don't think it's necessary, perhaps, to take your kids to warzone. Just playing together with them and showing an interest should suffice," she told Sveriges Radio.
She added that there's a big difference between real war and video game war and that children have been playing war games in one form or another since the beginning of time.
You can find out more about Helgegren's story in this excellent report. It's certainly a fascinating idea that is not without its share of risks and rewards.