You know the ones. A group of all American teens (the wrong side of 16) who aren’t quite emotionally mature enough to dispense with the fantasy of being Bruce Willis in Die Hard, who rampage over an unbelievably clean urban landscape playing Nerf tag with their pump-action, fast loading Nerf guns and speaking like movie trailer voice-overs.
“You’re going down!”
“I’m locked and loaded!”
“Take that with my Nerf telescopic sniper rifle!”
“Eat foam Velcro-tipped dart, towel-head!”
Yeah. That kind of thing. I hate those adverts. Really hate them. And the kids in them. Nerdy jocks with too much testosterone but not enough to put away their toy guns and get themselves a proper girlfriend. They really get on my Nerfs.
So it was with much trepidation that we bought a couple of Nerf dart guns for the boys. The eldest was going to a Nerf dart tag party and hence had to be appropriately tooled up. So my wife, Karen, who’s knowledge of toy weaponry is worryingly superior to my own did the deed via Amazon and within a couple of days we were the proud owners of two gleaming green and orange pump action Nerf assault rifles.
The boys – including the youngest – have barely stopped playing with them.
It is disconcerting to see a 3 year old wearing eye goggles and operating the pump action on his Nerf gun like a ‘Nam vet. More worrying to discover that he got his eye in very quickly and, though is content to fire at everything and nothing most of the time, can still shoot the balls off a gnat when he wants to. Even the eldest boy – usually capable at missing a barn door whilst inside the barn – has discovered hitherto untapped reserves of accuracy.
The guns feel and look... er, good. They make the holder feel instantly macho and empowered. And I hate to say that. Because I like to think of myself as a pacific kind of guy. Not particularly marshal. But even I took great delight in bouncing a Nerf dart off the back of my wife’s head at 8 metres. It was a fine shot and took account of gravity and wind speed and the erratic movement of my target.
Technically it was friendly fire but, hey, with those credentials maybe I could get a job with the UN?
Joking aside though, I can’t help but see this affinity that we have with weaponry as deeply sad. And troubling. I’d like to put it down to the sportsman’s simple joy of launching an object through the air and hitting an aimed for target – a test of skill, accuracy and judgement.
But it isn’t, is it?
It’s about power and prowess and machismo. And even 3 year olds get it. Even when half an hour later they’re snuggled up in front of the TV watching Waybuloo.
It makes me feel like Sarah Connor’s son in Terminator 2 when he sees kids playing with guns in the desert and says, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”
‘Cos even if you don’t buy toy guns and toy swords for your kids they’ll go out and find an appropriately shaped stick and pretend one into being. What do you do? Place a limit on their imagination?
Denying our affinity for violence and aggressive is dangerous. The way I see it, it needs to be confronted. Marshalled, controlled, given a safe and constructive outlet.
And I guess this is where products like the Nerf guns come in. And believe me this is not an endorsement or a review – just my observations.
The darts are foam and relatively harmless. The guns come with protective goggles and vests. The vests have target areas on them. The competitive element has been ramped up rather than the murderous (though you can never expunge it completely).It’s just a game with a capital G.
So maybe those all American teens will grow up to be balanced individuals who channel their aggression into paint balling weekends or clay pigeon shooting precisely because they embraced their aggression in controlled play?
It’s certainly better that than them going on the rampage at a school or a town centre somewhere near you with an Uzi and a shotgun.
But ultimately, who knows?
I just feel like I have hypothetical blood on my hands this morning and it doesn’t feel too nice.