The slaughter was almost over. I shifted a warrior in a futile attempt to avoid the inevitable. My opponent made his move and said, "Check." I looked at the battlefield for a few moments and then tipped my king in surrender. We started to sort out our pieces to reset the board for another game.
My opponent and I were next-door neighbors, living in cheap apartments. Both of us were students, married with children, and working. His pre-school age son, Waqir, was my daughter's first boyfriend. I was in construction. My neighbor managed a McDonald's.
I was in my opponent's living room sitting on the carpet with his coffee table between us.
I don't know if my neighbor called the game, "chatrang," in his native tongue.
But his homeland is the likely source for what we would recognize as the modern game of chess. In fact, "shah," the Farsi word for monarch, evolved into the words "chess" and "check."
I would win one game in ten against my Persian neighbor, which I think he threw to keep me from getting discouraged so I'd come back for more ignominious defeats.
When you step back and think about it, chess is a violent game. It's stylized warfare, but when the pieces are captured during play we all know they are really dead until they are resurrected for another round. After all, castles are for defense against attack, knights don't play patty-cake, and pawns are sacrificed. Even the clergy go to war with the bishop pieces sneaking around the board in diagonal patterns.
In spite of chess' violent premise, the game is mild to say the least compared to the ghastly brutality and gore that is routinely viewed when playing a modern video game.
Many if not most games are exercises in problem-solving. In the case of popular video games, effective problem-solving is largely a matter of being more vicious and brutal than your opponent, whether the foe is another player or the programming of the game.
And I wonder what video violence is imprinting on young people.
In recent years we've seen a series of horrifying massacres, all perpetuated by young men who all experienced thousands of hours of violent video game play, mental health problems, and access to firearms.
Were guns the essential problem? No.
I recall attending a Saturday night cowboy-themed costume dance at my high school in 1966. We were in the girl's gym with a live band and a few conscripted faculty and parents for chaperones. Many of the teenage boys' cowboy regalia included toy pistols, the popular "cap guns" of the day. Remarkably, about a half dozen teenage boys walked through the door wearing real single-action revolvers with live ammunition in the loops of their gun belts. The only question the gun-toters were asked at the door was, "Is that gun loaded?" And the answer was always, "Of course not."
There were no incidents at the dance. What kind of a community was it? The high school was large, about 2,500 students, and located in a Southern California suburb next to Pasadena.
That was a generation ago and our society has changed.
We have always had an abundance of guns in America. But we have more gun control now than when I was young. And we also have more gun violence, the highest gun violence being in communities like Chicago and Washington D.C. that have the most severe gun control statutes in the nation.
The present feckless focus on gun control will not result in less gun violence.
When someone does something bizarre the questions that have to be asked are: "What is the payoff for you?" "How do you think you will benefit?" "What problem are you solving?"
These questions apply to those who perpetuate massacres of defenseless and innocent people. Such perpetrators obviously have broken minds that cause to them believe they are solving a problem with their appalling violence.
In the case of the horrendous slaughter at Newtown, the first victim was the killer's mother. Why? And then, what problem did the killer believe he was solving when he murdered so many at the elementary school?
And my questions: "Where are these murderers learning that extreme violence is than appropriate response to their problems?" "What is the impact of the level and quantity of explicit violence viewed in video games on vulnerable minds?"
Answer those questions and you'll start to discover solutions to violence that are useful.