The man stands quietly behind the boy, observing him as he stalks down yet another darkened corridor, laser gun in hand, head on a swivel, intent on finding and meting out justice to the hidden alien malefactors.
This is all on the computer, of course. The boy has been doing this for about five years. But today the man decided that enough is enough.
“I’ve got an idea,” the man says, and watches with glee as his son jumps with fright at the intrusion. “Let’s come up with a new superhero of our own. One that’s better than these guys.”
The boy turns to him and blinks, adjusting to the light in the room.
“How do you mean?” the boys asks.
“Well, let’s you and I dope it out. To create something different, first you identify what’s normal. What do most of the computer-game heroes do now?”
“Mostly they fight and kill things,” the boys says.
“OK,” the father says, “then our hero will do the exact opposite. Instead of taking away life, our hero will give life, create life, cause life to flourish.”
The boy wrinkles his forehead a moment, then allows his eyes to go wide.
“Like ET?” he asks. “You know, ET touches the dead flowers and they come back to life.”
Then the boys adds, “Or like the Genesis Project in ‘Star Trek.’ One blast from the Genesis Bomb and life sprouts everywhere. It’s got the power of making life out of nothing. Is that what you mean?”
“Excellent!” the father says. “This hero will have superpowers of inspiration to restore life, to bring things back that are discouraged or defeated, or just feeling low. That’s an excellent idea, by the way. ‘ET’ made a ton of money. So what else would be different?”
The boy pondered that question.
“Well, most heroes are always on faraway adventures,” he said finally. “That kind of hero is a visitor, or stranger.”
“I see where you are going,” the father says. “Our hero will be the opposite — a hero who stays home, perhaps right in our hearts, and does heroic things right here.”
“Right,” the boy says. “And here’s something else: Most heroes in these games, I’ve noticed, are not much better than the villains. Everybody just shoots everybody else.”
“So,” the father responds, “our hero could be someone who interacts and talks to people, maybe even brings out the best in them. Instead of blasting away, our hero could negotiate things — find out what the bad guys really need and see if there’s a way to get them to stop being bad.”
“Wow,” the boy says.
“In fact, the main thing about this hero is that he is really caring and has a gigantic heart, full of sympathy and understanding. A hero that doesn’t just make you cheer, but could also make you cry.”
“Oh, Dad, that’s really good. How about something like in ‘The Terminator,’ where the hero is totally dedicated to protecting others?” the boys said. “Like, a hero that would die rather than let harm come to people.”
The man rubs his chin in thought.
“Where loyalty becomes a superpower,” he adds to his son’s thoughts. “More powerful than a speeding locomotive. Leaps over tall buildings with a single bound. Now, here’s the next thing — lots of superheroes are invulnerable. Bullets bounce right off them. But how heroic is it if nothing hurts you?
“How about if we make our hero capable of being hurt?” the father adds.
The boys says, “Yeah, that means our hero takes greater risks. And that takes courage.”
The two jot ideas down right and left. To get more, they think about movies they have enjoyed.
“What’s the scariest movie you ever saw?” the man asks his son.
“‘Alien,’” the boys answers. “Where the creature grows inside the person’s body and, when it’s ready, it bursts out and kills the person.”
“Gross,” the father says. “Well, let’s do the opposite again. Let’s let our hero be the one to grow inside anyone who asks for him. And instead of being an evil creature that will destroy things, our hero will grow and change people and save the world.”
The father continues: “And the hero, who has to put up with all the pain we will put him through, will show us another superpower — the willingness to suffer. Our hero will tolerate pain no ordinary person ever could tolerate, because the hero’s love is so great.”
The son puts his hand to his forehead and arches his eyebrows.
“Dad, this would make such a sweet game.”
“It is a sweet game,” his father tells him, “and it’s already being played out all over the world right now.”
The boy frowns and, in a hushed voice, says, “Huh?”
His dad smiles, puts his hand on the boy’s shoulder and says, “You think about it … then go take a good look at our Christmas tree and wish your hero a happy birthday.”
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.