Talking with Teenagers (or Don’t Kill the Chickens or the Villagers Will Attack)

Every morning, I eavesdrop while three teenaged boys talk about things I don’t even begin to understand. I drive a carpool to the high school – our middle son, Link, and two of his friends. I consider it my training in popular culture. If I listen carefully and venture a question now and again, I might learn just a bit about the world my son lives in – because I’m fairly certain it’s not the same one I inhabit.

Our son’s favorite user interface.

So this morning, Link and his friends had a lengthy discussion about whether it was better to be a thief or an assassin in Skyrim (our son’s latest video game obsession).

“Yeah, my latest character is a level 25 thief,” said Link, “but I’ve never killed a dragon. I have all these shouts but I can’t use them because I don’t have any dragon souls.”

I was trying to figure that one out when a yahoo in a pick-up truck from the oncoming lane whipped across the double yellow line right in front of me, sped into the parking lot of a fast food joint, and then slammed on his brakes to avoid ramming into the last car in the lengthy drive-through line which left his bumper sticking two feet out into the street. I hit the brakes hard, swerved to avoid the dumbass’ backend, and had a mental conniption fit about idiots who are willing to kill me and three kids for a biscuit from Bojangles. When I tuned in to the boys’ conversation again, I heard this:

Friend O: “Yeah I killed a chicken and then I had to kill everybody.” Chuckling from the other boys ensued. I couldn’t help it. I had to ask.

“Okay, why is that funny?” Link perked up. There’s not much he loves to do much more than lecture the ignorant about his favorite video games.

“Well, you see,” he began, “You can kill a person in Skyrim and the guards will yell at you to stop and maybe give chase. But if you kill a chicken, everyone in the village will try to kill you.”

“Aaahh,” I said, because that’s what I say when something makes absolutely no sense to me. “Uh…why?” Link had no idea why, but he was heartily amused by it. And now that he had started lecturing, he was by no means finished.

“There was another funny glitch that allowed chickens to report crimes to the guards, but Bethesda found it and fixed it before they released the game.”  Friend D perked up at that point and jumped in.

“Yeah, and now some people want to create a mod with informant chickens. Then we would have to kill all the chickens.”

“And all the villagers too?” I asked.

“That’s what I did!” said O cheerfully.

My attention was again called back to the road when a gentleman driving a Volvo and talking on his cell phone (i.e. speeding jackass with an Apple in his ear) passed us (i.e. whipped in front of me almost clipping my front bumper), and accelerated smoothly disappearing into the distance (sped away loudly for two seconds before his brake lights blazed as he hugged the bumper of the large slow-moving vehicle (school bus) directly in front of us). I spent a few moments imagining the colorful language (i.e. blunt instrument) I would use if I had the opportunity to calmly explain (apply the blunt object vigorously and repeatedly to the driver’s head) the concept of “school zone” to the man (child-endangering scum bucket).

When I tuned back in to the boys’ conversation, they were still talking about virtual chickens. At least, two of them were.

While I think that most teenaged boys play video games, not all of them play them with the same intensity of focus of our son and his friend, D. (They are nerds.) O, however, was a fairly typical young man who also enjoys fishing, wrestling, horror movies, and classic rock. Our son Link and his friend enjoy video games with villagers and chickens. And sometimes they play Dungeons and Dragons. Once a week, actually, with the nerd club at school.

Now, having grown up a nerd myself, I completely understand and support the so-inclined. But I was a pre-video game nerd. So I actually played outside. A lot. And still do. Link, on the other hand, suffers from a vitamin D deficiency. And while I completely put the heaviest part of the blame for that on public schools for insisting that our child spend 7 hours of daylight sitting indoors, I also realize that our son is by nature, a sedentary troglodyte. He even looks the part: he has fair skin and enormous eyes (excellent for functioning in low light situations). He’s very slender, has no muscle tone and cringes when exposed to direct sunlight. Most of this came on with puberty. Before that, Link was happy to punctuate his bouts of electronic entertainment with frequent breaks spent running around the back yard with his little brother and our dogs, wielding a toy sword and acting out his favorite games. But sadly, no more. (Now he acts out his games with miniatures and dice while sitting at a table eating pizza with several other nerds.)

His friend, O, on the other hand, loves the outdoors. He hunts, he hikes, he swims, he fishes. Especially, the latter. So sometimes, I try to engage him in conversation about fishing (about which I know only slightly more than nothing), just to remind my son that some of his peers actually still enjoy going outside.

It is not difficult to get O talking about fishing. I ask a question and he talks about lures and lines and reading rivers and such nonstop until we get to the school. I find O’s enthusiasm interesting and entertaining. And I get a kick out of turning the tables on Link, who has spent years lecturing me on such fascinating topics as Pokemon and Star Wars (which I love but I don’t really need to know how to speak Wookie), in addition to his gold standards, video games and D & D. He’s not used to being on the other side of it, though, and the expression on his face while O waxes on about fishing is priceless.

And it gets me through the snarl of cars that is the front of the high school as I wait my turn in line, dutifully following the school’s drop-off traffic rules, and mentally cussing each jackwagon who decides to drive up at the last minute, pass all of us in line, and then try to insert their SUV into line several cars in front of me. Finally, when it’s our turn, the boys shoulder their backpacks and climb morosely out of the car, and I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition on the way home (which is not nearly so entertaining as teenagers).

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  1. Sherrie stringer

     /  February 27, 2012

    Hilarious! I needed a laugh on this busy Monday at work. Bojangles Biscuits…oh how I love thee. 😉

  2. I loved this post! Very interesting drive in the morning, I bet. 🙂

  3. InnerDialect

     /  March 7, 2012

    LOL……. love this !

  4. Just an FYI: you make more money as an assassin, but thieving is easier and you get more gear. Also, killing dragons gets annoying after a while… (My husband and I have to schedule our skyrim time, so we don’t fight)

    • Oh that’s awesome. I forget sometimes that there are adults now who grew up with video games and still play. Actually, if I wasn’t afraid I’d get sucked in, I’d probably try some of these new games. They’re amazing. But I already have this little writiing addiction that takes up much of my free time. Thanks for the info! It will help me interpret some of those carpool conversations.


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