Pacifique Irankunda grew up in war-torn Africa, and had a hard time understanding why Americans in his prep school dorm enjoyed playing video games in which they shot and killed people. Excerpt:

That evening at Deerfield, on the way back from dinner, Luke asked me to go play war video games with him. “No,” I said. “I have a lot of work to do.” I did have work to do. But I had other reasons for staying away. I thought that the boys who played the video games probably took drugs, that they were gangsters who pretended to be innocent.

One evening, I was having trouble with my computer, and I went to Luke’s room to ask him for help. I found him in the midst of shooting imaginary people. After he fixed my computer, he asked me if I wanted to watch him play for a little bit. I said I did not and tried to explain: “You know, I’ve seen the real thing. So I’m not really interested. I’m sorry.”

“Wait, you … How?” He stopped playing.

“There was a war back in my country,” I told him. “I was little when it started, and I grew up in it. So I saw a lot of that.”

“Wow!” he said. He asked me to tell him more. There was excitement in his face, which surprised me, and frightened me a little. When I first came to school in America, I assumed that I would never talk about the war in Burundi. Doing so might refresh my bad memories. And wouldn’t the other students think that I was violent myself? Besides, who would want to hear about such horrible things?

He wanted me to tell him about the war. I said I would tell him some other day, knowing that day would never come. It would have been like telling jokes to Chrysostom. Was this boy like Chrysostom? Was he addicted to violence, too? “And thanks so much for fixing my computer,” I said and quietly left his room.

Over the next few months, I realized I was wrong about Luke. He and my other dorm mates who liked playing violent video games weren’t gangsters at all. They were just young, inexperienced, innocent. It took me some time to realize that the shooting wasn’t real to them. They were just playing. For them the games were “mindless,” as one friend told me. Many kids at the school played the same kinds of games. So there was nothing unusual about Luke. He was just doing what many American kids did. I felt relieved, but I was also puzzled by what seemed to me like an odd sort of entertainment. How could violence so easily be turned into a game? How could companies invent such games in the first place? And how could parents buy them for their children?

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