“Those are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.” – Groucho Marx

EA Games, makers of the upcoming Medal Of Honor: Warfighter video game, recently removed a blog that gave reviews of the real-world weapons used in the game itself, as well as links to the manufacturers’ websites. The blog was put up to promote a charity partnership, with EA’s proceeds from the partnership going to the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provide scholarship grants and couselling services to families of fallen special operations personal as well as financial assistance to severely wounded special operations personal.

Now, let me state this straight away: I am in full support of the Navy SEAL Foundation and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. War is a horrible thing and anything done to heal the wounds suffered in battle, both physical and psychological, should be done with everyone’s full support. What I am against is EA Games’ decision to promote real-world weapons as a video game tie-in.

I’m not worried about those who use weapons properly, with proper training and proper securing of weapons when not in use. I am worried about kids going to the game’s website and blog and seeing the weapons promoted as being something so awesome you can’t live without them. My reason? Well, let me put it this way: curiosity and hindsight rarely go hand in hand.

Most of the blog postings about the weapons have been taken down after criticism of the partnership. A common criticism on posts regarding the program I’ve seen is the irony of promoting weapons to raise money for families whose lives have been torn apart by weapons themselves, in some cases including ones promoted on the blog itself.

I am all for promotional tie-ins, especially ones with charitable donations involved. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve donated an extra dollar or two to a charity drive while getting fast food or making a purchase at a department store. I’m all for cross-promotions and I usually find them fun to look into, like the James Bond series’ on-going promotion with Aston Martin. As it stands right now, one of the books I currently have on the go is the novelization of “The Dark Knight Rises”, after buying and enjoying the novelizations of the previous two Batman movies. If you, as a media company, have created a cool world to get lost in, the geek in me is going to want to take part of that world home with me. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Here we get into a murky ethical area. If someone buys a first person shooter game like MoH: Warfighter and then decides the weapons are cool, buys one and then opens fire on an innocent crowd, I wouldn’t hold the game manufacturer responsible anymore than I would hold the Beatles responsible for the Manson Family killing because of Manson’s misinterpretation of songs on the Beatles’ “White Album”. Case in point: when the Columbine shooting happened it was revealed the shooters were huge fans of the video game “Doom”, which lead to many wanting the game banned outright. However, subsequent studies, including ones done by Harvard Medical School and the US Department of Education found playing violent video games, including Doom, was not a cause for violent school attacks.

Where EA has gone wrong, in my opinion, is being realistic about the target audience for the game. Yes, it’s rated “M for Mature”, meaning it can’t be bought by those under 18, but there are numerous documented cases of underage kids getting M-rated games as gifts or by pestering their parents into buying it for them. I myself have seen it firsthand while standing in line at stores like EB Games, a parent buying a game with their teenage child right next to them. You can tell which one of the two the game is for. Hint: it’s not the one footing the bill.

If someone decides to go the illegal route of getting the game, namely via downloading a pirated copy off the internet, there’s not much you can do to stop them, let alone make sure they are of legal age to play the game. Sure the websites for M-rated games are often requiring age verification but any teenager knows all you have to do is enter a date of birth prior to 1994 and you’re golden. EA knows this. They are well aware of the problems and loss of revenue caused by piracy, hence new forms of Digital Rights Management (DRM) such as one-time activation (also preventing re-sale in the used game market) and the requirement of an always-on internet connection to play the game. And again, I’m all for protecting your intellectual property and any produced product, even if it does treat the honest buyer the same way as the dishonest scammer.

I guess what I’m calling for is a sense of responsibility from companies in how they market their products. With the recent shootings in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, we need to be more aware than ever of the seduction a weapon can have on someone who feels singled out or comes from a rough background. A gun can be far too empowering for someone who feels like they don’t have any control over the world around them. In working with at-risk youth I can tell you first hand the personality change that someone can go through the moment a weapon comes into their posession. The Warfighter blog showcasing the real-world power of the in-game weaponry is, to me, too close to lighing match under a power keg. The whole purpose of advertising or promotion is to make you believe you can’t live without something you may have not even known existed ten minutes ago. And a high-powered weapon can seem like an easy way out of your problems when things are going bad.

EA Games knows their games are big hits among the under-30 crowd. Multiplayer deathmatches are a way I and many friends have passed (far too much) time during our high school and university days. I used to work at a gaming cafe where teens from the local high school would come in after class and have Call Of Duty deathmatches. There wasn’t a bad kid in the bunch. Issues including being socially awkward and having questionable hygiene where very prevalent but no one who played in the daily deathmatches set off alarms for potentially violent behavior.

Here’s a better idea for EA, if they’re so adamant about raising money for soldier-related charities: donate a portion of sales from Warfighter and other EA Games titles. If they gave one half of one percent of their stated 2012 earnings (4.14 billion dollars) to the Navy SEAL and Special Operations Warrior Foundations, that would work out to over twenty million dollars in donations. Too much to ask of EA? Probably. Especially with all the piracy going on in the video game market. I guess the real world isn’t as cool as video games make it out to be.

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti

Baseball: say that word to yourself and think about the images it conjures up. Like when you learned to play catch with your dad. Or your first Little League game. Or a trip to a big league ballpark. Or just sitting around listening to a game on the radio.

I have loved baseball for as long as I can remember. I remember going to see the Toronto Blue Jays on many occasions with my dad. I remember spending many a summer afternoon playing ball with friends and deciding who would have to climb the fence of the houses backing on to the field when one of us would inevitably hit a homer. It was usually me who got picked to climb the fence and I would scramble over it, grab the ball and then scramble back over, praying to God all the while the home owner wouldn’t see me and take my baseball away as punishment for trespassing.

I remember the time my oldest brother Kevin watched me play a Little League game and I got hit in the head with a pitch, the ball hitting my helmet, sailing over the backstop and promptly landing right at his feet. It was the only Little League game he ever came to, possibly out of fear of somehow causing me to get hit with the pitch in the first place.

I remember the glory days of my beloved Blue Jays, when the names of Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar were said around Toronto with almost reverential awe. I remember when they won the World Series in ’92 & ’93, the second time on Carter’s Series-ending home run. I feel old realizing that was twenty years ago and can’t believe how fast time as passed.

Going to a Jays game is still my preferred way of spending my birthday and there’s something that takes me back to my childhood when I spend an afternoon in late September at the ballpark. I still love raising my hands in triumph when the Jays win and throwing my hands up in despair when they lose. I love the sights and sounds of the ballpark, even if I do find myself thinking that the 10 year old in the row behind me needs to settle down because screaming “Go Jays Go!” at the top of his lungs whenever a Blue Jay gets on base isn’t necessary. And then I find myself wondering “was I ever that annoying when my dad brought me here as a little kid?” and instantly hearing that voice of wisdom in my head saying “yes, yes you were”.

If I have changed and grown up, so has the game itself. After the Blue Jays won the World Series two years in a row baseball had it’s infamous strike, sadly culminating in the cancelling of the 1994 World Series. In the years afterwards the game struggled to find its footing again, but there were bright spots, such as Cal Ripken Jr breaking the record for most consecutive games played, or the magical summer of 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went after, and ultimately both broke, the single season home run record. But it would turn out later that things weren’t as magical as they seemed as both players became embroiled in the steroids scandal that would dominate the baseball world for the next several years.

Looking back now the steroids scandal changed the baseball landscape forever. No longer were the superstar players mythical men capable of superhuman feats. Instead many saw them with suspicion and a weary eye, questioning if they had really earned the 100 million dollar contracts that were threatening to quickly become the new salary expectation. And I, unwillingly being forced to leave my childhood and face adult responsibilities, saw the new business of baseball engulfing the purity of the game I saw as a child. The Boys of Summer had seemingly grown into men and left me behind.

Joe Carter moved on from the Blue Jays and Carlos Delgado took over as the Jays’ superstar. Eventually he gave way to Vernon Wells, who’s since given way to Jose Bautista. The Blue Jays themselves have gone through changes, being bought by Rogers Telecommunications and being re-branded as “The Jays”, black tinged uniforms replacing the familiar blue and white. Even Skydome was re-branded as the Rogers Centre, even if no one I know ever calls it that. Ticket and concession prices steadily went up to the point where seeing a game was something I could afford to do only once or twice a season, and even then I’d be up in the nosebleeds thinking to myself “I can almost make out the players from here”.

I still go if I can, spending time with friends, reacquainting myself in the process with The Grand Old Game. Maybe while I’m at it I can reacquaint myself with that little kid who my dad took to the ballpark during the glory days of the Blue Jays. He made his presence known this year when I saw a game with my best friend. It didn’t hurt that my baseball heroes are back to being called the Blue Jays and are wearing an updated version of their classic look, with not a tinge of black in sight.

I look forward to one day teaching my kids to play baseball, watching them pretend to be Babe Ruth or Ted Williams or Jose Bautista, or whoever the star player is by that point. I look forward to taking them to see the Blue Jays, even though by that point the tickets and concessions could cost so much that I might have to choose between taking them to the ballpark or sending them to college.

Former baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti was right when he wrote “The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

That my birthday inevitably comes at the same time the season ends reminds me far too clearly that another year has passed and that I’m that much older. That spring as turned to autumn and that it’s going to be a few more months before I can break out the bat and glove.

In those months in between I thank God there’s hockey season. Even if I do inevitably finding myself cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs.