A Swedish father took his two young sons, who wanted to play violent video games, to Israel and Syria to teach them about the devastating realities of war.
Carl-Magnus Helgegren told the Daily Mail that he decided to take his sons, 11-year-old Leo and 10-year-old Frank, on the trip after they asked if they could purchase the new violent shooter game, “Call of Duty." Helgegren claims he was worried that they didn’t understand the impact caused by the use of guns.
So, he struck a deal with the two boys — if they visited an area impacted by war and tension and interviewed citizens there, then they would be able to play any video game they wanted when they returned.
The youngsters agreed and the family, including mother Elisa, who Helgegren is separated from, set out on the 10-day visit to Israel and the Golan Heights in the occupied areas of Syria.
"They didn't believe me," Helgegren told The Local. "It wasn't until the second day when we were [in Israel], eating at an Israeli food stand, when they asked: 'Dad, are we really here because of the games?' And I said, 'Yes. Yes, we are here because of the games. You need to see this.'"
Helgegren, a Swedish journalist and university teacher, spent some time in the Middle East as a reporter when he was younger, and was reminded of his own experiences in a war zone when his children were talking about "Call Of Duty."
"I had to explain quite a bit. I was especially thorough when explaining the politics and pointing out that the Israeli politics do not necessarily reflect all parts of Israeli society," Helgegren said.
My sons Frank and Leo in Shuafat refugee camp, April 2014. Part of reality you never see in games. pic.twitter.com/DJoOdkDtJi— Carl-M Helgegren (@cmhelg) August 10, 2014
He also told reporters that he initially considered taking his sons to Iraq or Afghanistan, but decided that current war zones were too dangerous. He chose Israel and the Palestinian territories — “the closest you can get to war on a tourist ticket,” Helgegren said.
Upon the family’s return to Sweden, Frank and Leo ultimately decided not to play “Call of Duty,” and said they would like to go back one day.
Writing about his experiences, the father notes that he has faced serious criticism online from angry parents.
"I have received messages calling me the worst parent in the world, saying that I am traumatizing my children, that I am a pompous bastard, and that I should be doused in napalm," Helgeren told The Local. "I didn't really expect such a reaction.”
My son Frank in Shuafat refugee camp, April 2014. The famous wall in background. This is 10 m from the scool. pic.twitter.com/FdZatHJEjr— Carl-M Helgegren (@cmhelg) August 10, 2014
But he defended his decision to take his children to the war-torn countries and added that he doesn’t understand parents who are scared of letting their children see the reality of war, but allow them to play violent war-themed video games.
"Parents have a responsibility to teach their children the truth," he told Huffington Post.