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War in South America

Throughout South America millions of children are killing each other every

Argentines are dropping grenades into the laps of Chileans, Bolivians
decapitate Venezuelans, Peruvians riddle Columbians with silver bullets and the folks from French Guyana find themselves on the wrong end of a
Uruguayan’s battle axe.

This, I have discovered after a year travelling in South America, is the
true universal of this semi-continent. It’s neither history nor trade that
binds these disparate nations. Even the Spanish language, with its dialects
and sayings, variations and accents, is a thin thread between borders. First
prize for hegemony goes to the video game, specifically the Internet video
game, and the bloodier the better.

Walk into any small town Internet ‘cafe’ at 2pm and you will find an army of 12-year-olds sitting at their console busy mutilating a mate or flame-throwing a set of school chums from Tierra Del Fuego. You will hear the groan of some poor soul who has just been blown to smithereens by his
best friend, and the triumphant pre-pubescent squeal of The Last Man
Standing, an 11-year-old rocket launcher and sniper rifle expert, a coffee
coloured kid in short trousers who happens to spend his afternoon armed to the teeth.

Internet ‘cafes’ have exploded in South America. In most countries personal
computers are a distant dream, and an hour or two on the Internet is an
affordable means of entertainment for many children of school age. At 50
cents an hour in some cafes it’s far cheaper than Europe. Servers based in
North and Central America mean friends don’t just experience the pleasure of fighting their friends. Entire cafes gang up to battle foes from across the
border. History is revised as Bolivians conquer Peruvians and Brazilians
subdue Argentines. In this ‘gang’ aspect online game play differs from
Europe – these kids play two or three at a console, offering expert advice,
passing tactics along the line as if they were junior officers running
between trenches.

The siesta has, for school kids, become the slaughter. The optimist’s dream
of the Internet as light-speed forum for the sharing of information has, at
least during South America’s lunch hour, been somewhat distorted. It is
instead a forum for gunfire, explosions, body parts, massacre.

If, as some science fiction writers would have us believe, future warfare
will be played out on computer screens, I know who I’m betting on. A vast
army of electronic warriors is growing between Bogota and Buenos Aires,
Patagonia and La Paz, Caracas and Cusco. They wear dental braces and stained school shirts, some are scared of the dark and others take a teddy bear to bed but all of them are crack-shots, merciless dead-eyed man hunters with a thirst for blood, veterans of countless campaigns, and hungry for more.

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