Why Chuck E. Cheese Has More Brawls Than a Biker Bar

An alderman in Milwaukee, a town not famous for sobriety, compared the local Chuck E. Cheese to "something out of a Quentin Tarantino film... there is alcohol and pistols being brandished." In Brookfield, Wisconsin, the children's pizzeria-plus-creepy-robot-theater gets far more police activity than a nearby biker bar, including a 40-person riot earlier this year. One participant in a 10-person brawl in Toledo's Chuck E. Cheese actually detached a velvet rope and started swinging the brass end at people. Intrigued? Good, because the Wall Street Journal is dying to tell you why you should watch your back inside the animatronic dystopia.

Law-enforcement officials say alcohol, loud noise, thick crowds and the high emotions of children's birthday parties make the restaurants more prone to disputes than other family entertainment venues.

The environment also brings out what security experts call the "mama-bear instinct." A Chuck E. Cheese's can take on some of the dynamics of the animal kingdom, where beasts rush to protect their young when they sense a threat.

Stepping in when a parent perceives that a child is being threatened "is part of protective parenting," says Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association. "It is part of the species — all species, in fact — in the animal kingdom," he says. "We do it all of the time."

That's fascinating in a Malcolm Gladwell kind of way. The Journal story admittedly doesn't have any statistics to "prove" with "evidence" that Chuck E. Cheese is actually particularly dangerous.

What it does have are

  • some very choice anecodotes ("When the boy went to insert more tokens to continue playing, the woman grabbed the tokens out of his hand and told him to stop hogging the game"),
  • a nifty six-item police blotter ("...during a verbal argument, an elderly female threw a shoe at him... He stated the fight started over someone calling his child 'ugly.' He stated he was not injured, his pride was just hurt."),
  • and of course an infographic ("a man then pushed the mother by the throat into the video game").
  • Also, some supportive quotes from police in various towns ("the [Susquehanna Township] police department gets called to respond to disputes at the restaurant as many as 15 times a year, Police Chief Robert Martin says").

Which isn't to say the story shouldn't have been written! It's great fun, and maybe it teaches us something about the power of paternal instincts, and how danger lurks in unexpected places or whatever, but seriously who cares it's just: Fun. Something to talk about with a stranger at a party! Or maybe not, because you'll seem like a perv obsessed with children's pizza parlors.

But, people, this is why you shouldn't hate so hard on Gladwell: Not every story has to be the final word. Sometimes it's enough to be an opening line.

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