In this feature, we hand over the soapbox to members of the armed forces, who share their thoughts on the exploration of war in video games.
Steven Beynon // Specialist, Cavalry Scout // National Guard
I have been serving in Afghanistan as a rifleman since November 2011. I've been in several dozen firefights and have seen both my comrades and enemy die. I feel as if I see a reoccurring theme among journalists (both in gaming and mainstream) assuming people will be offended by certain content. But soldiers are probably the hardest group to offend. Every combat veteran I know plays Call of Duty and loves the movie Black Hawk Down.
Yes, war is a big deal. I had some truly traumatic moments during my tour. But in combat, we crack jokes and trivialize the situation. You can't be super serious all the time. You'd have a heart attack. It's how we cope. If I ever really analyzed what I was doing, I would stop moving and probably die.
Let me tell you a story to illustrate.
It was my second day in Afghanistan. My platoon was conducting a dismounted patrol down a known Taliban supply route. Suddenly, I heard the snap of a traveling bullet and saw one of our Afghan Army allies go down. It quickly turned into the loudest firing range I've ever been on. I immediately jumped into a ditch.
"Happy Halloween and welcome to Afghanistan!" said the soldier next to me. While our medic was working on the fallen Afghan soldier, I returned fire with my SAW (machine gun) to allow the safe evacuation of the wounded. It was then that I had the realization that I'm living a cliche. I've spent my whole life watching war movies, playing guns as a kid, and enjoying shooters. That evening, some of us gathered around the television set to play a few rounds of Call of Duty. I thought to myself that this should be f***ing weird. I mean, I just fired real weapons at real people in a real war. But it wasn't. Playing Call of Duty that evening felt as natural as any other play session. Why? Because no game about war can possibly come even close to what it's really like.
"Most blockbuster shooters are so cartoonish it's impossible to take them seriously."
The bulk of shooters are so disconnected from reality. I get really put off anytime someone claims these titles are glorifying war or that they're disrespectful to the troops. I can't speak for the entire armed forces community, but every soldier I know plays these games or respects them from a distance. Most blockbuster shooters are so cartoonish it's impossible to take them seriously, and those that claim to be "military simulators" don't go far enough. We live in a world in which one to three American soldiers are shipped home in boxes every day.
EA bowing to pressure to take the Taliban out of Medal of Honor's multiplayer and Konami walking away from Six Days in Fallujah are examples of publishers cowering from a vocal minority. If a developer wants to make a Call of Duty-style video game based on my experiences, I would be flattered. And while it would be inaccurate, games are supposed to be fun.