A Matter of Conscience for Military Shooters

As games like Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 increase in popularity, are we forgetting the real-world cost of war?

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Military first-person shooters have grown dramatically throughout the course of the past decade, a time that has seen the United States fight wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It's a decade where the military shooter has gone from the storied battlefields of World War II to the battlegrounds (real and imagined) of "modern warfare." It took Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 a mere five days to reach $775 million in sales (at $60 a pop, that's an estimated 13 million copies sold). Sales of Battlefield 3 recently surpassed 8 million. These are mind-boggling numbers, and odds are that millions more of these games will sell between now and Christmas.

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Do you ever think twice about playing military shooters?

Here's another number to ponder: 6,328. This isn't the sales figure for any video game. No, this is the number of US soldiers that have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It's that number that I think about most. And it's because of that death toll that I no longer play modern military shooters.

I haven't always felt this way. I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Battlefield: Bad Company, and I even dipped into Arma II. And, of course, I played the hell out of World War II shooters such as Medal of Honor and the older Call of Duty games. As I played these games, I never gave a second thought to what was happening onscreen. I was playing out a story; playing out history; or playing in an explosive playpen, merrily casting destruction about as I tried to get the best of my friends in multiplayer deathmatches.

But as I started to think about the soldiers these games represent, I became uneasy. I realized that I just can't play modern military shooters any longer. Every time I see a US soldier die in one of these games, be it my character or another, I think about the Americans who have died--and will likely die--in Afghanistan and Iraq. I can't help it. I feel…unpatriotic. It feels wrong to watch US soldiers that look and act similarly to the soldiers in the field die onscreen.

I didn't just wake up one morning and decide, "I can't play modern military shooters any longer." No single moment convinced me to lay down my virtual rifle. My decision is more of a culmination of a number of thoughts: the loss of American troops in a war in Iraq that isn't necessary; that we're fighting two wars and paying for them not through taxes but through borrowing; that the military and their families have borne the brunt of these wars; and that the average citizen hasn't been called upon to make sacrifices. And it's the images of men and women in dress uniform that flash on the screen and run in the newspaper alongside their death notices.

I understand my position isn't on the firmest of footings. I still get a kick out of playing shooters, but these days, I avoid the modern battlefields of Earth for the conflicts of the future (Rage) or of outer space (games like Borderlands, Hard Reset, or Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine). And my position may seem weaker when you take into account my love of strategy games, especially Civilization V, a game in which I've become more of a warmonger since the changes to combat have made fighting more fun than in previous games. My position may appear even weaker after taking into account the love that many soldiers and veterans have for such games as Modern Warfare 3.

My position may appear even weaker after taking into account the love that many soldiers and veterans have for such games as Modern Warfare 3.
Logic may not support why I don't play modern military shooters, but this isn't an issue where logic reigns. It's about how you feel. And my heart tells me it's just not right to shoot representations of US soldiers while those men and women are in the field, fighting and dying.

I'm not asking you to stop playing Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3. All I ask is that you think about the soldiers your onscreen men of war represent. Think about those who have already lost their lives fighting for our country or who have come back from the wars--dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder, bearing traumatic head injuries (or missing a limb)--or who are simply unable to find a job.

Jason Wilson is the former group managing editor for GamePro Media and the former copy desk chief for Ziff Davis Media.

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