Monday, November 14, 2005

Makes You Think...

I’ve been playing a lot of Call of Duty 2 on the PC recently.

For those who don’t know, Call of Duty is a first person shooter set in World War 2. It’s absolutely amazing. Great set-piece battles, historically accurate weapons, constant high-pressure attacks from wave after wave on Nazis.

Now certain people would say that me playing a game like this is completely de-sensitizing me to violence, while simultaneously training me to be and ‘efficient killer’, and increasing the chances that I’m going to grab a gun and go postal one day.

I disagree. Do you want to know what playing Call of Duty 2 makes me think?

Not kill, kill, kill, but…

I hope to fuck I never have to do this in real life.

You see, the game is exciting, exhilarating and gets the blood pumping. When you pull off that perfect sniper shot, mere milliseconds before the poor bastard you’re aiming at manages to fire his mortar at the grain silo you’re camped on top of, it’s just fantastic.

However, this game also highlights two other things. The first thing is that if you miss that sniper shot in the game, you get killed and get to start over. In real life, you’d be dead, and there wouldn’t be a piece of you big enough to fit into a match box left.

The second thing you notice is that you get shot…a lot.

Now, in the game, getting shot isn’t such a big deal. The screen flashes red, your point of view flinches, and you’re treated to an ‘ooof’ sound. If you get shot enough, you get red tunnel vision, and have to run to cover for about 20 seconds to recover. Then, once the tunnel vision passes, you’re fighting fit again.

This is when the thought hits you.

In real life, it would only take one of those bullets to kill you, or leave you screaming on the ground, trying to push your guts back in, hoping to hell that a medic can get to you, get you out of the line of fire, and if not save you, at least pump you full of enough morphine that your last few minutes of life won’t be spent in white hot agony.

My step daughter’s boyfriend actually owned an original WW2 M1 Carbine, the slightly smaller version of the M1 Garand, the main rifle used by the American forces in WW2. The carbine was used mostly by officers, and troops that wouldn’t be on the front line. Last year, we set up a range at the back of the property, and he let me shoot it once or twice.

At first it was a thrill, my rifle is only a .22, which is no where near as powerful. The M1 made you feel invincible.

…but it got me thinking. You see, the Germans had guns as well.

Suddenly, the railroad embankment became cover for German soldiers, and I thought… “This rifle was designed and made specifically to fight the Nazis in World War 2. Some poor bastard got plucked from his home, shipped overseas, had one of these put in his hands, and told to go shoot the Nazis.”

I imagined what it would feel like if there really where Nazis behind that embankment, and they where shooting at me.

Suddenly, that rifle didn’t make me feel invincible anymore; it felt like a flimsy bit of wood, when what I really wanted was about 6 inches of armor plating, and a bed to hide under until all the bad guys went away.

That’s the one thing that nay-sayers of violent games completely miss. You can tell all the war stories you like in history class, but playing the game lets you live it.

What did I learn?

Not that shooting Nazi’s would have been fun. What I learned is that I’d probably have been killed. My chances of survival would have been so close to zero, they wouldn’t be worth calculating.

I remember one morning I was up watching the History Channel. The show featured interviews by soldiers who fought on both sides at a particular battle. It was amusing to me that they actually held re-unions for everyone who fought on that particular battlefield, and Allied and German veterans actually met at these reunions, and had a good time together.

This made me think as well. I was listening to a German Veteran discussing his experiences in the Battle, and he seemed like a really nice guy. He had that ‘everyone’s favourite granddad’ look about him. Then I thought: “If I’d have been around back then, I’d have shot that guy, simply because he was wearing the wrong uniform.”

I think that’s one thing everyone manages to miss. The allied forces are represented to us as the ultimate fighting force of courageous men, and the Germans portrayed as evil, twisted psychopaths.

However, everything I’ve ever seen, read or heard from someone who has actually been in battle is the same thing.

Basically, you absolutely shit yourself, but keep shooting, while resisting the urge to pull out your spoon, so you can to dig a hole, a hole you can hide in until all the shooting stops.

The truth is, you can show all the gung-ho, ultra-macho war movies you like, where the hero absolutely loves fighting, and charges down a machinegun nest single handedly, before lighting a cigar, and tossing off a humourous quip. The truth is anyone who doesn’t damn near soil themselves when getting shot at, is obviously insane.

(I would like to point out here that there actually where numerous acts of almost suicidal heroism on both sides in WW2, including a Private who ran towards a machine gun nest, tossing grenades, and managed to take it out before being killed. However, I seriously doubt that this had anything to do with bravado and machismo. He didn’t do it with no fear, with a smile on his face to prove how big his balls were. These acts of heroism come from knowing if you don’t do something, all your friends are going to die. Now, while I don’t know what went through that guy’s head when he did charged that machine gun nest, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t smiling at the time.)

I think it was put best by the character ‘Sergeant Jackrum’, in the Discworld Novel ‘Monstrous Regiment’:

“You’ll find yourself out there, lad, and you’ll come face to face with the enemy. He’s just like you, doesn’t want to be there, and would much rather be down the pub having a few pints. You’d probably get on really well if you met in normal life, but instead you’ll stick your sword in him and kill him, just because he’s wearing the wrong bloody uniform, because if you don’t kill him, then by God, he’ll kill you.”

So playing Call of Duty 2 got me as close to the real thing as I care to get.

I also realised that everyone who fought in WW2 was essentially, just like me, and that just makes me marvel at the bravery of these people.

A wise man once said: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the will to carry on despite it.”

That’s the crux of the matter. No one actually wants to get shot at. Given the option, I’m 100% certain that if you could go back in time to any of the battles in any of the wars in human history, and in the midst of all that fighting, give everyone the option of just dropping their weapons and going home…everyone would take it.

I’m sorry, but after thinking about it, I just can’t believe the bravery that these men showed every day. A group of people are shooting at you, and instead of turning away and running, they ran towards it. Just being able to keep your sanity while bullets are whizzing past your head, and knowing you could be killed any second is amazing to me.

You know, if I was alive back then, I’d like to think that I’d have made a fairly good soldier, that I’d have been able to do what an entire generation did before me…but to be honest, after really thinking about it, I’m not so sure.

Today, we take our freedom for granted. The ability to do what we want, when we want is commonplace and expected.

However, when you realize what our grandparents went through to earn that for us, it really puts things in perspective. We enjoy our freedom every single day, but I want to end today with a question.

Think of everything we have today. All those things we take for granted. If someone put a rifle in your hands, and said you had to go off to war, a war that you had very little chance of surviving to keep those freedoms, would you go?



Llan said...

Well said!

MC Etcher said...

Hear hear! Great post, insightful and funny.

MC Etcher said...

Would I got to war? To protect the homeland, I would gladly go and fight and die.

To fight some foreign war, on foreign soil, for foreign oil? No.

MC Etcher said...

And thirdly, I signed up for the military while still in High School, and flunked the physical because of my poor vision.

So, yeah.

Kato said...

Good post. Well put.

Did you play the first Call of Duty? It features a few levels where you play as the Russians trying to retake Stalingrad (it's very heavily influenced by Enemy At the Gates). They start you off with a box of ammo and no weapon, and you have to run up hill against a series of machine gun emplacements hoping to hell you don't get cut down as you go. Very tense, very hard, and yea, makes you think, "I would never ever want to have to do this in real life."

Paulius said...

Oh, don't get me wrong, I'll admit I'm a coward, but if we where invaded, damn right I'd fight...but trust me, I REALLY wouldn't want to.

That's what really struck me playing this game. Everyone who fought was probably just like me. Terrified, but willing to fight anyway.

Ok, and the first Call of Duty is on my list.

Miz S said...

Okay sweetie,

Time for another post. You can't be gaming ALL the time!!

I love you- and I love reading your posts too.