Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I wasn't alone I guess...

I orignally wrote the post below in January of 2007. Tom Watson had invited me to join a gang of bloggers in a venture he titled "Newcritics". It was the first I submitted to him. Sadly, Newcritics is folding up shop, but it had a great run and I made some cool friends while being a contributor.

Last night, I was flipping through my latest copy of Newsweek and caome upon this article. It is definately worth the read and I encourge everybody to read it all the way through. My first reaction was amazement that so many soldiers participated in the games creation, but also feel a bit vindicated by the the parents and loved ones lost during The Battle of Fallujah. In the end, it's their wishes that come first, and I think it's time to stop making games out of things like this.

But that's just one man's opinion. Read it all and let me know what you think in the blog or Facebook comments.

Here's my original post form Jan. 2007...

Band of Brothers: The Game...

Call of DutyI write this post at great risk of sounding much older than my 42 years, but my lack of diction and eloquence coupled with the fact that I regrettably paid exactly zero attention during any writing class throughout high school and college leaves me with this handicap that I alone am accountable for.

The fact that Tom Watson finds anything I write at all interesting tells me a few things about him: He is either certifiably insane, bored, both, or he possesses the uncanny ability to ignore all the poor grammar, misspelling, terrible syntax, etc... and somehow get what it is that I'm attempting to say, actually thinks others might be able to do the same, and somehow find it the slightest bit interesting. So, on the strength of that assessment here goes nothing...

One of the cool things about our trips back to the NYC area is that I get to see my young nephew. He's now a seventh grader and it pains me to hear his voice deepening and listen to him speak of the opposite sex without the adolescent disdain that was so abundant during our last visit only a year ago (see the opening sentence of this post). He's an extremely bright and well-mannered kid that any parent would be proud to have as a son. He's also a video game addict.

He's played video games for as long as I can remember him having the dexterity to operate a joystick. I always feel bad when I see him because he immediately wants to show me his prowess at the latest game flying off Best Buy shelves everywhere, and I sometimes have to fane interest since I can not readily identify the subtle graphical enhancements between Madden Football IV vs. V that he's so amped to demonstrate for me.

This past holiday season was different though. His parents were actually able to hunt down a Nintendo Wii system for him as a well-deserved reward for his continued success with his school work. Since I read a crap-load of tech blogs, I was genuinely curious to see what this thing could do with it's forearm mounted virtual controller and all. As soon as we hit his front door, predictably he dragged me post haste to his room to check it out. As he cut the machine on, up came a graphic for the game Call of Duty 3.



Within a few seconds, we were in the 1st person behind an M-1 rifle making our way through the Normandy seawall breech. Extremely realistic graphics. Frighteningly realistic graphics. My nephew was able to hurl hand grenades, reload his rifle, direct mortar fire at enemy armor, navigate the ruins of war torn French towns, etc... To say this gaming system is amazing would simply be the understatement of the year. But it wasn't the gaming system that caught my long term attention though; more it was the content of the game he was playing.

Since I don't play video games of any kind (I'm a pinball man; again see the opening sentence of this post), I've found myself struggling not to overreact to strong feelings that bubbled up while watching my nephew take such great joy in German soldiers flying through the air after the grenade he just heaved into their machine gun nest exploded. I will tell you that I'm the one who you'd normally find scornfully rolling his eyes at children's birthday parties when I hear some parent say, “We don't play guns, army, war, etc...

We played war in the woods as kids all the time. We made M-16's out of tree branches if we didn't have plastic replicas already and none of us went on to pick off innocent civilians from a clock tower after all, but this game with its shocking detail and historically accurate depictions gave me great pause, great pause.

I wonder if it's the right thing to be doing creating a game out of the “Day of Days". Are we desensitizing this young man to the sacrifice our grandfathers made for the liberation of Europe and for all mankind? Marginalizing for our youth the horrors of warfare perhaps? Will my nephew experience the same feelings of awe I did when I first saw the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan? Will his eyes well up with tears, or will he see it as another redundant recreation, just another level in a game he's long since mastered? Does he know that these stories are real? That entire companies of men lost their life in an instant after the sea baring carrier that brought them to shore let its door down? That thousands of fathers and mothers would get a telegram delivered to them by an Army Chaplin driving an olive drab car informing them of their loss as a result of what transpired on June 6th 1944?

I want to think that perhaps this game will make learning about historical events like WWII more interesting since he will have visual references to draw on, but are these the preferable references we want our kids to have? The thing that had the greatest impact for me regarding the release of Saving Private Ryan was the feedback from surviving veterans I read in so many magazines and a few of my father's military publications.

Many stated that the realistic 1st person aspect of the opening montage was a quintessential testament for the benefit of the ages and all who weren't there. After seeing the D-Day sequence many experienced emotions long since buried deep within their psyche. I wonder if we're not somehow doing a dishonor to these men by making a game out of their most horrific memories.

I don't pretend to have reconciled any of this, and to be honest, have come to not a single conclusion other than to say that I still have that sickly feeling in my lower abdomen when thinking about kids my nephew's age all over the world laughing and smiling while they lay waste to a division of Nazi infantry. It's just a feeling of wrongness that I can't overcome and get right with the progressive side of me. However, I'm keenly interested in hearing others thoughts on this subject and when Tom invited me to contribute to this new venture, I thought this post would be perfect for this forum.

So what is it? Am I just getting old? Is it becoming a parent that has brought all this on? Am I out of touch with today's youth and their reality/fantasy separation capabilities? Whatever anyone's feelings are about our countries current engagements, my gut says that one thing we should all agree on is that every American should understand the consequences that fall solely on the shoulders of our men and women deployed in combat. Do games like this help teach our kids, or do a disservice?

This is the question I ask to all of you...

4 Comments:

At 3:25 PM, June 24, 2009, Blogger Charlie said...

My sentiments mirror yours. It is troubling to say the least. Violent games do have a desensitizing effect and I did not allow my son to have them while I was rearing him. But it wasn't a "because I said so" type of environment. I explained my reasoning and we talked openly about it. He always watched the news and news related programs with me and I think that helped shape his view of violence as being real and tragic. He is 21 now and is welcome to play any video or computer game he chooses, but doesn't. He spends a lot of time in real life interaction with his friends. I've gone off course a bit, I think. I have a tendency to do that. Sorry.

I just remembered an incident when my son was about six years old and my grandmother had found these little G.I. Joes at the thrift store and gave them to him. My grandfather, a WWII vet, took them from him and said firmly, "war is NOT a game, son. I lost a lot of friends out there!" I wonder if my son remembers that and what, if any, effect it had on him at the time. Interesting.

 
At 5:45 PM, June 24, 2009, Blogger Tony Alva said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this Charlie... We don't have a gaming system in our house, but aren't really militant about her playing them as a rule. We're fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where our daughter prefers to bolt out the door and play with friends outside vs. planting herself in front of the TV. She does however have a couple of handheld devices she uses to pass the time in the car which is fine. I'm not at all opposed to gaming itself at all as long as it's not obsessive, but I really feel for those parents in the article and I just don't see how others don't get this one. A hard fought battle in which parents lost their sons forever being replayed over and over again for kids as entertainment. Sacrilegious is the only word I can come up with. I wish they could understand it in the context that these parents are feeling it. As far as I can see, these games would be just as enjoyable if the locations and periods were generic or fictitious, so why the need to accurately recreate Dog Beach or the streets of Fallujah? That’s what I don’t get…

 
At 6:00 PM, June 24, 2009, Blogger Charlie said...

I wanted to hold off on commenting on the Battle of Fallujah game until I had a chance to read the article. Now that I've read it? Well my heart has sunk into my stomach and I find myself almost incapable of forming my thoughts into anything remotely cohesive. Asking forgiveness in advance if I end up not making much sense.

First, I agree with the parents of these soldiers. Like my grandfather pointed out with the toy G.I. Joes, war is not a game. I can't imagine how these parents, all of the loved ones of these fallen soldiers, must be feeling. To have your son or daughter's death be nothing more than a source of entertainment aiding in the desensitization of its target audience? Sacrilegious -- you hit the nail right on the head. I can't think of a better word to describe what's going on here. It makes me sick.

 
At 11:51 AM, July 01, 2009, Blogger Mathdude said...

Good questions but I have no answers.

 

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