Taking Damage

I’m telling you, this is the future of music right here. Song blogging. I love it. People can just imagine a song topic they’d like to hear done, and I oblige. It’s greatly invigorating. Others will eventually do it better. Just remember, it started here first.

I received a request concerning a song topic. Sam, a member of our armed services and current law student, suggested, in light of Veterans’ Day and last week’s release of the latest installment of Activision’s video game blockbuster series, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (MW3), that I do a song concerning the disconnect between the hyper-real but emotionally bankrupt experience of the video game and actual combat.

As it turns out, I’m unqualified to opine either. I’ve never even been in a fist fight and I play exclusively sports video games (to the extent I play anymore at all). But, a want of personal knowledge or even basic information on a topic has never discouraged me from forming a really adamant position on it. So, here goes.

No one is ever psychologically prepared for what they face in war for the first time. No one. And, with the exception of a few, we’ve largely used artifice and exaggeration to get people to go. In other words, we could never market participation in war by showing what is really involved in its combat elements. We focus on things like honor and valor and education and vocational training and camaraderie and patriotism. We’re somewhat slower to emphasize the hysteria and terror and agony and dismemberment and loss and confusion and odor and unemployability and personal cost of war. That’s not a critique. It can’t really be done. A thousand hours of footage wouldn’t substitute for a minute on the ground, I imagine.

And, so it is with video games. Of course, they are no simulation. They are leisure. Modern Warfare 3 looks like war. Like, crazy can’t tell which way is up or down combat. A quick interruption: I’m excited to mention that today’s post marks the first time that I did any real and original research for an entry (always use secondary source materials, of course). I rented MW3 and played it for at least 17 minutes, roughly, around the time my eyes started to bleed from the strain of trying to distinguish combatants from piles of rubble. If you’ve never played the “first person shooter” style video game, as the name suggests, you play from the internal vantage of your own self. You are not out-of-body, so to speak, able to see your own avatar. Instead, you are viewing the action first person. Of yourself, you can see only your weapon and hand. Anyway, I maybe made it a block and half on the first portion of the first mission of the easiest campaign in the game. In my best moments, I was brutally gunned down and, at my worst, fired unknowingly but with regrettable accuracy upon my own team. My wife was working on her photographs and was mortified to see me either hiding in virtual corners of this fictionally besieged Manhattan, waiting for the assault to pass, or yelling, “I think I shot something!” with some sense of real accomplishment.

Even as I would emphasize that video games are not real, I was (a) pretty paranoid/terrified of being shot and (b) otherwise behaving exactly as I might in real life — like a baby.

So, the public concern is that somehow young people might become desensitized to the real cruelty and horror of war, specifically, and violence in general. And, that in it’s glorification/romanticization some might either race to it unwittingly or act out in criminal ways. Wiser people than me have certainly encouraged humanity to think on those things which are good and lovely and pure. I think it goes without saying that, on balance, our children are healthier consuming, in greater volume, emotionally enriching content. But, I’m not on any real high horse about it.

Truth is the oldest way to cope with war and violence is desensitization. That’s what happens in the Middle East and Africa where children grow up with berettas in their hands (maybe I mean AKs; sheesk, I don’t know, I’m not a gun trafficker, just a news rapper). Our psyche would be paralyzed with suffocating pain and terror if we were forced to internalize the unmitigated truth of war. It’s a natural and healthy defense mechanism. It’s why we don’t feel comparable empathy for the tragedy of others. You can call it selfishness but if I had a commensurate reaction to the death of others’ children, whenever I heard of it, as I would if, God forbid, I ever lost one of mine, I would be institutionalized. We would short circuit to be equally affected by all of the world’s tragedy as we are by the ones personal to us.

That’s what PTSD is. That’s what Rambo flashbacks are. That’s what happens when we can’t keep ourselves sufficiently desensitized to, or distanced from, the atrocity of it all. Our inside crashes. We aren’t built to know war.

So, I don’t know that these games do anything our minds wouldn’t do eventually, when confronted with the real thing. In other words, Afghanistan isn’t any more shocking when an 18 year old gets there after having played 1600 hours of fraudulent war in Battlefield 3 at his mom’s house. Either way it’s mind blowing and our minds respond by trying to reduce the effect. Sort of like a video game.

Don’t gain the whole world of war and lose your console.

Performed by ipoet. Music produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

First Person Playa

3 thoughts on “Taking Damage

  1. “But, a want of personal knowledge or even basic information on a topic has never discouraged me from forming a really adamant position on it. So, here goes.” Ha!
    Some really great lines in that one and the Pumpkinfoot beat was dern-near a perfect match. And you dropped that OORAH like a battle-hardened Non-Comm, Sintax!
    Thanks for doing this! I really enjoyed your perspective and I felt like the point you made regarding the efforts of countless societies to desensitize themselves to war to be particularly insightful. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun… But you know, I also wonder whether the desensitization occurs not on behalf of those who go forth to do violence, but those who stay behind and all too often rubber-stamp what happens on the far reaches of the globe in their name. I guess the problem lies when one is tempted to think because they’ve watched a movie or even played an ultra-realistic visual depiction of combat on their x-box that they’ve somehow come closer to understanding the psychological trauma of the battlefield. For example, I can’t really imagine Activision inserting a scene in their video game where a Predator drone fires a Hellfire missile into a house to kill some console super-villain and the COD Commandoes tasked with identifying the body discover that their target shared the home with whats left of several young children. That could take away from the fun, but sadly, thats true modern warfare. So while there was an insatiable appetite last week for the 6 million copies sold, I think you’re right that few have the stomach for the real thing.

  2. @MattyP, thanks!!

    @Sam, this may be the greatest day of my life to have impressed a real live Marine with my oohrah! Last minute decision and I was trying to make sure I did it right. Couple YouTube clips, couple message boards. Couldn’t get a good feel. I just went with it!

    And, it’s an excellent point that an inability to appreciate the real human cost of war makes it easy for those of us not actually there to come too easily to a decision to engage in it. That’s certainly the appeal of conscription. It makes sure that most people have a real personal stake in whether or not the country goes to war.

    Thanks again for a great idea and for your service to our country most of all.

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