The Zen of Video Games – Soldiering On


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about games that don’t exist. Maybe it was my article on Game Jams, and all the weird and wacky ideas I stumbled across during the research, but every new situation I’ve run across over the last few weeks has led me to some bizarre speculation about how they could be turned into a video game.

For example, I just terminated a friendship. I’ve known this guy for several years now, and while we don’t always understand each other (he’s not really a gamer at all, and I’m not much of a redneck), we’d at least been solid buddies. He’d have my back, and I’d have his.

But over the last year, things changed. He would make fun of me constantly at parties or small get-togethers, even when it was just the two of us hanging out, even then, about 50% of the things he said were putdowns. But if I ever started giving it back to him, he would erupt in recriminations, like how dare I make fun of him?

I searched for “How Dare You” on Google Images, and a picture from Jersey Shore showed up. How wonderfully appropriate.

This drama would occur every few months, and a few days ago, he starting giving me static again for messing with him on his Facebook page, and I snapped completely in half. I said goodbye, good luck, and removed him entirely from my life.

It was simultaneously one of the hardest, and one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done. On the one hand, he could be a very likable guy when he wanted to be, and his family was sweet to me. In fact, his father’s ridiculously awesome. And we’ve had some good times. But over the last year, he’s become a rather poisonous influence, ruining my mood on many an evening simply by showing up. And cutting this cancer out has had a remarkable effect on me. I feel free at last.

And I got to thinking, why couldn’t there be a video game about this? It was a challenge I faced up to and surpassed. Granted, more emotional than mental or physical, but a challenge nonetheless, and video games succeed quite handily at exploring emotional issues through gameplay.

Climbing up a tower of blocks in your dreams to escape a giant version of your fiancee who kills you if she catches you….sounds like an emotional issue to me.

But then something happened that opened my eyes even wider.

For those who don’t know, I work my day job at a veterans’ hospital. As such, I see our nation’s finest every day. I don’t get to talk to them all that much, my job is to assist those who assist our veterans, but every now and then, I’ll get to have a brief conversation with one of them, and it always brightens my day a bit.

Recently, I was in the cafeteria, waiting for the wonderful ladies behind the counter to finish preparing my lunch, when I spotted two quarters and a nickel on the floor. The coins were resting near the wheelchair of a young Marine, must’ve been younger than I was by about six or seven years. I picked up the coins and said, “Excuse me, I think you might’ve dropped these.”

He turns to me and flashes a huge smile.

“Thanks, man, I appreciate it,” he says, taking the change, and putting it in his pocket. “No, sir,” I said, “thank you.”

His smile briefly got bigger, then he turned his attention back to his iPad. That was about when the lunchladies brought me my food, so I grabbed some condiments and a straw, and started heading out.

I made it as far as the door when I was thunderstruck by a simple thought. Why isn’t there a video game about that young man?

I enjoy Black Ops 2, if only for its offline splitscreen with bots, but let’s be honest now, video games have been glorifying the military for a long time. And the biggest sellers are the ones boasting “gritty realism” and “ripped from the headlines” plot and action. After all, gamers love shooting people in the face, don’t they? And who better to shoot in the face than the enemies of our perfect, beloved America? But how is it “gritty realism” when the player character gets shot twelve times over the course of a single mission and is still strong enough to wipe out entire platoons of foreigners for missions to come?

I want to see a game about a young soldier who’s injured early on in the first mission. Hell, it could even fake everybody out and market itself as a first-person shooter, but just as the player starts what would be the tutorial, the base gets attacked, and within seconds, the player is wounded.

He wakes up in a hospital, where he learns the doctor had to amputate. He has to deal with his emotions, and those of his loved ones. He has to go through weeks of physical therapy just to get used to moving around. Once he’s released from the hospital, he has to struggle to do even simple things, like change his clothes or go to the bathroom. He is constantly fighting with bureaucracy to get the benefits due to him. And he is aching to find purpose in a world that doesn’t seem to need him anymore.

But he, like many truly great heroes, simply does not give up. He patches things up with his family. He deals with endless legal paperwork to finally placate the bureaucrat stonewalling his benefits. He figures out little tricks to make day-to-day life a bit easier, and he even lands a job as a sports journalist for an internet magazine.

Then one day, some fat, bald dude picks up his change off the floor for him, and the young soldier flashes him a big smile. He doesn’t need any change. Life is great, and he’s going to go on enjoying it.

I don’t see any reason why a video game couldn’t deliver that experience. And I want to play a game with that kind of hero.