Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Video games aren't too real for soldiers

After a day of reading and writing at my job (and yes, freelancing is a job!), the last thing I want to do in my leisure time is more of the same. There were several months when I was working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers where I'd spend all day writing stories at the CBC, then come home and continue writing the book. It was draining, and on some days, my brain turned to mush. Even now, after about seven hours or so, the sight of a keyboard often disgusts me.

That's why I enjoy video games so much - they're a great escape from reality. They're about as unrelated to writing as you can get, and they let me exercise different parts of my grey matter.

My favourite games for the past few years have been from the Call of Duty series; they're first-person shooters set either during World War II or the near-future real world. While the single-player modes are always great, it's the online multiplayer that usually sucks me in. It's tons of fun to go in and shoot 'em up, provided you mute the other players, of course (playing online can otherwise be hazardous to one's intelligence).

I haven't actually had much time to play the latest, Call of Duty: Black Ops, which is set during the Cold War, but I'm really looking forward to getting into it when things finally settle down.

It's somewhat surprising, then, that real-life soldiers also dig playing war games in their spare time. As the Canadian Press reports, a big shipment of video games is headed to Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan. Leading the pack are Gears of War with 93 copies and two versions of Call of Duty, with 82 copies. There are also other, non-war games on the way, such as Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Tiger Woods Golf, but the shooters are clearly the ones in demand.

That speaks volumes, I think. Time and again we've heard complaints from people who generally know nothing about video games about how violent they are, and how they're a bad influence on children. Critics have become uncomfortable with how supposedly realistic some of the war games are, so much so that you can't even cosmetically mention the Taliban in them.

But the soldiers' order seems to be a pretty good endorsement of these games. If the games were so realistic and so scarring on the psyche, would the troops really want to play them in their off time? If shooting and dying is what they see all day, wouldn't they want to do something completely different when they get back to base? How about a true reversal of roles, where soldiers try writing?

Of course that's not the case, because soldiers are regular people who enjoy the escapism of video games too. They understand video games for what they are: a fun source of entertainment. Perhaps the critics would do well to remember this the next time they try to suggest one is too violent or real.


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