I would like to start this article first by saying that I am not speaking for every veteran, I speak from my perspective and mine alone. That being said I do play many of the games that will be mentioned here with many vets that struggle with the effects of war. This is a commentary.
Games like SOCOM have been a part of my life long before I joined the Army back in 2000. I loved the first time I hooked up on the worst internet around and played a few rounds online and learned the art of getting smoked early and often.
About a year after I joined a few of my buddies at Fort Hood introduced me to the magic of Halo and the first Lan party I ever joined. Some of my fellow vets can recall running Lan cables through the ceiling tiles of the barracks to hook up 4 Xbox’s and pile in 4 or 8 to a room.
Those were great days.
We worked hard at Fort Hood, my buddies all worked a line of Bradley’s, and I was their Commo guy. I was the support; that meant I trained alongside them but didn’t get the same respect. It came along with the territory. In the end, we all loved our work, as miserable as it could be at times, so we worked hard and played hard and it showed when we got downrange.
It was the early years of the war in Iraq (2004), some of us called it the Wild West. No armor on our vehicles and no one had really heard the term IED. We had platter charges, remote triggered tank rounds, RPGs and other assorted weapons of war pointed at us daily.
But I digress.
As commo guys on a forward operating base (Combat Arms guys, please try not to hate me too much) we did our best to get our guys connectivity. So a few weeks in, a satellite dish went up, and we had some ways to call home. A few of us also found ways to get our Xbox’s out there, and I never had a shortage of Cat-5 cable since I cut it myself.
Halo became ours out in the middle of it all. We would play whenever we could, and it would bring us together and tear us apart all the time. It was glorious and maybe deep down that’s given me rose-colored glasses about this whole thing.
You might wonder why we might send games like that to our service members currently experiencing combat – because maybe, just maybe, it brings them a moment of fun with an all too familiar but ultimately alternate reality. The one’s that choose to play, do it to play a game with friends and to have that same competition they might have had on the firing range where they qualified on their weapons. To highlight who might be the best shooter, a necessary skill in combat, in a friendly fashion. If it helps even one service member – it’s worth it in my opinion.
Fast forward many years, and I’m medically retired for numerous injuries and a wicked case of PTSD, although by all means not as bad as some, and for you, I write this story.
My wife and I have been through the thick of it, from the rigors of military life and demanding schedules to the fear of the unknown after retirement. Life outside after a decade and more of your adult life can seem overwhelming, and the thought can cause even the strongest of us to develop anxiety.
My wife was there with me through the nightmares, insomnia ”“ sleeping with my uniform still on and a knife in my pocket just in case. She experienced the outbursts and many of the symptoms I experienced in my battles with PTSD – alcohol had been my way to cope until that time.
It wasn’t working.
Eventually, I got back into gaming. I immediately picked up Call of Duty Modern Warfare and one of the Battlefields, great games but confusing to my wife.
Que angry outbursts and crazy online rants against griefers.
In my wife’s growing frustration, she questioned how I could possibly play games like that especially because I never explained to her what my nightmares were about. My answer was simple because it was different. I didn’t shoot someone in the game and feel like it was real, I knew exactly what I was doing, and it was a familiar feeling. I felt like I was in a LAN party with some of my old buddies. My nightmares weren’t always as severe, which was weird and relieving.
I love video games and many of my friends, mostly fellow vets, enjoy many of the same types of games I play. For different reasons I am sure but they play them nonetheless.
Years later, my nightmares have lessened but remain, and I’m sober. I feel healthier, I spend more time with the ones I love, and I still game, as often as time allows. It reminds me of home, it reminds me of the days of Lan parties and cramped barracks rooms.
If a video game, shooter or otherwise, helps just one of our Veteran’s or Service Members than I think that might be what mission success looks like.