Last week as I was thinking about Veterans Day, my reflection was interrupted by a television commercial promoting a popular video game. The product was one of those ‘shooter’ types. You know, the kind where the object of the game is to blast as many bad guys as you can. The longer I watched the commercial, the angrier I got. But it wasn’t because of the way the ad was glorifying violence.
Like most other men, I was conditioned to accept war-related violence long ago. I vividly recall as a pre-teen hiding in a backyard bush with my Thompson submachine gun blasting enemy soldiers in my mind. Except for the toy in my hands, everything was imagined, though occasionally reinforced by war movies I learned to love watching on TV with dad. These days however, the realism depicted in video games provides opportunities for deeper immersion of the combat experience, but without penalty. And that’s what ticks me off.
I was mad watching that TV commercial because shoot ‘em up video games disrespect the actions and sacrifices made by real combat veterans. In the comfort of your living room when you get ‘killed’, it’s all in the name of fun; all you have to do is start over. There’s no reset button though for real life service men and women (yes, women) who are exposed to real inhumane atrocities like watching your buddy’s face get half blown off or witnessing a dying soldier bleed out through holes in his chest following a nightmarish firefight. Nobody thinks about reality when playing a video game with cool music running in the background and warm pizza waiting on the table.
Some of us know Veterans Day, unlike Memorial Day which honors the men and women who died while serving, is intended to honor and thank all who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Near our nation’s capitol in Arlington, Virginia, Veterans Day starts at precisely 11 a.m. and includes a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans organizations and speeches from important people. It’s all nice and helps us feel good about the sacrifices airmen, marines, sailors and soldiers make for us. And some of us actually reflect on those sacrifices.
But I wonder just what do armed forces veterans feel about the video games we play? Especially combat veterans – the ones who were ordered to kill or try to kill other human beings. In particular, the ones who could actually see the people they were trying to zap. And the ones who were subjected to the trauma of knowing someone was trying to kill them in return. I wonder what they think about our gee-this-sure-is-fun shoot ‘em up culture, as we sit on cushy sofas in cozy living rooms, pointing imaginary weapons at benign TV screens, ‘pause’ button at the ready in case the phone rings?
It’s embarrassing enough that, as a nation, we pay copious amounts of feel-good lip service to how much we appreciate our combat veterans. Then we summarily short them whole-sale when it comes to providing the support resources they need on their return to civilian life. But must we add insult to injury by marginalizing the very people who put their lives on the line for our freedom by pretending we know what it’s like just because we kill or get killed by undead zombies?
And this isn’t just about our kids. I’m angry at parents who sit by mindlessly as their children purchase these videos of mayhem and believe it’s harmless fun because no one gets hurt. It’s not.