Why I can’t play video games anymore.

by Steve McGrath

Anyone who knows me knows that I can get totally caught up in a video game. My favorites have always been stealth and first person shooters. Some recent experiences has prevented me from even considering turning on my game.

You see I recently spent some time in Iraq. It is a very intense place to be. I had a lot of body guards there. I had a lot of experienced soldiers surrounding me. These weren’t Socum video game guys who talked in code, geared up and gung ho walking around with night vision goggles. These guys were professional soldiers from all over the world who for political security reasons I can’t discuss details on. The only thing I can say is that none of the guys were from North America and the team leaders all had over 9 years of combat experience. Not washing trucks in a carpool but being in wars for prolonged periods of time. Some had 18 years in really hot places. I am not going to glorify or brag about how great soldiers these guys were. None of them love there job and most were forced into the military. Some with guns pointed at their parents heads, some had to choose between jail and military, some were born into families of soldiers. Everyone has there own story. No one just signed up and they all question the mental stability of any one who signs up on there own. I would consider them all very well balanced people.

My body guards became great friends. We talked about everything. Mostly women as guys do. There was a lot of beer consumed and a lot of stories told. I heard gruesome tales of war and combat. Mostly though it was the funny stories I liked, the stories about time off and seeing ones family. The goofy tricks you play on guys. I shared many a travel story, everyone loves a story, especially one that makes you laugh.

There is no glory in a war. Hearing tales of thousands of fatally wounded lying dying screaming, or stories of killing your friend with a morphine overdose because he is beyond saving. “Have you had to do this before?” I asked. “several times” was the response. Yes there was emotion in the response. No I can’t possibly convey that emotion to you. Sends a chill down ones spine though.

I had a friend I will call him Ali. He is my body guard. We are going through a market and his weapons are at the ready, other guards mulling through the market. I ask What are you looking for Ali? He says “I can’t explain”. I ask again. “I would like to have some idea. I travel a lot and I want try to understand something of what you do”. Ali responds. “When a man is in a war and he sticks his head up over the burm to kill at another man. Well, that man dies inside, he says with a thick accent. “You can see it on his face. To try to kill someone is to accept your are going to die. I know that look, I know that feeling. I can see it on another mans face I have seen it many thousand times and I will recognize anyone who wishes anyone harm by this look. I can not you teach this” he finishes.

I follow with the obvious question. “What would you do if you saw someone with that look”. He says “Depends” with a tone that says everything is possible and nothing is preset and a look that says lets not talk about this anymore.

Not so long ago, he would have been an enemy in a war, and he would have been depicted as such in a video game. He would have been portrayed as a violent enemy. Now though he is my friend and he is my ticket to survival in this country. I am always on edge a little here, always alert. He puts his life on the line for me. You can not imagine how intense an appreciation you develop for people like these. A game is such an insult to that feeling.

I stood there in a field checking on my crew seeing that everything was going alright. I walk over to visit the young security forces and check their AK 47’s. Through my translator I ask “Are the safety’s on?”. He translates and they look at me smiling like I am joking. The translator says “yes they are on”. I asked “where are they?” I had been shown once before but who can remember if up is on or if down is on? The guards all laughed at me. Then someone says something to my translator. He passes on that they liked Canadians, they are funny, always happy and making jokes. I smiled and said, “I am glad they like Canadians, but really I have never held an AK 47 and I don’t know”. The translator looks at me and asks in english. “You have never held an AK47”. “No, I have never held a gun, only toy air rifles”. He asks me in english again ignoring the others. “You have never held a gun seriously never?” No. “Oh he says in shock” Then excitedly he explains to the men. They all ask him to repeat. They look at me surprised. The all look at each other in surprise. The translator says ” we never thought there was a place in this world where you don’t need to know how to use a gun. We all have had guns since we were this high” he shows with his hand about the height of my waist.

There I am in a field with a bunch of great guys all Iraqis. All forced to do the will of the ruler of their country. All forced to be on a side for mutual protection. They aren’t rich or have political gain. They are surviving and protecting there families and neighbors. I don’t have any ill will to any of these guys. Even if they were guarding a drug plantation, whatever pays the bills. A video game would have me pitted against these guys. Blowing them up or killing them. Now why would I would to do a thing like that?

An 8 year old kid comes into the room at a friends house and asks the adults what is the best gun. He has been playing a game that he has a selection of weapons to pick from. He knows all the calibres the stats magazine sizes, types of scopes manufacturers, accuracy, damage and so on. He is 8 and he is in grade 3. What do you know in grade 3? Geography? History? Math? Language? The time with the greatest potential to learn is wasted soaking up information on guns. I don’t want to spend any of my limited time on this earth figuring out the best gun to kill something, even if fictional.

I ask myself, why do I play these things? What is it that is so attractive about playing games? I ask a friend and he says “lighten up its just a game, its fun?” “Oh ya”, I think to myself. But is it really? I am usually stressed out, my heart racing if it is a good game I am totally immersed in it. Really though, there are so many things that immerse me. Writing this has captivated me for at least an hour, I enjoy sports and I feel healthy afterwards. Books, outdoor pursuits, music, learn a language, you name it there is so much more I can immerse myself in that makes me and the world I live in a more enjoyable, better place. So I ask myself, am I so lame that my life is made more exciting by playing a video game? Is it more fun than the things listed? I think I play because these games psychologically appeal. I am not judging anyone else for playing these things because there is a lot of money spent having them appeal to people. I am certainly not this superior being because I don’t play them anymore. The opposite, I think I am pretty weak that I had to go to a war zone to realize how ridiculous I was playing them.

The real game is one that is played by world and corporate leaders heads that change the perspective of young people to fight and die for the power of the wealthy. No matter where you go in this world if you go with a smile and goodwill you will find people who are kind. We never find enemies. We make them.

  • Why I can’t play video games anymore.
  • by Steve McGrath
  • Published on November 1st, 2005
Steve McGrath

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