Archive for Wednesday, March 7, 2001

This game is no good

March 7, 2001

I did a really stupid thing this past week. I am still wondering what I was thinking about when I did it, but it is done now and I must live with it, I guess. I purchased a war game called "Nam." I guess I was intrigued by it as it sat there on the shelf. At any rate, I picked it up and bought it.

Let me quote what the back cover tells about the game. "Nam captures all the intensity and paranoia of jungle warfare. Firefights, ambushes, booby-traps, snipers, air strikes, anti-personnel mines, AND MORE. Feel the tropical heat and fear of tunnel skirmishes, paddy killing fields, swamps and thick jungles. NAM is the first game of its kind. NAM IS WAR."

What was I thinking of? What were the creators of this game thinking of? Why is it necessary that we even market a game that attempts to "capture the feel of war?"

I know that we have an obsession with warfare in its many forms. From gunfights at the OK Corral, through the street gang motif, right down to Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Three Kings, we have a fascination with organized violence. We take delight in those movies that spread blood and gore in all directions. We throng to the cinema to watch anything that sprays bullets and mayhem in several directions. Video games that promote combat and warfare have lines of kids waiting to plug in their money and take a chance at the top score. It is big business.

I am also aware that a part of the developmental process, especially for young men, is the demand to pit himself against a physical obstacle or in some way to attempt to "survive" against the odds. It validates the individual and is supposed to give them confidence.

I, confess that for most of my life until June of 1970, I, too, was wrapped up in the whole "soldier thing." I even admit that I am an action junky today. But as I popped that game into the computer to give it a spin, I was suddenly struck by the idiocy of what I was doing. To compound the matter, even as I write this, the authorities in San Diego are working another school shooting. Can there be a connection between this obsession and the growing violence in our country? Probably.

I could digress and chase that rabbit, but to get back to my point (which I hope connects with the San Diego and Columbine shootings), we could go another millennium without our children needing to experience the paranoia and terror of war. I can think of nothing in my experience or knowledge that we need less to know about. And the most frightening aspect of this whole discussion is that there is only one thing that will allow a person to understand the terror actually living through it. No game, film, TV special, series or book can ever convey what war is like. A room filled with combat veterans telling real experiences will not even get close. As realistic as our filmmakers try to make it, as involved and demanding as any game can be, there is no way that a person can understand the experience save surviving it.

Tragically, I believe that games and movies cause just the opposite to happen. The sense of death, destruction, horror and depersonalization that occurs in war is never really felt with movies or games, if you have no experience with the real thing. It becomes unreal. It suggests irrational and destructive ways to deal with problems and gives youngsters a sense of rightness when considering using violence as a means to correct perceived wrongs.

It is imperative that we guard our children and ourselves against these acts. The taking of life is a final and scarring event that needs to be clothed not in the vicarious arena of film and games, but left to the stark reality where it rightly dwells. Death is a part of life. It needs to be seen in the correct context of life and not in the exuberant adrenaline rush of a movie or game which leaves the non-experienced with the euphoria of that rush without the devastating pain of the real act.

The ever-growing list of school shootings is one prominent case in point. Unfortunately, neither the shooters nor those shot now have a chance to remain innocent of the experience. How many more children must be required to handle the burden that most adults have difficulty dealing with?

I know that for me, the game will draw dust as it sits on the shelf. As I worked my way through the first couple of minutes I discovered that I didn't need to experience war again. I still have trouble dealing with life after NAM without immersing myself into those experiences again. If I could wish them away, all games of this type would disappear. Losing a game of football or basketball is more than enough learning experience for our kids. They don't need the carnage in the halls.

Monte the Dancing Bear refusing to dance today.

Baldwin City Recreation Commission; 820 High Street; Phone, 594-3670; e-mail,

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