Monthly Archives: December 2012

What's Really Wrong With Video Games

Violence in video games is often decried as the cause of violence in real life – perhaps it is. I haven’t the resources to investigate that fully.

I do play video games pretty often, and I can say that while I’ve never felt violent urges after playing a video game, I did free climb the stone wall of an ancient temple in the Middle East just like in Uncharted 3. Also just like in Uncharted 3, I was caught by angry guards with AKMs, although unlike the game, they (luckily) did not shoot at me. I cannot confirm rumors of a new game called Uncharted 4: Tuohy’s Fortune, but I can say that it would be pretty awesome.

Climbing this wall was *way* harder than repeatedly pressing X while holding the left thumbstick forward.

I am, however, of the opinion that there is a pervasive message in many video games that is having a negative effect on those who play them. Simply put, this message is that the player is special.

I’ve lost track of the number of times that a narrator or NPC (non-player character) in a video game has told my character (me) that I am special, unique, gifted – “the one” – the only person who can solve some massive problem or defeat some great evil threatening the universe. Now, maybe these are just the types of games that I seek. But more often than not the message, whether overt or covert, is there.

Someone who does not have a whole lot of life experience, or someone who knowingly chooses to avoid real life in order to play games, must finally meet the harsh reality that they are in fact not special. Perhaps it is for this reason that they continue to play rather than to go outside and talk to people of the opposite sex.

The real world is scary. Cats with Hitler mustaches watch you from trees.

But the crushing realization that they are just another person in a world of billions – not special, not very unique, etc. – must bring with it a lot of pain to some. Some may deal with it just fine, and some may not. I don’t think it’s a positive message. Sure, it’s nice to be Master Chief or a Jedi (note: I am actually a Jedi) or a Spectre or an SAS/Ranger/SEAL/Delta Über-kommando, but there is a difference between imagining that and remembering that you’re actually working part time at 7/11.

+10 Charisma from this bottle? I don’t think so.

Now, at the risk of sounding like some crusty old salt gamer, I miss video games that really made you think. Games in which you didn’t just follow a linear path, pushing the right buttons at approximately the right time, finally being rewarded with a cutscene extolling your virtues.  Stuff like the original Rainbow 6, which required you (or at least strongly suggested you) to plan the entire mission before you stepped off. Or, as a friend pointed out, Operation Flashpoint, which was rather open-world in its approach to the combat genre, without the ridiculousness of the Battlefield series. But even when I felt like I was truly involved in the game, it was never more than a game to me.

This girl went on a few dates with me until she found out that I wasn’t as good at Call of Duty as I said I was.

Since there will never be a real call for me to defend the frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada, I actually chuckle at how much praise is lavished upon some player characters. To me, video games are a source of entertainment, something to enjoy with friends – not an alternate reality in which I lose myself. And we don’t really confuse the two, although it was pretty funny when my friend texted me a line from Borderlands – “Critical, biatch” – in response to my informing him that I had been severely injured (in real life).

So it’s my opinion that what is truly “dangerous” about video games is that they convince the gamer that they are better than they really are. In the absence of any other input on a person’s intelligence, fitness, or character, this may have a severely detrimental effect on that person’s view of the world, and their ability to function in it.

 

Photos of Historical Sites in Lebanon

Here are some photos I took while in the Middle East recently. They were taken with a Canon S95, Nikon V1, Pentax K-01 and iPhone 4S.

I went to the National Museum of Lebanon on a Sunday and had the whole place to myself.

Aanjar – 8th century Umayyad ruins. Anti-Lebanon Mountains in the background

Aanjar again.

Aanjar with the snow-covered Lebanon Mountains in the background.

Aanjar with the snow-covered Lebanon Mountains in the background.

This is my “Look How Cool I Am Leaning On These Ancient Ruins” pose.

Byblos, an archaeological site in a town which has perhaps been continuously occupied longer than any other place in the world. Crusader castle to the left; Roman and other ruins in the foreground.

Baalbek, called Heliopolis by the Romans. Temple of Bacchus to the right. The entire complex was over 1000 feet long.

A reconstructed portion of the entrance to the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek.

Looking north from the inside of the Temple of Jupiter.

Temple of Bacchus (Roman god of wine) at sunset.

Some of the few remaining columns of the Temple of Jupiter.

This was part of the roof – rainwater drained out through the lion’s mouth.

More of Baalbek just before all the cool light went away.

A fisherman at dawn in Beirut.

Fat Is Not Tactical

I’m sure I have managed to anger a few people with the title of this article alone. That’s not my intention. As the saying goes, you get more flies with honey than with vinegar – although in this case, putting out carb-rich food wouldn’t be the best course of action.

I don’t know you and can’t say what, if anything, you are preparing for. What I can say is that almost anything you might be preparing for by going to carbine/pistol training courses or taking an active interest in blogs like this one will be made substantially easier if you are in good shape.

Part of being prepared for adverse situations is knowing what you are capable of. Knowing how far you can run at certain altitudes, how effectively you can physically fight after moving for six, twelve, twenty-four continuous hours, how clearly you think through problems that present themselves during that same time, and so on.

I know a lot about my capabilities because I’ve gone outside and proved them to myself. As I’ve done so, I have not only improved my mental well-being, but I’ve become more fit. I’ve gone from being fat and out of shape to being proud of myself, not only the way I look, but what I can do.

Andrew-Fifty-Pounds-Ago would not have made it to this point of the 24 Hour Sniper Adventure Challenge. He would have collapsed, sobbing, about a quarter of the way up the first mountain, begging for a cheeseburger.

Now, there are some guys who are really capable even though they’re packing an extra ten or fifty pounds. I’m not saying that they aren’t capable or that they’re bad people or whatever. Some of them might be better than I am at some things. I am saying that they would be more capable if they shed a little weight.

On the other end of the scale are people who are skinny but weak or incapable of physical exertion. If they don’t need to exercise to maintain a certain look, they choose to skip it. This is not good. A lot of the time, this applies to females – something I’ve learned is that if a girl does not have a butt, she probably won’t be able to keep up with me on a hike. I’ve also learned that “LOVE PINK” is shorthand for “I’m a white girl who thinks she has a butt.” But I digress…

If a capable but fat person gets injured…well, it will be easier for their friends or teammates to evacuate them if they weigh less. Because carrying fat people is hard.

In FMSS (Field Medical Service School), one of our final challenges was a dummy drag through an obstacle course. It was done in teams of three, but my two teammates were wimps, so I dragged and carried the ~180lb dummy through the whole course, and did it so fast that my teammates complained that they couldn’t keep up. Naturally, this was a big ego boost to me.

Fast forward to Iraq, where I was practicing emergency procedures with guys from my platoon. One of my Marines was…well, fat. And when he was in full gear, I simply couldn’t pull him out of a “disabled” truck. This was quite a change from my 180lb dummy drag champion days. After this, he lost a significant amount of weight; I don’t know if the two were connected, but it was certainly eye-opening for me.

If you lead an active lifestyle – or maybe if you drew the short straw in the womb – staying fit might be difficult. Injuries and genetics play a role, to be sure. However, willpower is huge. I used lung problems resulting from my Iraq vacation as an excuse to not exercise for a long time.

Then I realized that I had gotten fat. Soon after, I decided to stop being fat. I still have lung problems (if I run too hard, I start coughing up blood), and sometimes severe knee and ankle issues. I can’t do certain exercises because they cause too much pain in my chest and abdomen. I’ve learned to work around these problems – to minimize their impact on my life and the way I exercise.

Your issues might be more or less severe, but there is almost certainly a way for you to become at least somewhat fit. It starts with your personal decision to walk down that path.