EDIT: In an unfortunate turn of events involving bad internet connections and stupid people, this blog was accidentally deleted. This is the exact same blog recovered from Word.
NOTE: This blog caught the attention of Kotaku. Patricia Hernandez interviewed me in response to this.
NOTE: Gamespot's Laura Parker brought some of my points to the attention of her audience. She that here.
NOTE: My school newspaper got inspired by Patricia's Kotaku article. They wrote about gaming in college life and how it correlated with stress relief. I was interviewed there as well. Read it here.
Depression is probably something everyone goes through eventually. My time in Afghanistan has shown me the extremes of humanity. There were no designated hours to work. It was a 24/7 job. Even once daily duties such as cleaning weapons were complete, there was always some random task monopolizing your time. Free time wasn’t scheduled but for better or worse was plentiful. It wasn’t guns blazing every day. We worked out daily but that can only realistically take up an hour of time. The free time and realities of the situation weighed heavily on most of us. We had a specific time stretch in the combat-free winter with nearly 4 weeks of virtually no tasks or missions. Needless to say, bored men away from home cause problems. It's in the times of no combat moral is at its lowest.
I made my own mission in the beginning of the deployment; introduce videogames to this largely non-gaming group of people. Most of my platoon have been exposed enough to games to know what a videogames is. They mostly stuck to their comfort zone with Call of Duty and easier to understand titles like Army of Two. Despite me never going out of my way to talk about games to folks I was still known as “the videogame guy”. Everyone was semi-aware of how I was screwed out of my Giantbomb internship, having to leave after only a week to go on a surprise Afghanistan deployment. I was a trusted source for basic questions like, “Hey, I like Call of Duty and want another game what should I get?”.
In the beginning of deployment everyone was sort of deer-in-the-headlights. We were attacked on our very first patrol and also had our first casualties during that firefight. No one was actively thinking about ways to push those events aside and breathe. None of the marriages were falling apart and despite the stressful conditions we were all still excited to be in Afghanistan. We were all in the honeymoon phase. Lack of Internet and living rooms be damned, the gamers of the platoon managed to construct makeshift tables and bring in crappy TVs to game on. At first it was just a way to kill 2-3 hours of time. Not to really escape but for something fun to do. It wasn’t like we had bars to go to. Living inside a tent in a half-mile square doesn’t provide a lot of entertainment.
As time went by, more firefights, more mortar strikes, more injuries, more deaths, and a growing pile of at-home relationships falling apart strained the men naturally. This forced them to explore outlets. No one was cowering under their bed from the scary Taliban. That wasn’t the atmosphere. The actual fighting was part of the job and felt as natural as you clocking into work. The stress came from the girlfriends not following through with previously made commitments, the isolation from the outside world, and the reality of having zero control over the life left at home.
Those harsh realities and overall boredom slowly brought people to me, to show them videogames. It was super weird. People at first thought Skyrim looked “stupid and nerdy”, but after I was accepted into the platoon (I was a transfer soldier), most of the guys attempted to adopt my hobby. They probably noticed how calm I was daily. I was the only non-smoker as well. So folks eventually became curious as to what my outlet was. A few more Xboxs were ordered and before I knew it everyone was playing something.
This was a very magical moment in my life. I was adopted into a group of men that never considered games as an active purchasing choice now having conversations with them about their Skyrim character. It was then the Giantbomb Donation Thread was started. A lot of the community donated games to me. Overtime, I built a rather impressive videogame library for the men to check out. The library had a good representation of every genre. You all played a big part in introducing people to Bioshock, Gears of War, and Hitman just to name a few.
Months went by and the gaming only increased. Yes, we were running missions often but the soldiers moved Hell and Earth to lock down some game time. One time when attacked and everyone had to come outside the tents to fight, they were more upset about the Taliban interrupting their playtime.
I successfully integrated more people into our videogame culture. GiantBomb did a great job supplying me with games. Ryan Davis even sent us a USB Drive FULL of videos from the site. To have a non-gamer ask me about a goddamn quicklook I’ve never even seen was shocking at first. There was even a fantastic moment with multiple Afghan soldiers being introduced to magic when Tested was doing tricks on the Happy Hour.
The sad truth is these men came to my hobby out of desperation to escape sad reality. They watched me play through all of Mass Effect 3 and Asura’s Wrath not because they were way into games but wanted an outlet. Thankfully, videogames were there for them. I lived on a side of a mountain for a year, came back with head trauma, and witnessed all sorts of grossly terrible things. Despite all that I still hold on to my videogame hobby. Games are special to me. Some of my best moments with games came out of my deployment. Not because of playing high-quality titles, but I appreciated gaming more. I valued every minute with my games. I had to work for my free time. With that free time both myself and my comrades were rewarded with peace of mind and building a fantastic mini-gaming-community at that remote location.
I was upset in the beginning of deployment. Missing PAX and not having access to Giantbomb made me feel away from the gaming community I love. But at that outpost I felt like I played a big role in creating my own community. A very personal and tightly woven one. Now I kind of miss it.