civil-military divide, video games

Life is Strange: You can’t un-know what you already know

Gone Girl

The last episode of Life is Strange came out last week, and I rushed to finish it so as not to have the ending(s) spoiled by the internet. I didn’t think I’d be so engrossed by the game when I first read about it from eastern Afghanistan, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I’ve been so sucked into a game’s story. After each episode – and this one is no different – I suffer from a morose melancholy for a few days. From the moment the credits roll, I stumble through the drudgery of work and life, thinking about what happened and trying to make sense of it all.

I remind myself, on a number of instances, that’s it’s only a game. But that doesn’t really work.

It’s been a great journey. One that led me to think about the way we interact with one another, suicide, and how veterans are portrayed in the media.

I’m not reviewing the game here. I can’t really be objective about it because I loved it so much. There aren’t many games I would describe as beautiful, but that’s the word that comes to mind.

Like a lot of fans of the game, I’m sad that it’s over. As much as I love narrative based, choice-and-consequence games, once I finish them, they kind of lose their magic for me. I can achievement-hunt and explore the world, but I’ve already exhausted my path.

When I played Mass Effect, I played it as I think I would if I were actually Commander Shepard. When presented with choices, I chose what I thought I would choose in that circumstance. It’s for that reason that in my story, Commander Shepard never had a love interest. It’s generally frowned upon to sleep with your subordinates, as it goes.

Once I destroyed the Reapers (the only right choice), I thought about going back and replaying the game and playing as a totally different “character.” I liked the idea of doing it, and I even started, but I think I only lasted about an hour before I grew bored with it. It was hard for me to role-play the game as someone I’m not.

It was the same for Life is Strange. The decisions I made as Max were the decisions I think I would have made if I were walking in her shoes. Now that it’s over, I’m already thinking about how I can replay the game, to try to experience it some more. I can explore different decisions, or play as a different kind of Max, but that really doesn’t appeal to me.

I know how the story goes, and I can’t un-know what I already know.

Which leads me to the whole point of this post. A friend once described part of the problem with the civilian-miltiary divide as one that stems from the fact that once someone joins the military, they never really get out. Sure, they can separate from service, but instead of becoming a civilian, they are more likely to identify as a veteran, an identity separate from being a civilian. They’ve been militarized, and you don’t really ever become de-militarized.

Once you’re in, even when you get out, you can’t un-know what you already know.

When I finally finished Tactics Ogre last year, I wrote about how even though it felt good to finally beat it, the final playthrough was tainted by the first, some twenty years ago. The way I experienced it the first time was canon – I can’t go back and change things. And even if I do, it never feels quite right.

When a young man or woman chooses to join the military, that doesn’t become undone when they come home. They can never go back to “normal,” whatever that even means. You can’t un-know what you already know.



Leadership: Sometimes you have to just look away

I recently came across this scene in Metal Gear Solid V. Big Boss walks into the weapons hangar to check the progress of the Battle Gear. As he walks in, his attention focuses in on the “I love Diamond Dogs” mug that’s sitting on top of the gear. Then Huey’s kind of bitchy face pops up behind it, making eye contact with Boss. The camera cuts back to Boss and you can see he is a little disgusted by it, but he doesn’t say anything. No words are exchanged.

Boss is the kind of military guy who doesn’t care about the swag or the trappings of being in a “cool” unit. He’s more concerned with mission accomplishment and probably views anything outside of that as a waste of time. A younger, less mature Boss might have destroyed the mug or at least called it out. But Boss at this stage knows that while he might not be into the mug, some of his guys might be, and if it helps them get through the day, then why not let it go?

It reminds me of small things I’ve encountered over the years in the military. Soldiers who purchase morale patches and put them somewhere on their kit or displayed in their military vehicle. Or non-official unit emblems or logos that find themselves stenciled on a wall locker or gunner’s shield. None of these things are “authorized,” and when a leader comes into contact with them, he or she has to make a decision whether to cut it down there or to let it go. Generally speaking, it’s probably best to do the right thing and cut it down. Other times – and so much of this is context dependent – the best decision a leader can make is to look away.

civil-military divide

Volunteering to Not Volunteer

Full Metal Bitch

When I was in college I met lots of smart and ambitious young men and women who struggled – like most people – to figure out what it was they wanted to do for a career. Being one of the only veterans they knew, I’d ask them if they ever considered military service. I’d usually get a range of replies that all led to the same answer: no.

If you are a young man or woman and physically capable of serving in the military and you happen to be of prime fighting age during a time of war, is it a duty to volunteer?

We talk about draft dodgers of the Vietnam era. In the future, will the candidate running for President who is an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran challenge the non-veteran on why they chose not to volunteer when they could have?

It just seems to me that in a country where so few are eligible to serve due to education, drugs, criminal history, or physical fitness, that those who could, should – especially if we are actively engaged in war.

It’s a hard argument, I know. It’s the “I don’t want you to do the dishes, I want you to want to do the dishes” argument.


Sunshine and Battle Flags


A couple of weeks ago my unit did a battalion competition out on the PT field. Each company put together an eight man team and we raced each other through an obstacle course, carrying weapons and litters stacked with filled ammo cans and five gallon water jugs. The S6 had giant speakers blaring music as the teams made their way around. No one really wanted to do it – it was Friday and everyone just wanted to go home for the weekend – but once the event started the competitive fire took over.

I just finished with my team and stopped at the end, huffing for air. Looking back, the sun was just coming up over post, casting the field in a warm morning glow. As the eight man teams moved through the obstacles, their company guidons moved with them, bouncing along above a mass of soldiers cheering them on. Dust swirled around magnifying the sunlight. A cover of War Pigs blared out of the speakers.

It was a weird moment. It felt like the beginning of a war movie with a very dark ending.