Thursday, January 27, 2011


Being an online gamer does surface some odd moments of human interaction.

For my recently passed birthday, I was given a PlayStation Network Gift Card, with the knowledge that I was jonesin' for a bit of downloadable content.  The content in question was the Vietnam expansion for Battlefield Bad Company Two.  The remarkably robust gameplay, excellent modeling, industry standard physics engine, and amazingly rendered graphics have enticed me to put in many, many hours in BBC2.  The Vietnam expansion takes all of those things, and drops back into the Vietnam era.  It's functionally a whole new game for under fifteen bucks, and while it was very well reviewed and a tremendous amount of male yaya fun, I confess to having a few qualms about it.

There is, of course, the fact that I am the pastor of a congregation attended primarily by Asian-Americans.  It's a bit peculiar being engaged in simulated combat with Charlie, particularly given that Charlie looks like he could be certain members of my session.  Then again, the game requires that you alternate between being US Army and being NVA.  And, unlike the war itself, the game is devoid of racially charged language.  While the US forces do utter some pretty pungent and non-G-rated epithets in combat, the racist slurs that were an unpleasant reality among combat troops back then are notably missing.   There is no "good side" or "bad side." 

But more significantly, Vietnam still feels close.  The game's astounding graphics really do evoke the tight, claustrophobic character of jungle combat.  It's lush and impossibly visually cluttered, and virtual death is everywhere.  And it isn't an ancient war.  We were deep in the throes of 'Nam when I was born, and it was the farthest thing from a game.  If you visit the memorial in DC, which I have, the staggering column of names on the blackened stone wound in the flesh of the Mall remains a stark reminder of how many young men lost their lives in that ultimately pointless war.   As a much younger man, I once looked for how many men who shared my common name had died in the war.  There were more than a dozen, including a David Williams who died the day before I was born.

It's a war close enough that those who fought in it are still with us. 

Even in-game. 

Yesterday, as I played on the North Vietnamese Army side defending the Phu Bai Valley from an American assault, I ambushed a squad of US Army soldiers as they made their way through a rice paddy.  Three of them fell before the fourth took me. 

The last of the three had the gamertag "1970VietVet."

That was striking, for a variety of reasons.  It was striking that I would be engaged in a visually realistic simulation of the Vietnam war, and taking down an actual Vietnam Vet.  It was striking that a veteran of that difficult war would be playing a game that so viscerally evokes it. And that this same vet, in the next round, would be playing as an NVA soldier.  For someone who knew that war personally, and likely lost friends to it, that must feel...odd.

It was a helpful reminder that while playing at combat is fun, the real isn't. 

Not at all.