Monday, October 24, 2005

Basic Training

"Once upon a time, psychologists usefully distinguished between the meaning of fantasizing a thing as opposed to doing it, but those days seem to be very long gone."
-Fred Smoler

Booting Up

"Welcome maggots."

I looked up to the source of the voice from my position on-line. I was in my skivvies, awaiting the introduction of our Drill Instructors.

Shivering, I was shocked by who I saw standing on the quarterdeck.

Jack Thompson! It was unmistakable. The shock of white hair, the rheumy, piercing, venom-filled eyes, the permanently furrowed brow. All capped by a stiff Smokey Bear.

"Now then, pukes," he spat. "Which of you sorry fuckfaces have played videogames before?"

Hands shot up around the squadbay. Jack broke into a vicious grin. "Hardened killers, every one of you. My job's half done already. The ESA had no idea their rape and murder simulators would actually do a service in the War Against Terror." He chuckled, a sick, gurgling sound.

He passed a cursory glance over us. "Why are you all lined up?"

I stepped forward. "Drill Instructor Sergeant Thompson is supposed to do a hygiene inspection, sir!"

He sneered. "No, no. None of that claptrap. We get right down to training." He clapped his hands, and burly men began wheeling televisions and large, unmarked boxes into the room.

We were each issued a TV and several videogame consoles, along with a smattering of games.

I spoke up again, immediately regretting it. "Shouldn't we be issued M-16s, sir? Actual weapons?"

Jack strode over to my rack. The guys around the room cautiously avoided looking in my direction.

"Weapons? Weapons!?" He made it sound like I'd asked for a meatball sub and a handjob. "The only weapon you'll ever need is that controller. You'll carry it everywhere, even sleep with it. Now get your ass on my quarterdeck, pick up that PSP and start expanding that cranial menu!"

My face covered in spit, I did as he ordered. The game was GTA: Liberty City Stories.

Letter Home

Dear Mom and Dad,

Boot camp is ok. Our DI, Sgt. Jack Thompson, is a little strange, though. He's had us playing Grand Theft Auto, Full Spectrum Warrior, Halo 2 and, for some reason, The Sims 2 day in and day out. We hardly get any sleep. I'm starting to get RSI in my hands and my thumbs feel like they're going to fall off.

We're all getting a lot fatter here, but every time we suggest a good run or even a day at the range the DI tells us that nobody ever learned how to kill by getting in shape and firing actual weapons. He doesn't seem to understand even the simplest metaphors, like abstract thought is too difficult for him. I think maybe he confuses reality with the games we're playing. Somebody said it could be schizophrenia.

Yesterday I tried to do some pushups and when the DI caught me he made me pick up prostitutes over and over again and then run them over -- which isn't even fun the first time. Then he said I was a killer, and the only thing keeping me from jail was that the government needs murderers like me.

They say we'll probably be sent over to Iraq soon as we get out of Boot Camp. We don't even get to go to our MOS school. The DI says it's unnecessary, that the games are all we need.

I'm a little scared.


Your Son

Coin Insertion

The chopper's blades drowned out any other sound. The whole team was with me, all of Jack's Boys, as the papers were calling us.

We descended onto a makeshift helo pad and offloaded.

Our CO was there to meet us.

"Welcome to Hell," he yelled above the roar of the chopper as it gained altitude and disappeared over the horizon. "I am your commanding officer, Colonel Grossman. I understand Sergeant Thompson put you guys together as a crack unit, and I expect nothing but the best. I know you've had the best videogame training available, so you all know what it's like to kill, to rip a man in half, to hold the steaming guts in your hand."

I started to protest but held my tongue.

He pointed toward the distant mountains.

"That is the Hindu Kush region. You boys are to load up on AMTRACs and assault an enemy position on a ridge. Out there. Somewhere." He smiled. "Smoke 'em out of their holes."

We crammed into our vehicles and rode out over the dusty desert.

Too Few Health Packs

"Go, go, go, go!" shouted Colonel Grossman as the rear hatch slammed open.

The night was suddenly awash in smoke and tracer fire.

I shoved Spencer forward. "Get going, and get down!" I yelled. His eyes were teary, but he listened. He ran into the night and flung himself on the ground.

I followed after and struggled to get my bearings.

Paczkowski kneeled down next to me. "What's the reload button?" he screamed.


He fiddled with his M-16. "The reload button. I don't see an 'R' key or anything."

"Get down, you idiot!"

Pacz's head exploded in a shower of thick blood and bone fragments. Spencer began howling and pawing at his face. "What's the command to disconnect from this server? Disconnect . . . disconnect . . . " I left him babbling and crawled forward.

By now the enemy was concentrating arcs of fire toward our vehicles and automatic weapons. I remembered that they had given Williams an M-249 SAW. For some insane reason. Sergeant Thompson had made him play Ghost Recon for two weeks and decided to make him the machine-gunner.

I found Williams wheezing. His blood was soaking into the sand. "Hey," he said when he spied me.

"Hey, Williams."

He looked around. "I-I tried, I really did." A thin line of blood streamed out of his mouth and down his chin. "They didn't even give me ammo. Said I'd be able to find it just lying around. Said I could run over a bunch of bullets and they'd go right into the weapon."

Williams closed his eyes.

I grabbed the SAW and sprinted toward a rocky outcrop.

Adams and Rider trained their weapons on an enemy. Surprisingly, the combatant raised his arms. Adams grabbed a grenade and lobbed it toward their new prisoner. Who was standing only fifteen feet away.

"Drop to the ground, you morons!" I yelled, but they were too far away to hear. The POW went up in a red misty cloud. Rider was cut into pieces by the shrapnel; He caught the brunt of it. Adams got his share, however.

I ran down to Adams. "What happened?" he croaked.

I shook my head. "It was a grenade. You threw it. Those things have a range. They send out shards of metal that rip through flesh."

"That's stupid. Worst particle effects evar." And then he died.

All through the night men -- boys, really -- were dying.

Cutty ran into a minefield screaming, "I ownzzor, fags!" And he blew up.

Maddox grabbed a flag and began running around screaming about finding "the base." He was killed by friendly fire.

Eigen tried to wrestle the controls away from a helicopter pilot. He crashed it into a humvee.

All around, devastation. Death. Poor grammar and third-grade insults.

A small flicker of light caught my eye and I low-crawled toward it. It resolved itself as a Game Boy Advance held by the radioman, Allen. "Hey," he mumbled. He was playing Advance Wars. "This isn't so hard."

"You got the radio," I breathed out.

"Here." He tossed me a handset.

I called for an airstrike. "You okay, Allen?"

He shrugged. "Sure, man." He pointed to his Game Boy. "Those other noobs just forgot their training."


Grossman and Thompson surveyed the battlefield.

"They're all dead, sir." I walked up with Allen at my side. The stench of charred corpses, cordite and napalm hung thick in the air.

The colonel and the sergeant nodded in unison.

"Well, a new crop will be ready soon enough," Colonel Grossman began. "Thompson, step up the training."

"Oh, no problem, sir." Thompson grinned. "Bully should be out in a few months."

"Grossmanism, then, is a compound of various forms of historical illiteracy, aggravated by a perfect absence of common sense. The assertion that video games have produced an ever-more violent American population runs afoul of the simple fact that rates of violent crime in this country have been falling for most of the last decade, precisely the period in which video game use has exploded. The argument that disinhibition of an imaginary instinct via immersion in violent visual imagery is the only possible source of increasing popular violence -- an argument that is repeatedly shrieked throughout the chapters of Stop Teaching Our Kids To Kill -- runs afoul of the fact that some of the cultures least exposed to violent visual images -- —medieval England, for example -- —had horrific levels of personal violence, while cultures immersed in staggeringly violent visual imagery -- —for example, contemporary Japan, where popular theaters featuring sado-masochistic burlesque do a land office business -- —have some of the lowest rates of personal violence recorded by modern societies."
-Fred Smoler


Anonymous said...

That is a great story. You should send it to Jack.

Anonymous said...

I thought that boot camp is a place where everyone wears designer boots...