Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Call of Duty 4

A War Zone I Can’t Escape

 NANA ASFOUR Published in NYT this February 1, 2013:

As soon as “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” came out last year, my stepson, like virtually every male teenager on the planet, rushed out to buy his copy.

Mercifully, he uses headphones when playing that game, sparing me from the prickly memories that its sound produces. But that wasn’t the case five years ago when he became the proud owner of “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.”

For days our apartment reverberated with the deafening sound of gunfire.

One Sunday, I looked at the screen and saw a destroyed streets-cape with Arabic writing everywhere. The mangled city that his character was roaming through looked eerily similar to the war-ravaged Beirut of my childhood.

“Where is this supposed to be?” I asked him.

He answered several seconds later, without looking up from the screen. “I dunno.”

When my Scottish husband woke up, I told him: “You know what’s really weird? Here is your son playing a game about war in an Arab city. Meanwhile, I’ve lived through the actual thing.”

“Yeah,” he said, trusting his son to differentiate between fiction and reality.

While the earlier versions of “Call of Duty” took place during World War II, “Modern Warfare,” which was released in 2007, is set in modern times and, at least in parts, in an Arab city with Arabic-speaking targets.

Part of the game’s plotline revolves around a fictional separatist group led by an anti-American militant named Khaled Al-Asad, who grabs power in a small, oil-rich and unnamed Middle Eastern state that the United States subsequently invades.

And yet, as spine-chilling as the setting and the rattle of gunfire were, they weren’t nearly as distressing as the revelation my stepson would make a little later, while we walked to the bus stop, when he effusively told me of a special trick he discovered that allows him to swiftly kill opponents.

I love sniping,” he then said. “It’s so much fun.” (Being a sniper)

He was serious. I couldn’t believe it. “In real life, a sniper is someone who terrorizes people,” I told him gently. “You know that my brother, Julian, was shot by a sniper?”

“He was playing soccer, right?” he asked, feigning interest. He had heard the story before.

“Yes, he and his friends had gathered in the open parking lot across the street from our house in Beirut,” I said.

“I was watching them from our balcony.” I didn’t recount how, after seeing my brother cupping his elbow and running off the parking lot, I raced to tell my mom, who was making French fries in the kitchen, struggling to find the right words to convey the urgency of the matter without alarming her too much.

And how a neighbor rushed my brother to the hospital as bombs showered down.

How my family and I waited anxiously for Julien’s return. I didn’t tell him how scared I was of snipers from that day on, holding back the instinctive yet absurd urge to walk around with my hands over my head.

Julien was lucky: the bullet only pierced the flesh of his arm. “Many innocent people were killed because of sniper fire,” I said simply.

“It’s only a game,” he replied. Which is true.

But isn’t the fact that “Call of Duty”, and games of its ilk, have been used to recruit soldiers for battle indicative of how closely they emulate the experience of a real war?

The rush that players get from playing war video games is alarming for someone who recalls all too clearly the crazed look on the young militiamen’s faces as they poked their heads into our car, Kalashnikovs slung to their backs, and asked innocuous-seeming questions (“Where are you coming from? Where are you headed? Who’s with you?”), which, depending on whether they were pleased with your answers, or liked the shape of your head, determined whether you would be allowed to go on your way or you disappeared for good.

But as the years passed, I came to see that my stepson’s enjoyment of “Call of Doo-doo,” as we call it in our home, is actually no different than his delight in any game that allows him to show off his skills to friends and far-flung strangers.

Now 17, he revels just as much in “FIFA Soccer” and even more in “World of Warcraft,” a computer game whose graphics are almost childishly fantastical.

He has also adopted more-heartening pastimes: reading Baudrillard and jotting down his own theories on the world.

The less he plays war games, the more my Beirut childhood recedes, once again, into abstraction.

Nana Asfour is an art critic and a culture writer based in New York.

E-mail submissions for Lives to Because of the volume of e-mail, the magazine cannot respond to every submission.

A version of this article appeared in print on February 3, 2013, on page MM50 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: War Games.




March 2023

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