“And when he gets to heaven, to Saint Peter he will tell: One more soldier reporting sir – I’ve served my time in hell.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
It’s June 6, 1944. I’m Lt. James “Jimmy” Patterson. The game throws me right in to the action as the camera zooms in to my boat, which is carrying me towards the beach. The beach destination: Omaha beach. Of the five beaches considered for the game’s first level, wide cited as the, “centerpiece of the game… it showcases the audio and visual presentation better than any other level” (Gamespot 2002), Omaha was chosen over Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.
Before I am even granted control over my body, as I’m relegated to craning my neck to check my surroundings (breaking-edge for 2002), I’m witness to the soldiers in front of me praying, puking and everything in between in anxiety of what’s to come. As my Captain screams orders at us, “meet me on the beach,” a plane overhead shells the boat with a bomb. Everyone who is on the boat is either killed or thrown overboard in to the carnal, calm waters of Normandy Beach. I still haven’t been given controls over Patterson and am witness to several of my fellow soldiers being mowed down as I swim towards the surface. Speaking objectively, at this point in the game, I’m bored. I’m not allowed to do anything or kill those bastard Nazis but am instead watching as my avatar swims (slowly, at that) to the surface to try and meet up with the captain. Gee would cite this as my desire to engage in the Self-Knowledge Principle, stating that, “the virtual worls is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain but also about themselves and their current and potential capacities” (Gee 64). I want to know how hard this game is going to be, how dexterous I’ll be with a gun, how fragile my character will be and how easily I’ll be able to make sense of objectives.
I surface. The deafening quiet of the ocean is replaced with the whizzing sound of bullets and the yells of fellow soldiers attempting to progress onwards and upwards towards the Nazis. Before I’m cognizant of my first objective, meeting with the Captain, I hear a “thud” sound as a stray bullet tags me. Ow? I have a life bar and I’ve lost, at most 5%. I could only hope to fare as well should I ever personally be shot. Sense of invulnerability enabled, I casually stroll over to the Captain who informs me it’s my mission to provide cover fire for four injured men to escape the murderous sights of Nazi machine gunners. I loll over to the first, second, third and finally fourth man, providing lackadaisical cover fire. I’m hit a number of times but, even after rescuing my fourth prisoner, I’ve only just dipped in to my yellow health meter (0-20% = flashing red, 21-60% = yellow, 61%- 100% = green). I’m doing just fine and am not too concerned. My lazy self is caught unaware as I’m hit with a falling bomb. Little to no health is suddenly a concern. A few unfortunate machine gun shots later, I’m dead. I restart the level on hard mode, rather than easy – time to unleash my inner gamer. There is no thought to Jimmy Patterson’s mortality, his family, his friends, his highschool sweetheart, etc. There is, however, extended eye rolling at the long loading scenes, the tedious introduction and the repeating of the same cinematic and beginning objectives. Gee cites my attitude as the Psychosocial Moratorium Principle, stating that, “learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered” (222).
Hard mode is suddenly different. Each time I get shot, my health bar begins to drastically dip. I run and take cover. Gee states that, “playing through the invasion of Omaha Bach in medal of Honor gives one a whole new perspective of what the battle is like… [it] puts the player right in the midst of the action, pinned to the ground, surrounded by deafening noise and wounded, sometimes shell-shocked, soldiers, and facing the near certainty of a quick death if he/she makes one wrong move” (145). Soldiers rescued, despite my best efforts, I’m still at around half health. I stumble upon what I assume is a medical canteen, which gives me about 20% more life. Not too shabby. I escort an engineer who cuts the wire obscuring allied forward progress and sprint quickly to the cover of the Nazi Bunker’s wall. From that point, my Captain (somehow still alive) tells me it’s my job to take out the two machine gun nests rested on the hill above us. I run over to the nearest machine gun, shoot the six Nazis guarding it, commandeer the controls, take aim at the machine gun nests, take them out and then quickly turn to the four Nazi soldiers that were shooting me the entire time from a trench and quickly disperse with them. Nazis dealt with, I’m greeted with a loud banner across the screen that displays, “all Nazi soldiers eliminated” (if only). I run to the nearest door to access one of the bunkers and my invasion in to Normandy is over.
Reflecting, the experience can’t help but be portrayed to the likes of Captain America. I, Jimmy Patterson, just single-handedly saved all my fellow soldiers and eliminated just about every single Nazi on the dreaded beach. Gee supplements this, stating that, “ as in most shooter games, your character can take a great deal of damage before he dies. It takes a number of bullets to kill him, and he can find health kits throughout the game to replenish health. While he faces tough enemies, the fact that he can dish out a great deal of damage with special weapons and sustain a good deal of damage makes you, the player, feel like quite a superhero” (161).
Craig Anderson and Brad Bushman, with blanketing statements, assert that, “effects of exposure to violent media result primarily from the development, rehearsal and eventual automatization of aggressive knowledge structures such as perceptual schemata, social expectations and behavioral scripts” (Anderson and Bushman 356). The two also state that the average Youth between 8 and 18 spends more than 40 hours per week using some sort of media, alluding to the sway video games and electronics take over the young populace (354). Despite this, playing through Medal of Honor: Frontline, the only overwhelming feeling I got was of entertainment. Never at any time were the two worlds confused or meshed together. Frustrated with the second level, I even sought cheat codes to make my passing of the game a touch easier and more expedient (for purposes of writing this paper, I swear – cheaters never prosper). The detachment I felt from the inhuman crimes being committed was palpable. Never during my playing did I, despite entering in to the virtual world through a first-person shooter, entertain the notion of my historical setting.
This phenomenon was noted by Gee. In alluding to Sonic Adventure 2 Battle, Gee allowed a six-year old to play the game. While playing as Dark Sonic, presumably the evil version, the kid noted that, “the bad guy was the good guy” (145). Notably, this embodies the belief that video games measure themselves apart from the reality of situations. In Return to Castle Wolfenstein multiplayer, when characters are divided up in to Nazis and American soldiers, there is little to no remorse of sniping an American engineer placing a mine, etc (161). The feeling, I found, was best discovered through third-party witnessing, rather than interaction.