I have the honor of being the sister-in-law to a helicopter pilot of the Navy. When his country needed him, he answered the call without hesitation. It meant leaving behind his wife and kids— as well as his aging parents and two brothers— to serve, but he never once wavered. And even though he was putting his life on the line, he still found a way to put his loved ones’ feelings and mental well-being first— usually, with a goofy joke or kind words of comfort and resolution.
You could fit my knowledge of war into a matchbox without taking the matches out. I’ll admit that now. I haven’t been there, and I can’t even pretend to know. While I’m usually inclined to roll a charisma check instead of a strength/dexterity check, war and conflict exists. This is something brought up time and time again in video games: Danger looms on the horizon and you must stop it, which means getting dirty, bloody, and making things go boom. And, at the end of the day, you’re hailed a hero.
But it’s not often that you see the very real effects of war on the soldiers who fight them, those who carry out the orders of their superiors and governments. Carth Onasi from Knights of the Old Republic called it the “horrors of war”: having to take another person’s life, the ruthless and monstrous tactics of the opposing army, never knowing what the next minute will bring. Video games are notorious for making us forget, if just for a little while, about the concept of consequences. Some games, however, go the extra mile and remind us that our experience isn’t all about the hack-and-slash.
The first time I was struck by the observation was in Wrath of the Lich King when I arrived at the Horde’s fortress in Borean Tundra. High Overlord Varok Saurfang was talking to the fledgling commander Garrosh Hellscream, trying to temper the younger orc’s thirst for action and bloodshed with his experiences from Draenor.
“[Grom] could not wipe away the terrible memory of our past. His act could not erase the horrors we committed. The winter after the curse was lifted, hundreds of veteran orcs like me were lost to despair. Our minds were finally free, yes— free to relive all of the unthinkable acts that we had performed under the Legion’s influence. I think it was the sounds of the draenei children that unnerved most of them. You never forget… Have you ever been to Jaggedswine Farm? When the swine are of age for the slaughter… It’s that sound. The sound of the swine being killed… It resonates the loudest. Those are hard times for us older veterans. I am not speaking solely of the children of our enemies… I won’t let you take us down that dark path again, young Hellscream. I’ll kill you myself before that day comes.
I don’t eat pork…”
It’s easier to believe the denizens of Azeroth are nothing short of brave and unfaltering, courageous and strong. We play a game called Warcraft, after all. This is the renowned High Overlord Saurfang, whose cleave ability is the stuff of legends! And here he is, talking, with very real and palpable sorrow, about how he can’t bear the thought of eating pork because it reminds him of his past deeds.
More than that, he’s concerned for the future generations as well. He does not want the future of the orcs and the Horde to suffer as he suffers, to carry the burdens of terrible memories that cannot be erased. He wants a Horde nation free from regret… A heritage, untainted by horrific acts made in the name of war, they can truly be proud of.
This latter sentiment is echoed during Children’s Week in WoW. Before the implementation of achievements, this short world holiday/event was all about showing the orphans of Azeroth what the world beyond city walls is like. These are orphans whose parents are deployed, deceased, or MIA due to the ongoing conflict that rages across the continents.
For once, adventurers see the world of Warcraft through a child’s unfettered and simplistic perspective. And, by the end of the week, the orphan reveres you— a hero of numerous conflicts that threatened the world in your own right— as a paragon of righteousness and bravery, a figure to emulate. The orphans aren’t concerned about your kill count, or the number of notches on your war axe. They recognize you are out there fighting against something that threatens life as they know it, and it gives them an idea of what their parents must have been like. As adventurers, our duty isn’t a matter of conquest or glory in the selfish, prideful sense; the orphans’ childlike way of boiling things down to their simplest reminds us that we are the force of good against the legions of evil.
The more we do as soldiers against the threat of global annihilation, the less likely another kid will have to become an orphan because their parent or parents need to answer the call of war.
Despite that, some conflicts create wounds that cannot be healed through conventional means, like those that Saurfang carries. The Mass Effect series is rather good at including snapshots of soldiers suffering from PTSD. One such instance is a background-specific assignment in the first game, where you bump into a soldier who used to be under your mother’s command some years ago. Their ship had been sent to liberate a colony that was under attack from slavers and pirates, but the mission went awry.
The soldier ended up severely depressed— unable to forget, unable to forgive himself for the assumed failure, and unable to move on, drinking himself into poverty and oblivion.
Then there’s the man who saw his entire unit wiped out by a sick science experiment. He ends up hellbent on revenge and tracking down every single scientist responsible, with the sounds of his comrades’ screams still echoing in his head.
In the third game, an alien soldier barely manages to escape a war zone alive. She sees her friend converted into a twisted agent of the enemy, and a whole colony of humans in the process of becoming mindless husks for the opposition. As you hear her tale unfold in the hospital over time, you find out she is unable to stand the sight of other humans, is constantly asking for a gun, and is afraid she’s been somehow subverted, too.
Soldiers sacrifice a lot when they answer the call to battle— time with their families, their mental well being, their very lives.
So, today, we take a moment to remember the fallen and lost, and those who have sacrificed, in one or many ways, for the sake of their country and people.