By John Walker on March 26th, 2008 at 9:29 am.
This is a short piece that originally appeared in PC Gamer, recalling a key moment in my gaming life. While playing Call of Duty I experienced something horrific. I survived a level by hiding. It was humiliating, and with Call of Duty’s emphasis on the cruelty of war, I felt broken. The piece was written for the Double Life section of Gamer, which adopts the voice of the character. Hence, it’s melodrama. But it captures an honest moment of horror in response to my own instincts. Have games affected you this way? Revealed your weaknesses, or made you feel wracked with guilt?
All’s not fair in love or war
My name is Alexei, and I am a coward.
I’m a conscript, and I don’t want to be here. This isn’t my war, this isn’t my battle, this isn’t something I ever asked for. I am not a soldier. I’m not interested in being a soldier. When I was a child, the other boys would spend their afternoons chasing each other through the woods, shooting each other with sticks, practising for this. I sat in my house, the door closed, and only occasionally looked out of the window. That was where I was happy. That is where I would be happy now. Now I’m being shot at by men who don’t know me, men who look exactly like me.
That I am alive is something I do not understand, and cannot explain. What I have just been through I don’t want to understand, but feel I must explain. I need to confess. I need to be punished.
Sergeant Pavlov determined that we had to clear out this building – this house. Six stories high, and full of Nazi soldiers. Nazi soldiers who look exactly like me. With a sniper rifle put in my hands, I found myself shooting at windows, shooting at these men. And then we were running toward it, running inside it, and then just shooting – shooting at men in uniforms a slightly different green from mine. And we shot and shot and shot for six stories, until all the wrong-green men were dead. And then, at that moment, after all that death, just for that moment, I felt like a soldier. Ordered to fire anti-tank weapons at the approaching machines. Done. Simple. Efficient. And then calm.
And then hell.
Then the building, the building we’d emptied of wrong-green men, has now been taken back by them. And we have to stop that. We’re told that reinforcements will arrive in less than four minutes, and that all we have to do is keep this building, just keep shooting, just keep killing… But I am not a soldier. I am a coward.
This is my crime. I ran away and hid. I ran away while my comrades, my leaders and my friends shot and were shot at. Killed and were killed. And I hid, on the fifth floor, in a back room away from the sound of the tanks. I hid because I knew that here I would not die. The others would die, but I would not. I would survive, and go on to kill other wrong-green men.
And I will, forever, be the conscript Alexei who ran and hid while his friends died. That is how I am able to write this. That is why I am not lying with my comrades and leaders and friends. It is their families I shall never meet. It is their graves I shall never visit. It is their dead green bodies that shall scream through my dreams every time I find sleep.
I won. They lost. I cheated.