When I first told my family I was enlisting in the Army, there were certainly mixed reactions. They were happy I was passionate and bold enough to pursue a dream, but certainly scared — rightly so, as this was early into President Barack Obama’s 2009 surge into Afghanistan. One reaction — my father’s — stands out in my mind. “I figured this would happen.” Looking back on my childhood, he was right. A love of the outdoors, the drive to be a part of a brotherhood, and significant family members and father figures with service backgrounds all laid the foundation, as is common with many veterans throughout the generations. But one other key influencer is unique to my particular era — and that is video games.
I grew up with video games just as much as I did soccer, boy scouts, or any other activity. My first gaming system was the Nintendo 64, not counting the Atari and Super Nintendo at my grandmother’s in Missouri. My first game was GoldenEye 007, and I spent hours and hours slogging through the levels, first on Agent difficult, then Secret Agent (I never was able to get far on the 00 level).
With the advent of social media, a lot of research has gone into the effects of video games, and screen time generally, on children’s brains. The results are not exactly comforting to someone like me. Depression, brain-connectivity shifts, stimulation of the addiction pathways? I can say for certain, as a parent, I intend to limit my children’s screen time as much as possible. There’s also research showing links between violent games and aggression, though gaming’s role as a significant factor in events such as school shootings is dubious, or at least unclear.
There are interesting positive effects of gaming as well, including their function as a cooperative environment. I was there in the early days of online console gaming. I remember playing Ghost Recon on my original Xbox. Online play was so unique for that time — in Ghost Recon there were no shields, health bars, or regeneration. It only took a bullet or two from a camouflaged opponent to knock you out for the round. This necessitated careful and deliberate play, and I was thrilled by the strategy.
For my father, it was observing me seeing the tactics on the map and directing total strangers to their appropriate places that told him early in my life that I’d be drawn towards the military. The chance to practice leadership abilities certainly gave me a chance to get better at asserting myself. But, in hindsight, I think it was my father’s approval of my willingness to lead that combined with all those other factors to push me down the military path.