I love guns and I’ve owned them ever since I was a kid in Kansas. More to the point though, I love the idea of guns. I’ve spent some preposterous proportion of my life wielding them notionally on fictionalized battlefields. Guns, not image processors, are the technology at the heart of almost every video game that has ever made me happy.
No shock then that, after two days of reading about the mass murders in Paris, I fired up the old XBox and reached for comfort food, in this case 2009’s Shadow Complex.
The game is a Metroidvania 2.5D shooter set in a world created by Orson Scott Card where a new Civil War is taking shape in the United States. In the background of this political unrest, our hero Jason goes hiking with his girlfriend and accidentally stumbles on a secret military base full of future soldiers and robot suits and guns that do awesome gun things. There is probably not another game in the history of games I have played as many times. This dumb underground bunker is a womb to me, one replete with murder mechs.
I completed the cold open of the game and took physical pleasure in doing so. I brought down a bunch of shooty-dudes and fired a rocket at an evil helicopter. Then someone blew up the vice president and the credits rolled. Gosh, what a special neat thing.
I was climbing around in the caves looking for my (well, Jason’s) girlfriend when I came upon a secret door that opened to reveal a room full of golden weapons I’d passively cached by saving a super-leveled up game five years ago. I’d missed these weapons — even forgot which one did which awesome thing. I picked up some kind of assault launcher, pulled the trigger, and my apartment filled with the sound of gunfire.
Then I put my controller down, turned off my Xbox, and went to read a book.
Yeah, I didn’t see that coming either.
It’s been a bad year for shootings — not that 2014 was a good one — but it’s not always the mass ones that scar. Over the summer, a friend of mine killed himself with a gun, which isn’t terrorism, but is death. Then, last month, there was a shooting at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, which is literally my non-living room workplace. That’s two friends taken and a whole clip emptied at co-workers I love. There was also a shooting in my hometown of Salina, Kansas, where it’s legal for gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a license: A man shot himself in the leg during a screening of The Maze Runner: Scorch Trials because his safety was not engaged and he didn’t have a holster.
That last one may sound different, but crossfire is crossfire and it worries you when bullets are on the loose where you live.
Paris wasn’t different — not to me — but it was it. When I heard the realistic gunfire echoing through Shadow Complex’s digital caverns, I shut down. I cannot hear a fake gun without feeling I’m going to not fake throw up.
I hate this. I hate that this feeling might ruin Christmas morning, when Grandpa gives my cousin a laser sight for his Glock. I hate thinking I’d be disappointed in myself if I ever picked up a Call of Duty again, even though that’s a thing I know I love. I hate thinking I will never want to fire my guns again.
I’m scared that, going forward, I might be robbed of all the joy that guns (real and pixelated) have brought me. And I’m scared that maybe I got off easy.
I don’t think that the video games or even the guns are bad — they’re nothing more or less than beautiful consumer products made for a predominantly male audience — just that they may no longer be good for me. I can’t be alone there. I can’t be the only one starting to suspect that if he’s not a survivor, he’s something awfully close. I can’t be the only one starting to behave accordingly.