This Video Game Completely Busts Open Typical Veteran Stereotypes

Entertainment

Editor’s Note: This interview originally appeared on Front Towards Gamer, a digital gaming publication by Operation Supply Drop, and includes some spoilers about the video game, “Life is Strange.”


Portrayals of veterans in media, film, and television often come under attack for being overly simplistic, one-dimensional caricatures of tired stereotypes. Beginning most notably with Rambo, the entertainment industry has been criticized — mostly by veterans themselves — for reaching for the low-hanging fruit and preying on irrational fears of the crazed returning combat veteran.

Video games are no different. In a country where the military is tiny relative to the population (less than 1%), we experience our military mostly through entertainment. Be it “Lone Survivor,” “American Sniper,” or “Call of Duty,” for most Americans, experiencing the military occurs chiefly through a glossy screen while pounding a Mountain Dew. These interactions inform how and what we think about the military and the men and women who choose to serve.

This actually matters.

When pundits and Supreme Court Justices invoke Jack Bauer and “ticking time bomb” scenarios or former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warns that many Americans have a “cartoonish” view of what the military is actually capable of, largely informed through popular culture, we have a real problem.

The same can be true for veterans. When veterans commit crimes, media outlets often tout their military service record to demonstrate lethality and scour medical records to find links to past mental-health problems.

It is for the above reasons that I have been so impressed with the way that David Madsen, a secondary character in the episodic video game, “Life Is Strange,” is portrayed. He is the first veteran I’ve seen in a video game who is nuanced and complex without being needlessly stereotyped. As a veteran and gamer, it is refreshing to finally see a depiction of a veteran that feels true. He’s not glorified for his service, nor is he demonized.

Actually, he’s an asshole. But a well-meaning asshole.

“Life Is Strange” puts you in the shoes of Max Caufield, an 18-year-old student at the prestigious art-focused high school, Blackwell Academy, in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Through the course of five episodes, you spend your time investigating the disappearance of Rachel Amber, a popular Blackwell student, and the strange events that begin happening in the town. Max gains the supernatural ability to rewind time, giving the player the ability to make different decisions based on things you learn. While there are puzzles to solve, most of the game is narrative-based and progression depends on the decisions you make through conversation with the game’s characters.

David Madsen is the head of security at Blackwell, and by all indications, he’s the only security at the school. He wears a cap that says “SECURITY” in bold letters across the front and has what one game commenter described as “the traditional authority look – mustache and crew cut.”

David’s character is initially built with the blocks of just about every veteran stereotype I can think of. He is from the South, a gun enthusiast and concealed-carry holder, a fan of right-wing talk radio, obsessed with surveillance and security, and anti-intellectual (“I don’t trust grown men with goatees”). He views everything through the prism of security and is convinced there is some ominous plot unfolding, which in the context of the game, is actually correct.

He’s a hard character to like and quickly establishes himself as one of the early antagonists, getting in Max’s way on a number of occasions. He’s overly aggressive and seems to hassle the young women at Blackwell, always suspecting them of doing drugs or being generally up to no good. Every interaction with him is confrontational. He also doesn’t hide his general feelings for the students and faculty of the school, describing them as a too “PC” and a bunch of “art farts.”

While the character, thus far, is a walking, talking veteran stereotype, these are elements of the character that I’ve seen plenty of times in real-life veterans. As the saying goes, there are always some elements of truth in stereotypes.

But as the game progresses through the episodes, David’s character is slowly unpacked and revealed to be more than just the sum of common veteran stereotypes. The game’s developers purposely introduced all of the characters as typical archetypes with the intent of revealing their true characters as the game unfolds.

Outside of Blackwell, David is the stepfather to one of the game’s central characters, Max’s best friend, Chloe Price. Chloe’s father was killed in a car accident and her mother, Joyce, remarried David. As Max explores the Price home and speaks with Joyce, David is revealed to be a loving man trying to rebuild the family, with Chloe acting as the main impediment.

At the end of episode two, Max is faced with intervening in the suicide of Kate Marsh, another student at Blackwell who is the subject of a bullying campaign. During Kate’s suicide attempt, David can be seen running to the door of the dormitories to try to save her. He never makes it up in time, and if Kate does kill herself, David is seen in the epilogue as distraught over his failure, his wife comforting him in front of a setting sun.

Later in episode three, Max is given the choice to side with either Chloe or David in a pivotal argument. While siding with Chloe solidifies that relationship, it comes at the cost of David being shunned by his wife and stepdaughter. If Max sides with David, Chloe gets pissed, but David is thankful and explains to Max that he actually admires her, and he is just trying to do what is in the best interest of the students’ safety.

Beyond David as a character, I’ve been interested in the way other characters in the game respond to David’s behavior.

Based on Max’s choices, there is a possibility of David slapping Chloe when he finds her with marijuana in her room. It’s a jarring scene. When Max confronts Chloe’s mother, she dismisses his actions with the line, “He’s paid his dues in war.” That kind of reflexive defending isn’t uncommon in the real world, where bad behavior by veterans is often defended by themselves and others by virtue of their prior wartime service.

In conversation, Max often appeals to David’s character by reminding him that he has nothing to prove, he’s a combat veteran after all. She doesn’t disparage his military service either; rather, she usually refers to it in a positive, respectful light.

David’s military service seems distant though, experienced in the game as something that happened long ago. A picture of David in his combat gear, shaved and fit makes him appear youthful and from another time. David’s war isn’t Max’s war, it’s just this thing that happened in the past, somewhere else.

To 18-year-old Max, David looks and seems similar to how Vietnam veterans appeared to me when I was growing up.

Although there are no overt indications that David is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a thorough examination of David’s garage reveals a well-worn copy of a book titled “Coming Back Home: A Veteran’s Guide.” That doesn’t necessarily mean he has PTSD, but the vibe that the game gives off is that David struggled to readjust to civilian life, which is true for many veterans, whether they have PTSD or not.

But that doesn’t stop people who play the game from automatically assuming that David has PTSD. While researching this article, in all of the forums where David is discussed, the fact that David is suffering from PTSD is projected onto him because of his military service. It is discussed matter-of-factly, as if coming home with PTSD is an automatic parting gift from the desert, despite research estimating the true number is closer to 20%. PTSD is also used in these online discussions to explain his aggressive behavior, even though having PTSD does not necessarily make a person more prone to violence.

It’s not that surprising that so many people would automatically assume he is suffering from PTSD. If you are outside of the concentric circles that connect Americans to the military, then the only time you interact with the military or veterans is likely through popular culture, sensational headlines, and veteran-as-victim narratives.

Thankfully, David’s portrayal in “Life Is Strange,” despite initially appearing to be a cookie-cutter stereotype, is actually being revealed to be much more complex. By making David a veteran, and initially introducing him as the sum of all veteran stereotypes before unpacking him as a complex, living, breathing human being, the game is helping to normalize the veteran as just another member of society — like a teacher, a doctor, or waitress.

In fairness, there is still one episode left in the video game series. Anything can happen, and if you have been playing the game, you know that statement is absolutely true. But so far, just about every character has been slowly revealed, making it very difficult to dismiss any single character outright or to say with any certainty you really know what the hell is going on and who anyone is.

The game’s developers didn’t have to make David a veteran at all. But they did. And as long as he doesn’t blow up Blackwell Academy, we should be good.

(Photo: CNN/screenshot)

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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A recent salvage operation of the KC-130J crash site recovered the remains of three of the Marines, who were later identified, Corps officials said.

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(YouTube via Air Force Times)

Editor's Note: This article by Oriana Pawlyk originally appeared on Military.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The Air Force is investigating an airman after he posted a video on YouTube rife with homophobic slurs and insults.

A man in an Air Force uniform, identified only by the YouTube username "Baptist Dave 1611" ranted in a recent video, calling gay people "sodomites," "vermin scum," and "roaches" among other slurs, according to Air Force Times, which first reported the story Wednesday.

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