All I Needed to Know About Life I Learned from Call of Duty 4

I never had an Atari/Coleco/Intellivision growing up (Did I just date myself?). Videogames were the devil’s playthings in my household. I’ve played videogames here and there on the consoles of friends who were much more privileged than I. It wasn’t until very recently that I went out an purchased an Xbox 360. It was a mid-life crises thing. Or so I tell myself.

The problem is that I’m not that into video games. Sure, I get all into it, but I tire easily of the tedium and the fact that it’s just not REAL. I don’t play video games obsessively, until I came across CALL OF DUTY 4:

The game is essentially a modern day first person shooter game where you play a modern soldier shooting some other modern soldier’s brains out with an array of weapons. Call of Duty 4 is a typical Clancy-esque video game where US/UK forces, Arab militants, and Russian ultra-nationalists are all engaged in some bloody realpolitik. My normally very leftist politics are held in abeyance as I wage a righteous virtual war.

What I really love about the game is the ability to play online with thousands of other geeks who play Call of Duty 4. That means when I shoot someone in the head with a virtual M-16, there’s a pimply faced pubescent geek yelling “DAMN YOU!” into his microphone with an Australian/English/Italian/American Southern/Broadcast American English/Japanese accent.

Yeah, the global reach of Xboxlive is kinda awesome.

I have to tell you as a thirtysomething gamer with just above average reflexes, that those damn kids are hair trigger fast. The youngsters are MILES ahead of me in terms of speed, reaction time, and just general skill level.

The only way to counter all that is the old fashioned way: PRACTICE and TREACHERY. You know the saying.

So I resort to all sorts of grown-up tactics: sneaking up behind my adversaries, lying in wait, setting up an ambush, outflanking them, going stealth, letting them run out into the open where I gun them down Khmer Rouge style, ruthlessly using the radar to find snipers, doing crazy unpredictable middle-aged things, taking the path less traveled, etcetera.

In a straight fire fight (imagine a high noon duel with automatic rifles) I think I would lose to any hyperactive kid with twitchy fingers. But I’ve gotten pretty good at the above tactics, enough to the point that I’m disappointed if I’m not in the top 3 after each match.

After playing hours and hours and hours and hours of Call of Duty 4 (there’s a war going on people!), I think I learned a few things about life:

  • Never get involved in a vendetta with one individual for personal reasons.
  • The above is exemplified in the Call of Duty 4 world when an a-hole sniper shoots me and I spend the whole game trying to kill him once.  And I end up not killing anyone or capturing any objectives. My team suffers because I did not focus on our goals, which is to win by securing the objectives or to kill as many people as possible. I failed others because of my myopic selfish vendetta.
  • The above is exemplified in the real world when certain leaders of certain nations lead us into wars that have no rationale behind other than maybe a need to clear up a personal vendetta based on irrational fears, to clear the legacy of one’s father, or to chase a phantom mandate from a national tragedy to shore up one’s political capital. The same myopia causes the nation to lose on a much larger scale.
  • Teamwork is crucial. When everyone on my team in Call of Duty 4 works in unison to kill terrorist/Russian ultranationalist soldiers (to distinguish between good Russian soldiers), we win quickly and efficiently. And in the real world, when co-workers all unite in a common cause, there’s nothing better. That just goes without saying, but Call of Duty 4 reinforces it.
  • It’s good to shut out external noise. Those pubescent kids above are always screaming into the mike during a game (one kid incessantly babbled on an entire game using Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Bavarian accent — that’s when I stopped wearing the headset). So I turn their annoying voices off (great option). And I can concentrate on killing, maiming, and grenading my enemies in relative peace, with only the sound of explosions, gunfire, and airstrikes being heard. In real life, it’s a good idea to turn off your cell phone, office phone, IM, e-mail and to focus on the task at hand.
  • It’s a good idea not to run out into a hail of gunfire. Sometimes just running for it with a child soldier machine gunner perpendicular to your path is not a good idea. Find cover. Wait it out. Then stab your adversary in the back while he’s reloading. And in real life, when your company is in the throes of downsizing, take a few weeks off from work — they’ll forget about you because you’re not there and you’ll survive to see another year and maybe even see your boss get fired.

I think the creators of Call of Duty 4 should publish a book that encapsulates all the life changing lessons that can be learned by playing weeks and weeks of Call of Duty 4.

I know I’m a better man for it.

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