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Switching Weapons – Inventory Management

Posted by Jim on July 30, 2011

I still remember playing the original Baldur’s Gate, so many years ago, and rolling my eyes and grunting when I just finished looting tons of treasures off of the monsters I’d just slain, only to see my characters refusing to budge. “You are overencumbered,” a message would read. How, then, would I decide what loot was worth keeping, and what was worth hanging on to?

Life as a soldier can be a lot like that. Soldiers bear a heavy burden; not simply because of the physical demands of what we do, but because of the psychological effects that remain long past the deeds are done. Sometimes it’s easy to be weighed down by memories, nightmares, trauma of things seen or done. It’s easy to become overencumbered. What I’ve learned, through gaming, is that the simple solution is a little thing we all know and love- called inventory management.

You see, when I enlisted nine years ago, I came into the military in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. I had romantic notions of valor and retribution, and a patriotic sense of duty to my country. I received no signing bonus, no contractual entitlements, and still to this day I haven’t really touched my college benefits. I was idealistic, doe-eyed, and ready to adventure off to some foreign land to defend my people and their way of life. My bags were light.

Years passed, as they tend to do, and through multiple deployments, I began to accumulate things. Trinkets, memories; souvenirs, if you will. Some material, some mental, they began to gather and clutter in my personal inventory, until I began to feel the effects of becoming overencumbered. I slowed down, my effectiveness waned, and I began to succumb to the weight of the burden; a burden I naively accepted so that others wouldn’t have to, and one I would never forsake were I ever given the chance. There was hope, however, when I discovered how to manage my inventory.

In gaming, either electronically, LARPing, or tabletop, you can pick and choose which of those items and burdens you carry are worth keeping, and which can be banked. That idealism, that passion for heroism and valor that I had as a young boy, it’s still there. I can roll up an Aasimar Paladin, charge headlong into a forest filled with goblins, drawing their arrow fire away from my party members, and smite evil to my little heart’s content. I can create that superhero that’s been in my head for years, and charge into the heart of Paragon City, defending the innocent against those who would do them harm. These values of heroism and valor can live through these characters, allowing me to express and channel those ideals that give me continuing reason to serve in uniform.

The magical effect of gaming, however, is that even the negative emotions can be channeled. Trauma, tragedy, war; memories of these things can fuel a different kind of character. Even characters born of such dark emotions can help both lighten the load of the heavy emotions, and make way for the exchange of lighter ones. For instance, I can be a private investigator on a cthuhlu mythos-based case, alienated from his family and friends by his pursuit of justice as the cultist perpetrators have driven him into alcoholism, and to the edge of madness. That same investigator can refuse to succumb to madness, and sacrifice himself to rupture the cthuhlu cult’s plans. Or I can even play a damned creature of the night, doomed to fear the sun and feast on the blood of the living. Still, that same vampire born of my more somber and macabre emotions, can be one who clings to that lost humanity, protecting a former loved one from this new terrible existence while he searches eternally for transcendence and redemption.

Channeling these ideals and passions in a safe and friendly fantasy environment lets me live out the values that led me to become a soldier. I can swap out that trauma in my inventory, with the virtue in my bank. I can move farther, unencumbered. I still have those feelings of dread and doubt, but they are carried along and made lighter by the invigorating virtues I live out when I play those heroic, valorous characters and moments.

I chose to bear the burdens I bear. It is my responsibility, as a soldier, to bear them. I bear them proudly, and I bear them purposefully. But with help from gaming, creativity, family and friends, however, I don’t have to let those burdens weigh me down. I can choose to carry with me the lighter virtues over the heavier traumas. I can manage that inventory. I can decide to not let myself become overencumbered.

About Jim

Sergeant Jim Beverly is a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, and, for much longer, an avid gamer. A purple heart recipient and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim is always looking for ways to connect with his inner gamer, despite his obligations to his country. He strongly believes that the medium of gaming can be used to help servicemembers cope with adversity, post-war trauma, and strengthen relationships. His philosophy on life, the military, and being a nerd is shared in his column "Switching Weapons."

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