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Switching Weapons – Loading the Next Checkpoint

Posted by Jim on July 21, 2016

Switching Weapons

Well, it’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?  I suppose I could start with an apology for my absence, explain about how hectic the last four years of my life overseas in the military was, lament over the harrowing experience the return to the US was, and pledge to make a return to form worthy of the following.  I’d considered the right amount of wit, exposition, articulation and alliteration, but decided the seven people that actually read my column would probably forgive me.  All kidding aside, it’s good to be back.

Life has been a whirlwind!  In the years since my last post, I’ve returned from my assignment in Germany and settled in upstate New York.  Fort Drum is roughly 30 miles from the Canadian border, and I must say I’m fond of it.  It’s somewhat of a Castle Black scenario—perpetual winter, barely a thing for miles. The only significant inversion of the comparison is that all the wildlings seem to be on this side of the wall.

Soon after my arrival here, a few medical appointments have brought me into the situation where I am being evaluated for medical separation/retirement from the military.  It was a bit intimidating and upsetting at first, but after 14 years of service, two deployments, plenty of experiences, and a Purple Heart, I feel I’ve done what I set out to do when I enlisted back in 2002.  Not to mention my time in the Army led me to meet my wife, with whom I just celebrated our 9th anniversary this month, so I can easily reflect on the experience and conclude the benefits have far outweighed the cost.

That said, let’s get back to doing what I do here.: talking about video games and relating them to life.  There’s a certain level of excitement, uncertainty and anticipation that comes from playing a game for the first time and coming to a checkpoint.  If you’re engrossed in the story, you’re dying to see what comes next.  Whatever challenges you overcame to get there, whatever frustration, happiness, ordeals or puzzles you solved to get you to that point are behind you, and all that’s left is the unknown ahead.  Granted, in a video game, curbing that anxiety is as simple as pausing, or saving and returning later, but real life doesn’t have that option.  It’s probably for the best — you can’t save the game in real life, put it on a shelf, and succumb to that anxiety by never putting the disc back in the console.

I suppose you theoretically could.  You can hit that point in life where the anxiety becomes so great, so crippling, that you metaphorically save and quit.  You don’t take that step, you don’t go around that corner, you don’t open that door for fear of what might be on the other side.  Lord knows I’ve been in several situations where that was the appealing option.  It can be a comfort to simply maintain a holding pattern, never having to take that leap of faith towards whatever may come—but it’s a hollow one.  Looking back at my life, those jumps were necessity to my current success.  Some didn’t turn out so well, considering the aforementioned Purple Heart, but some changed my life for the better in unimaginable ways (case in point: my recent 9-year wedding anniversary).

In a video game, the true satisfaction comes from resolution.  It’s defeating a particularly difficult enemy.  It’s solving a particularly tricky puzzle.  Sometimes it’s the surge of pride you feel when you complete a challenge solo, sometimes it’s the sense of camaraderie you feel when you complete the objective as a coordinated team.  The fear, the frustration, the fortitude it took, (there’s that alliteration) it’s all made worth it when you feel that overwhelming sense of accomplishment from coming through on the other side; from passing that checkpoint.

That’s where I am currently: I’m at a checkpoint, seeing the 14 years I’ve given to the Army behind me.  I feel pride, sadness, satisfaction, happiness and gratitude for those 14 years.  If there’s one thing I don’t feel, it’s regret.  On the cusp of this transition, I feel anxiety, fear and uncertainty, but I also feel hope.  It’s the hope that the other side of the checkpoint has more to teach me, more to experience.  If I’d saved the game and quit in 2002, I would never have the stories I have to tell.  I would never have had the lessons I’ve learned, the emotions I’ve felt, the friends I’ve made and the happiness I’ve found.

So I’m going to press on.  I’m going to load the next level, discover what challenges await and take them on.  That’s the most valuable thing I’ve learned, the lesson I’m writing here to share: don’t be afraid of passing the checkpoint.  Don’t stare at the ‘continue’ option, weighing the potential benefits of the attempt against the possibility that you might fail.  Some levels can be hard, some levels can hurt, but you’ll never find the levels that are truly worth completing if you don’t have the courage to press start.

And, at least in my case, it never hurts when there’s a player two.

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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