Having been in the military, did that affect how you saw this?
HS: I don't know. I spent six years as a satellite communications guy in the Air Force. I lived in a German farming village three and a half years, which was super fucking cool. I went to Saudi for a month, over Thanksgiving one year between the two Gulf Wars. I was in Germany during the first Gulf War, and I had a great fucking time. I didn't get along with the establishment, but I got along with plenty of the people that I worked with, because they're just fun guys, at the end of the day.
It wasn't the kind of bullshit that people are having to deal with right now?
HS: No. It was also the Air Force, which was very different. I deliberately went into the Air Force, because it wasn't being a ground-pounder, or whatever. You're allowed to have a personality in the Air Force. I was also a satellite communications guy, which is one of two jobs: it's either all about being in a concrete bunker five stories underground -- there's a metal shack with an elevator, and the ground above it is concrete blocks the size of a Volkswagen, broken up in irregular pieces so that if a nuke goes off, they shuffle and distribute the force, instead of fucking up the base underground.
It's either that job, digging a ditch, or it's driving a van to this hotel somewhere, going up on the roof, setting up a dish, running a cable down to a general's office, running another cable from the radio to the van downstairs, and he's got a phone line now where he can turn a key and talk to anyone in the world, totally secure. That's the tactical part of the job. That's what we did in Saudi.
We did the other one in Germany. I had a great time. I'm from a really poor blue-collar family. There's all this shit in my family that's unbelievable. So I didn't go to college or anything. But I was an English Lit major with the University of Maryland because of the Air Force. Five years on it are very different than the trust fund kid who went to Berkeley and now looks down his nose at the military or whatever. Hope you're not a trust fund kid who went to Berkeley!
I was actually born in Berkeley, but I was very far from a trust fund kid! We were on food stamps till I was five, so don't worry. Our narrow view on the military comes from my parents being hippies their whole lives.
HS: My dad was a redneck. My mom was a wild child, hippie '70s girl. That led to a lot of interesting culture clash in my life, very early on. But I feel like I have a grounded view of it. Like I don't have the "baby-killer" view of [the military], but I don't have the "rah-rah patriotism" view of it either.
Do you think if someone played this game, or a game like it, when they were 16, would they understand what they were getting into? There's a lot of people who think, "Yeah, we're fucking America!"
HS: No, I think that almost all action movies, novels, or games, at the end of the day, they romanticize to some extent the role of the warrior. It's hard not to. Even in some of my favorite books -- you can take a book like Lord of the Flies, which is about, "Is violence inherent in man? Without order, here's what we devolve into." You can actually read it as a middle-school kid going like, "I want to be like Jack on the island! I'm the guy with the spear kicking ass on Piggy!" You can take that away from it if that's what you want.
It's tough. You can't make people into something else, which is one reason why I don't think this whole video game violence thing holds too much water. There's something to making people think that it's easy to kill, because it is easy to kill.
HS: One of my favorite examples comes from Warren Spector, who always points out that there's a big difference between violence and aggressive play. Aggressive play is something that everybody engages in. When you're a kid, you swordfight, or run around playing Army, or you wrestle. Lion cubs bite each other and roll around. They're not trying to hurt each other, clearly. Violence is trying to hurt another person, and aggressive play is a healthy, natural part of life. Violence is also a part of life, but is not healthy, and we should watch out for it. Video games are aggressive play. That's the way I look at it. The military, actually, is violent!
It's weird when those two meet. You've got politicians saying that it's really bad, and then you've got the America's Army game funded by America's Army, and getting kids to be interested in being in the Army.
HS: Or even worse, accepting a particular world view. It goes deeper than that.
There are some difficult issues there, that's for sure.