Written by B N Sable
The pandemic, the lockdowns and the break from conventional life revealed to me a form of dependence that I had seldom seen before: A reliance on video games and the all-consuming need to be online, fighting enemies within the make-believe, virtual world.
Since COVID-19 struck, the youth have had a lot of time to keep clicking and clacking away, even as they lose their connection with real-life in tournaments and single-player games. Devoting their time and attention to new-age video games, away from exercise and company, they are wasting away in make-believe glory.
What makes this unacceptable are the kinds of games available to the youth. As an ex-army man, I’m stunned and hurt by how gaming companies are now basing their narratives on the defence forces and cloaking armchair gamers in our uniforms and flags.
Indian military-based games like FAU-G, Surgical Strike, Indian Army Commando Games, Indian Army-Mission POK and others allow gamers to don our gear for their shooting fantasies. These games and their narratives are too far from our reality and use jingoism and national pride to corner users’ time and earn money.
We sweat and bleed for a chance to don the flag and our uniforms, signing over our very lives for this chance to serve the nation. Facing rugged terrain, enemies and long hours of active duty, we live, die and have to even kill for these symbols. In contrast, these gamers spend battery hours, top-up fees and in-game purchases and call themselves brave soldiers.
How are these efforts to commercialise our uniforms and use our flags different from the prime time selfie-journalism on our screens? The selfie journalists remain obsessed with their own faces and voices, as they hide behind a “flag” or “uniform” to make ends meet and propagate propaganda.
They camouflage this pandemic of video game dependence and other real national issues with their schedule on every debate, hiding the absence of facts under a false garb of national pride.
Take FAU-G, for example. Developed to replace PUBG, after the Chinese app exited from Indian cyberspace, the multiplayer action game lets all and sundry don the uniform. It builds its narratives close to recent happenings, objectifying our military uniforms, flags and defence gear to capitalise on national sentiment. FAU-G’s central narrative tied it with broader government themes for Atmanirbhar Bharat, Make in India, Digital India etc.
While what is depicted is far from reality, the game pegs players as Indian soldiers, building scenarios similar to the nation’s recent defence skirmishes. This is patriotic jingoism for corporate interests. For example, in FAU-G, the developers tried to add Indo-Chinese skirmishes by basing the first episode for the mobile game around the Galwan valley episode in Eastern Ladakh. That attack saw seen us lose 21 precious Indian army personnel lives, a wound that few of us would forget.
Developing and marketing these Indian military games on politically-volatile and emotionally-distressing subjects is disrespectful — plain and simple. It’s disrespectful to the martyrs’ families and their regiment.
It is upsetting how easy it is to play with national and military pride. We must acknowledge and address this camouflage.
The writer served the Indian Army in the Medical Core department