The Red Suit

Maybe the violence is good.

1985. I'm 18 years old. I'm in college. I'm a member of my local Tae Kwon Do gym. Three to five nights a week, you can find me there, taking classes, sparring, lifting. To be clear: I suck. But I love every minute of it. I love the contact. I love the discipline. I love how I feel now that I've taken off the weight. Of course, I can't afford it. I can't possibly afford it. So when the opportunity comes to make a little extra cash to cover my classes, I take it. The gig?

For two to three hours on occasional Thursday nights, I walk into a darkened room filled with women. I walk up behind one. I talk dirty to her. I reach for her shoulder.

And she turns around and beats the ever loving crap out of me. 60 seconds later, I'm on the floor, covering my head. The blows to my face are crippling, and she finishes me off by dropping her elbow into my left temple.

The "take back the night" classes seem like a win/win situation. I make a little, and I give a little. The college town was home to some close calls and some outright attacks, and while the police and pathetic small-town justice system somehow failed to engage in the public castrations I feel appropriate, other folks in the community work to fight back. I think the big red suit would be fun.

I'm wrong. It's one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. The instructors -- a couple -- work hard to create an emotionally safe space for the women training, train them well, and then put them in the most realistic conflict situation they can create. They turn the lights out. They disorient the victim. Then I walk in, approach them from the rear, and put on a character. A vile, disgusting character.

---------

It was intensely emotional, for me and for them. I know they cried. I know I cried. In these kinds of classes there's usually a decompression period at the end, where the red-suit-guy comes back in without the suit. There's a chance to be face-to-face and say "hey, I'm not a rapist" and for them to say "no, you're not, but thank you for pretending." Unfortunately, these classes -- as helpful as I hope they were -- were put on by amateurs; they didn't have the closure bit.

This is a case where real violence means something. Believe me, it was real violence. For many women, the experience was overwhelming, and they reacted exactly as they should: with blind, unthinking, murderous rage, fueling a few key actions guided solely by muscle memory. I hope they left understanding that they were far from powerless, and just a tiny bit more skill to bring to their defense. I was viciously beaten, but as real as the violence was, I never got hurt.

By contrast, my Thursday night sparing sessions were far from real. Largely the domain of a certain kind of lanky, antisocial macho, during that "light contact" sparring I broke my nose (several times), broke ribs (once, but 3 of them), twisted a thumb that still hurts, and took innumerable stunning blows to the head that knocked me on my ass. But this "fake" violence was largely without purpose. It was a game -- as far removed from the vicious instep-stomping, eye-raking, palm-to-the-nose with a side of knee-to-the-groin as paper airplanes are from stealth bombers.

The real violence came from a place of hatred, anger, and self defense. It was a good and powerful thing, where no bones were broken. The pretend violence had no moral context, and yet more often than not I walked away in physical pain.

I don't do either of these anymore. But I do play games.

In the virtual world, I'm a mass murderer and an indefatigable zombie. Thousands fall beneath my weapons. I rise from the grave ten times more. My entertainment hours are soaked in the blood of the make-believe.

But in this last week, over a billion people have evaporated at my command. A week I spent playing Defcon. In the ongoing debate about the desensitization and dehumanization that is supposedly wrought by violent media on our young, Defcon is the apagogical argument. There simply cannot be a more violent game. If we are nothing but what the media makes us, then Defcon should be quarantined, its bits scrambled, and the designers publicly executed during a prime time TV commercial break.

Instead, I think the game should be required in every highschool history class. Its influence is subtle. It forces you to make choices that are all bad. There is no reveling in glory. There is only the dissociative reality of the blue glow, the somber music, and the flashes of white. I admit that in a rousing teamspeak game of Defcon I am not drawn into bouts of real-time reflection. But on closing down the game for the night, I find myself oddly thoughtful: sad, reflective, a bit fragile. But not upset, and not wanting to wipe the game off my hard drive.

Violence in games can teach us things. It can reach us in ways beyond mere titillation. It's all about context. My days in the red suit had a very different context than my Thursday night sparring. America's Army has a very different context than Unreal Tournament. Defcon has a very different context than StarCraft. At some level, all of it can be fun and rewarding. But for me, I think context is more important than I've given it credit for in the past.

---------

2006. I say my good byes on teamspeak. My cursor lingers over the top-right corner of the dark blue window that has been my evaporating world this evening. It's been a good few hours in the aging Aeron chair, but I'm drained, spent. I click and the world blinks out. I will be back. It's a brilliant game. It's made me think.

I turn off the screen, walk up the stairs. The first floor is dark. My wife's left a light on in the kitchen. The grey mumbling of the refrigerator stops, and it is silent. Silence that goes through merely quiet and comes out the other side. I pause for a second, turn off the kitchen light and make the trip up the next flight of stairs by feel.

At the landing, I turn to the left, into my daughter's room, glowing with blue from of her night-light. She's fast asleep, mouth hung open, body limp, legs hanging out of the bed. As I tuck her back in, she barely stirs. I stare at her perfection for just a second longer.

God keep you safe little girl.

Comments

Nice piece of introspection there.

Rabbit, if my own psyche somehow found a way to articulate itself, I suspect that what came out might sound a lot like your words. Exceedingly well done.

Are we talking about the "Red Man Suit" like in Mythbusters?

Missed that episode.

More like one of these things but more homebrewed, and with a harder helmet.

It is very nice, for a change -- a front page submission to be devoted to the discussion of martial arts training. Taekwondo in particular. Rabbit, are you still training?

(this is to all of you, haters! *ahem*)

What always impressed me is that at good dojangs, there is an unique athmosphere in the sparring. Even if there's certain level traumatism, always, as there is healthy rivalry and aggression, as there could be in a game of tennis, say. The pain aspect is somehow completely irrelevant to the fights. There is violence, and there is quite a bit of pain, but there is not hostility whatsoever. I believe this is the crucial difference you're seeking for in your comparison of the Red Suit training and Defcon.

The competitions is another case, unfortunately. All kinds of ugly stuff happens.

P.S. "Red Suit" aka Redman is a full-body padding often used in rape awareness courses to armor up the "assailant" so that the women can practice all kinds of counterattacks on him.

You know what the best thing about GWJ is?

1985. I'm 18 years old

I'm still a youngin' here :þ

Of course with no martial arts experience and just enough strength to climb out of bed in the morning, I'll only make fun over the glorious anonymity of the net

rabbot wrote:

And she turns around and beats the ever loving crap out of me. 60 seconds later, I'm on the floor, covering my head. The blows to my face are crippling, and she finishes me off by dropping her elbow into my left temple.

I assume she lifted you up on your broken knees to bow before the flag?

Stylez wrote:

You know what the best thing about GWJ is?

1985. I'm 18 years old

I'm still a youngin' here :þ

Of course with no martial arts experience and just enough strength to climb out of bed in the morning, I'll only make fun over the glorious anonymity of the net

I wasn't even alive in 1985..

Vrikk wrote:
Stylez wrote:

You know what the best thing about GWJ is?

1985. I'm 18 years old

I'm still a youngin' here :þ

Of course with no martial arts experience and just enough strength to climb out of bed in the morning, I'll only make fun over the glorious anonymity of the net

I wasn't even alive in 1985..

Heh. I got my driver's license in 1985.

Gorilla -- no, I don't still train. Haven't since college really. Not that I didn't like it, I loved it. But the truth is I never got very good. I could do the moves, sure, i could pass the tests. But in sparring, I was always just that much slower than everyone else, and had an apparently unbreakable habit of leading with my head and chickenwinging (hence the constant face hits and the broken ribs.) I'm still a gym rat, and imagine I will join whatever the nearest studio is when my daughter is old enough. I've taken mostly TKD, Judo and freeform kickboxing (sucked at them all).

I also agree that issues of intent -- hostility -- are as important, and probably overlapping with context. This is where competitions straddle a grey line (and why I only went to a few before realizing it wasn't for me).

I'm still a gym rat, I just move large pointless bits of metal around instead of getting kicked in the head for no good reason. Over and over and over again.

I don't think of DEFCON as being at all violent. Seems to me that instantenous death in a flash of light is about as far removed as violence as one could get. Hostility and aggression, no, violence, yes.

The beauty of Defcon is that the display is so matter-of-fact that it, itself, is almost entirely emotionless. It doesn't pry at your soul to evoke a meaning, that is up to the player. Introversion presents the game in simple colored lines, white flashes and numbers without reaching out to try and grab at your heartstrings. If the player brings something more to the game, then the game becomes more. If you choose to, your mind can complete the image of Sau Palo disappearing under a white flash to picture what isnt shown, and that makes it special.

I think the death tolls are all-inclusive. Most people that die from a nuclear bomb do not get vaporized instantly in the initial flash. Many get blown to pieces by the shockwave, shredded by debris, skinned alive by the hurricane-force winds generated by the fireball, which is also enough to pull people in to either smother them or burn them alive as the fireball consumes all available oxygen. Some are killed by falling debris in the aftermath. And then, of course, there's the radiation. Depending on the way the wind blows, literally, people miles away from ground zero can get lethal doses of radiation, enough to kill them in a matter of moments or give them a long, lingering death of organ failure, and that doesn't even include things like cancer. The radiation will get into the water supply almost immediately, so the survivors that stumble down to the river for a drink will die fairly soon as well, as was the case in the aftermath of Hiroshima. No, the flash at the beginning kills relatively few people. Most people, it just blinds, or flash-fries their skin so if they manage to survive the following blast they'll just die a few hours or days later of massive infection.

Oh, almost forgot, if it's a ground detonation it'll also cause an earthquake strong enough to destroy some of the structures left standing by the initial shockwave. Though airbursts have a wider radius of destruction, so I guess it's kind of a trade-off.

This is why people get so uppity about weapons of mass destruction. They are horrible beyond imagination... which is one of the things DEFCON respects so well. I think in comics they call this "blood in the gutter." If you show your audience something, ANYTHING, it's letting them get off easy. It's the imagined horrors that defy description and visualization that make that little blip so chilling and terrible.

For many women, the experience was overwhelming, and they reacted exactly as they should: with blind, unthinking, murderous rage, fueling a few key actions guided solely by muscle memory.

Later that year...

Santa: Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas !
Girl: Look mommy, Santa !
Mom: YOU SON OF A BITCH ! GET AWAY FROM HIM JESSICA !
Santa: Hey lady, I don...

Santa finds himself unable to speak because Mom's fist connects with his trachea. Before he can blink, Mom's knee cracks his cheekbone, her elbow gives him a mild concussion, and he's left lying on the floor.

Mom: This place is sure crawling with them lately. Honey, take the bag and let's call it a day.

I sucked at karate, too. There's something about being 18 that makes you think you want to be the next Bruce Lee or VanDamme. Broke my nose, too. You could almost say that I had the exact same experience, except for the "take back the night" part. You bring back memories.

I remember being in college and playing a board game called Nuclear Escalation, and the companion Nuclear War. We'd be rolling on the floor, laughing our asses off when the die roll called for "dirty bomb – double yield." I even pulled it out with a bunch of old friends recently. And while the games are more interesting as a nostalgia piece (gameplay leaves a lot to be desired), my perspective on nuclear war has changed completely in the last 20 years.

My wife is Japanese. And nuclear war has had a completely different impact on that culture than anywhere else. Watch any anime (or monster movie for that matter) with a critical eye, and you can see the influence. Nuclear Escalation suddenly doesn't seem quite so funny, when distant relatives of your wife lived through (or didn't live through) the only military nuclear attack on civilians in history.

Nuclear war isn't fun when it becomes real for you. Same can be said of C4, napalm, AK47s, cluster bombs, landmines, and IEDs. But we play FPSs all the time. Makes you wonder what it is about one game that makes it ok in your head, and makes another not.

Think about it, you'd never publish a game called Suicide Bomber. Though I did buy one from a guy who designed just that game at Gencon in 2003. Good game mechanic, lousy premise. No publisher would ever pick it up. Similarly, you'd never publish a game on Nazi concentration camps, or Bosnian genocide. It's just not right.

It's great to hear that a Defcon makes you think in that context. But it all makes me feel kinda ooky about BF2, and I'm not sure I like that.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I think the death tolls are all-inclusive. Most people that die from a nuclear bomb do not get vaporized instantly in the initial flash. Many get blown to pieces by the shockwave, shredded by debris, skinned alive by the hurricane-force winds generated by the fireball, which is also enough to pull people in to either smother them or burn them alive as the fireball consumes all available oxygen. Some are killed by falling debris in the aftermath. And then, of course, there's the radiation. Depending on the way the wind blows, literally, people miles away from ground zero can get lethal doses of radiation, enough to kill them in a matter of moments or give them a long, lingering death of organ failure, and that doesn't even include things like cancer. The radiation will get into the water supply almost immediately, so the survivors that stumble down to the river for a drink will die fairly soon as well, as was the case in the aftermath of Hiroshima. No, the flash at the beginning kills relatively few people. Most people, it just blinds, or flash-fries their skin so if they manage to survive the following blast they'll just die a few hours or days later of massive infection.

Oh, almost forgot, if it's a ground detonation it'll also cause an earthquake strong enough to destroy some of the structures left standing by the initial shockwave. Though airbursts have a wider radius of destruction, so I guess it's kind of a trade-off.

This is why people get so uppity about weapons of mass destruction. They are horrible beyond imagination... which is one of the things DEFCON respects so well. I think in comics they call this "blood in the gutter." If you show your audience something, ANYTHING, it's letting them get off easy. It's the imagined horrors that defy description and visualization that make that little blip so chilling and terrible.

You're killing my buzz, man.

IgnominiousD wrote:

Think about it, you'd never publish a game called Suicide Bomber.

They already have, it's called BF2.

CannibalCrowley wrote:
IgnominiousD wrote:

Think about it, you'd never publish a game called Suicide Bomber.

They already have, it's called BF2.

I just bought that game last night. I tried for 3 hours to learn how to fly those damn vehicles.. and now you've made a little part of me die inside.

I think I need a shower now.

I gave up trying to fly in BF2 a LONG time ago.

just bought that game last night. I tried for 3 hours to learn how to fly those damn vehicles..

Maybe if you try flying airplanes instead of vehicles you'll have better luck

Stylez wrote:
just bought that game last night. I tried for 3 hours to learn how to fly those damn vehicles..

Maybe if you try flying airplanes instead of vehicles you'll have better luck

If you ever play with me I'm soo going Jihad on your ass.

rabbit wrote:

I gave up trying to fly in BF2 a LONG time ago.

Do tell. Only way to see me flying in that game is if I get blown up, or accidentaly fall of a building and forget my parachute.

Defcon is somewhat errie when going it solo against the very trigger-happy AI but playing against anyone else, even with just text-based communication completely dissolves that introspective atmosphere.

It took me a good long time to learn how to fly the aircraft in BF2. Not 3 hours. More like 3 hours a night for a week or two. Now I can hover-capture, fly choppers indoors and through tunnels, pull barrel rolls and loop-the-loops, and sometimes even land safely. I used to be good with jets too, flying under bridges and whatnot, but my sensitivity got reset and I haven't bothered finding the sweet spot again, so my controls are just a bit too touchy. Jets are hard to configure properly as if you set them too sensitive they're impossible to fly precisely and if they're not sensitive enough you sacrifice some of their agility. I think someone once posted a BF2 video where they're chasing me down in a fighter. They did manage to shoot me down, but I think the video still captures some degree of my skillz.

I think you really hit the nail on the head when you distinguished Tae Kwon Do from take back the night by identifying the difference in moral context. That's an excellent test of whether violent media is transformative.

Also, I think of DEFCON as ironic, to be honest. I think its cold calculation is a parody of the military, which sometimes gets so caught up in its destructive aspect that it loses sight of its original purpose, to protect life and stability. The reduction of populations to a number, while aircraft carriers and little jet fighters with their little air-to-air missiles all get graphical detail (still basic, but at least some image to give them representation) serves to dehumanize the populations and humanize the weapons. This is so obviously backwards that I have a hard time believing DEFCON is anything but an ironic criticism of the military which, if anything, would send people away from violence, not towards it.

I think that's the distinction between BF2, or any FPS, and DEFCON. BF2's focus on realism is completely serious; there's no sarcasm there. Moreover, there's no portrayal of civilians whatsoever, which leads us to think of the BF2 world in a vacuum. BF2's world is exclusively a battleground, which makes it seem more like a game (which it, of course, is) because it is more distant to our own experience. With DEFCON, the civilian casualties force the player to relate to the deaths, just a little bit. I have a hard time nuking New York, for instance, because I myself am a New Yorker. This never occurs in Counterstrike or BF2 because there's no one I could possibly relate to.