As a sailor in the U.S. Navy, I’m accustomed to living under the strict authority of my commanding officers. They decide what I eat, where I sleep and what I wear. But there are a few loves in my life the Navy can’t control: football, women and videogames.
I am completely infatuated with multiplayer games. Sure, I’ll spend time with a game’s single-player campaign, but only to get used to the controls and the environments. I rarely buy a game that doesn’t let me face off against human opponents (which are usually in abundant supply, since most of my friends are hardcore multiplayer gamers as well). Since we’re all in the military, however, a good multiplayer experience sometimes requires a little improvisation.
One airman, a friend of mine I met while stationed in Japan, found himself in the Middle East living out of a makeshift barracks, but he was fortunate to have a small television handy and desperate enough to take his Xbox 360 with him. He had no way to access the internet, of course, but with nothing else to do besides go to the gym and read, he needed his multiplayer gaming fix more than ever. So when Call of Duty 4 came out, he bought it as soon as he could.
We had spent hours playing split-screen Call of Duty 2 in Japan, so he knew exactly what had to happen. While working 16 hours a day and listening for real danger, he still managed to squeeze in four-way split-screen Call of Duty 4 battles on a television barely large enough for one player. Those few precious moments of gaming helped him pass the time during an extended deployment. They also helped convince him to buy a 64-inch plasma screen when he got home.
Videogames have been just as therapeutic throughout my own military career. While I was in the middle of training for my job in the Navy, I began to feel cut off from the outside world. Games like Command and Conquer: Generals helped me get through those feelings of isolation without wasting my money on frivolous things or getting in trouble with the sailors (who inevitably seem to find it wherever they go). Multiplayer was a fleeting experience, but I still craved it. And when I found out a fellow sailor across the hall also had an Xbox, I knew we had to find a way to play together.
After hunting down the longest Ethernet cord I could find and using duct tape to secure it to the ceiling as tightly as possible, we managed to hook our two systems together. And when the closet gamers among us realized what we had done, they wanted in on the action. As long as we kept the wires attached to the ceiling and out of the way, the ranking petty officers didn’t seem to care. Those weeks spent playing Halo 2 with my friends down the hall were a few of the best weeks of my training – and the easiest to handle.
Nothing improvised ever runs completely smoothly – there are always bumps and bruises along the way. But with each attempt, you learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t. Since those early Halo 2 tournaments, the Ethernet cord on the ceiling has followed me from location to location. I’ve even seen it working between the departments of a Navy ship so my fellow journalists could team up against the engineers next door. And when my friends and I couldn’t connect through Xbox Live, we’d scrounge together a few televisions, stuff them into a room so small we had to keep the door open to get enough oxygen and play through the weekend. But the LAN experience isn’t enough for me. I need to work my magic against people I’ve never met and pound them mercilessly into dust. And with a few of the places I’ve been stationed, that’s a lot easier said than done.
Crete, the largest of the Greek islands, is a wonderful place if you’re into ancient Minoan cities, a big fan of the movie Zorba the Greek or enjoy Mediterranean beaches. But for a multiplayer gamer, Crete has major drawbacks. The population of the island has been growing in leaps and bounds every year as it draws more and more tourists. Unfortunately, the power grid on the island hasn’t grown at the same pace: In the region where I live, we suffer through several blackouts a day. Sometimes they only last for a few minutes, and sometimes they last a few hours, but when you’re playing an intense match of Red Alert 3, all that matters is your computer just cut out in the middle of it.
To account for this, I’ve developed a routine where I stay up all night to play games. (The blackouts mostly happen in the evening and the early morning.) If I play through the night, not only can I avoid most of the power outages, but I can also play with American and Japanese friends who wouldn’t be up and playing games during the normal Greek hours. Since I can’t stay up all night and work efficiently the next day, I have to restrict my hardcore multiplayer gaming time to weekends. It was a tough call, but at least it gave me time to beat Fallout 3’s Operation: Anchorage while offline.
Unfortunately, even with a steady source of electricity, the island Greeks aren’t too concerned with connection speeds. You can find Wi-Fi hotspots in the major cities like Chania and Iraklion, but they’re often slow and short on bandwidth. That can be a hard pill to swallow when you want to play during peak times, but it’s just another good reason to play through the night.
It doesn’t matter where I go – I’m always prepared for gaming. When I went to Egypt, my laptop came along for the ride. Camels and pyramids are great, but so is Rome: Total War right before bed. Spending New Year’s Eve at Tokyo’s Zojoji Temple was amazing, but I don’t know what I would have done without my Nintendo DS on the train ride home. On the few occasions I have been home to the U.S. to visit with my family, I can always count on my dad for a game of Age of Empires III or Command & Conquer: Generals.
The Navy has fundamentally changed my life. I’ve learned a lot about myself since becoming a sailor, and I’ve acquired skills that will serve me well when I get out. I’ve discovered a resourcefulness I never knew I had before I signed up. It may be tied to setting up a Halo tournament on the fly, but it’s resourcefulness nonetheless. And while my fellow servicemen and I have been to a lot of places and seen the sort of unique things only a world traveler can see, it was our common gaming urge that brought us together.
J.D. Levite is a traveling journalist with the U.S. Navy and splits his time between writing and gaming. He’s fascinated with gaming journalism and hopes to pursue that some day. Feel free to only email compliments to him at jdl[at]jabberwocky[dot]ws.