Rabbi Micah Kelber has had a fear of Nazis since his childhood. Recently, he found himself not so scared anymore. That happened after he played Call of Duty: World at War.
As a child, Rabbi Micah Kelber heard tales of the grim medical experiments Nazis would perform on Jews during World War II, and since then he's been afraid of Nazis. "Jewish summer camp didn't help," Kelber wrote in Jewish newspaper Forward. But where summer camp failed him, years later a videogame saved him from his fear.
"One morning, I woke up extremely aware that I had just had a Nazi dream," Kelber recalled. He'd been having these dreams his entire life. This time was different, however. The night before, he'd been playing Call of Duty: World at War. "I was shocked that [the dream] did not scare me as it would have done in the past: The back of my neck was dry. The game had subconsciously flipped a switch."
For Kelber, the experience of his fear in a game had let him realize that that fear wasn't entirely founded in reality. "Although clearly there are still very real threats to Jews around the world, the feeling that Nazis were a threat to my existence was created by teachers and rabbis, rightly making sure that I knew my history," he wrote. "In truth, that specific anxiety was not real, but virtual. And I could vanquish it virtually, as well."
The safety zone of the game allowed Kelber to deal with his fears in a non-threatening context. "When your character dies, you may have to go back to a checkpoint, but this is simply inconvenient, never tragic or final," he said. "You will always have another chance to kill your demons."
Beyond his personal demons, Kelber believes that games like Call of Duty allow us to deepen our understanding of our greater historical ones as well. "Although on the face of it, Call of Duty: World at War rewards violent methods, its overwhelming gore and possibilities for playing the heartbreaking dilemmas of the other side, present the opportunity to put those methods into context," he said.