Embodying ‘Honor, Courage, Commitment’ and ‘Gameplay First’

Throughout one’s Navy career, it is clear from the moment one raises his or her right hand to swear an oath of service, the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment are not only absorbed into one’s vernacular, they become intertwined with his or her soul. They inspire those lacking passion, give direction to those wandering aimlessly, and bond in kinship those who would have otherwise felt alone.

For Sailors, honor comes in the desire to serve, commitment through actual service, all while having the courage to continue in the face uncertainty, conflict, and the need to maintain peace and prosperity to fellow citizens of not only the United States, but the entire world.

In some of the bleakest moments I have seen, I have embraced these ideals as they have kept me focused and offered direction when for a long period of time I knew where and what I wanted to do, I simply had no knowledge about how to get there. It took but a few years to search within myself what I wanted to accomplish, but the rest of my time in the Navy has been developing the foundations necessary for success in the destination I have set for this journey.

“If you decided not to continue with the Navy, what would you do?”

I was recently asked this by my command’s career counselor.

The question burned with possibility because it had been such a long time since someone had asked me that question, years in fact. But like the fire spewing from a flamethrower’s tongue, the brief flash of amber and white revealed to me what has been burning inside for quite some time.

You see, not long after I joined the Navy, I found myself working as the command photographer on my first ship, USS Ford (FFG 54) in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, Wash. I worked in the Admin department, with some of the best Sailors I could have ever hoped to meet, this being my first assignment. Becoming the command photographer was no small feat as working to break into the Navy media ratings (job designations, that is) as an undesignated deck seaman was as rare as it was misunderstood. I wanted to be a Navy journalist, but could not be due to quota limitations. But the group of Sailors in the Admin department became not only my shipmates, but my mentors who, with the unexpected and welcomed help of a Master Chief Journalist in Washington, D.C., were able to maneuver me into a position that allowed me to test for, advance, and progress into the public affairs professional I am today. It was my first lesson in professional development, mentorship.

As the fates would have it, on that same ship I was exposed to a computer game that became the Admin department’s means of passing the time during a lengthy western pacific deployment, Warcraft III and its subsequent expansion, The Frozen Throne. We were able to, with permission, install it onto our computers and each night when the office’s service window closed, we’d pass the time in the world of Azeroth. While I quickly learned of my shortcomings as a real-time strategy player, I was completely enthralled with the story in the single player campaign. The deployment was less scary for me being so far away from home because we were able to pass the free time we had having fun with this game.

Fast forward a few years, and I was finally able to purchase and create a World of Warcraft account through repeated encouragement from a friend during my assignment to Naval Air Station Meridian. Once again, I found myself completely immersed in a world that had such a rich story and fictional history. But more importantly, I was introduced to the very people whom, to this day, I consider some of my closest friends.

Months later in November 2008, I deployed to Afghanistan in what was, quite literally, the scariest and most mentally challenging time of my life. Assigned to the International Security Assitance Force Headquarters Press Office, my job as a member of the Multi-purpose Public Affairs Team, was to travel the country embedded with patrol groups, reconstruction teams, or regional leaders, to tell the Afghan story. As I write this, I am releasing emotions, thoughts, and feelings, I have never before expressed to anyone. For seven months, I lived in fear of what might happen. I witnessed firsthand what years of war had done to a people. Children burned and scarred fighting for their lives. I sent fellow Americans home in boxes. I saw devastation. Between silent panic attacks from the warning alarms to the actual bombings I lived through, I was often saddened by what I had seen.

But I also captured on camera something I did not realize until recently when I was perusing photos for inclusion into a portfolio.

Hope.

In the images of the people I captured, there was a glimmer in their eyes that leaves a lasting impression. The hope that one day, someone would see that image of them, and remember them. Remember them as people. Fighting for a chance to live in peace, to gain prosperity, and to enjoy life as we tend to take for granted.

Luckily for me, between missions, I would head back to either ISAF HQ in Kabul, or the Regional Command South HQ in Kandahar, and sit in my barracks room with my satellite internet connection. For a few brief early morning and late night hours, I would connect to World of Warcraft, quest with my friends, and disappear into Azeroth distracting my mind with the tragic story of Arthas as I explored the lands of Northrend. You see, when I logged in, for a few moments, even if they were just that, moments, I felt like I was home.

Blizzard had given me temporary trips back home each time I logged in because I was able to enjoy a great game with my friends and family and forget about the images I had seen that day or was about to see. It was a solace that vaccinated me from the emotional challenges that could have easily consumed me.

It stems from the core value upon which Blizzard sets its entire focus, “gameplay first.”

We are human, even servicemembers. And being human means we need nourishment, not just food for our bodies, but mental stimulation. Some find it in books, some find it in the gym. But some, like me, find it in a world crafted by group of people who absorb their core value and infuse it into their being fueling their passion to bring the gift of entertainment to those being challenged by the harsh realities of our world.

Such an infusion is the source of power envied by those yet to experience it, for it is through this infusion chaos gives way to creation; creation that is stimulated by creativity, encouragement, and in Blizzard’s case, a love of gaming.

I return now to the question asked of me: “If you decided not to continue with the Navy, what would you do?”

I would work for Blizzard. In some form of communications or public relations aspect.

The opportunity to give back to the company that gave so much to me during my years of Naval service would be meaningful beyond measure. There are great stories to be told, both within Blizzard and outside of it that tell of a brilliant and passionate people who simply wish to tickle the imagination while simultaneously challenging our very way of thought in what makes gaming fun.

Blizzard offers itself as a humble servant dedicated to our morale, and as one who has benefitted greatly from that service, I wish to join them to serve others, especially those who find themselves spiraling in the daily challenges of military service.

This is my goal and I will get there. For now, I express my gratitude to Blizzard for aiding me in maintaining my sanity during the biggest challenges of my military career.

What you do is honorable because it stimulates us. The commitment you have to your craft  is evident in the vast worlds, immersive gameplay and challenging content you have created. Your courage shines in the face of those who would speak ill out of a lack of understanding. The understanding that you do not create games to compete, you create them because love them, but more importantly, because you respect the people for whom they are intended, which is everyone.

Gameplay first.

From a fellow humble servant.

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Note: select images taken during my deployment in Afghanistan are found under “The Lens” tab of this blog.

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