‘Man at War’ a troubling look at WWII gamers

At first, you might not think anything is wrong with the men in director Jacek Blawut’s documentary “Man at War.” Yet by the end of the movie, you’ll find troubling aspects of the players who become so engrossed with the past that they spend hours at a time sweating and cursing, living a virtual life in a past war. “Man at War” opened at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7 on Friday, Oct. 26, 2012.

The PR material calls the men’s alter egos homo virtualis. Using IL-2 Stumovik, a popular computer flight simulator, these men in Germany, Poland, Russia and America fight air battles as if trying to change the course of the world–a virtual world. These aren’t unmarried losers locking themselves in their parents’ houses in attics or basements.  These men have jobs and even families. The players Blawut focuses on include a deacon, a dentist, an ex-soldier and a student. From the upper reaches of middle age to young twenty-somethings, married and single, all share a fascination with history.

I’m all for making the study of history more interesting, but at the expense of one’s actual life?

We see a Russian grandmother waiting in another room as the daylight fades into night. Dogs wait patiently for attention. Wives, waiting less patiently. As one enthusiast relates how he escaped from enemy attack, jumped from his downed plane and then swam to safety in the cold waters, and asks his wife for a cup of hot tea, she looks doubtfully at him before telling him to get it himself.

The gamers have different reasons for their interests. Some are following the path of their grandfathers or fathers. They have monikers and become members of a squadron. Their virtual squadron buddies may replace their real friends and it’s hard to say if the WW II endearment of naming your plane for your wife or painting her image on your plane goes over as well in the real world post-WW II as opposed to the historical past.

Some of the men have built up faux cockpits and wear uniforms. That I understand. Playing dress up can be fun and an exciting part of re-enactments. That’s history come alive as long as it doesn’t keep you from living your real life.

There is also a gore factor here as well as ungentlemanly behavior. Gamers shoot down parachuting pilots. Kills include video of exploding heads and bodies. I’m not a fan of gaming, but even my husband had misgivings of these aspects of play.

The ex-soldier comments that the one day of his service he’ll remember until he dies, is the first day he had to kill an actual person. Here death is common and you can die and come back again.

Blawut’s 70-minute documentary goes beyond the stereotype of the lonely geek image of gamers and subtly alludes to the virtual social circles and alienation from real-life relationships. Is this an interest in history gone too far? Is this war fantasy healthy? You can decide for yourself. Can’t imagine what will happen if the games become more life-like. In English, German, Polish and Russian with English subtitles.

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