A guy hooked on playing video games—who quit his regular job to join the fight against ISIS in Syria—claims that the skills he mastered while playing Call of Duty were enough to keep him alive while there.
John Duttenhofer, a 24-year-old man from Colorado, made the brave decision to quit the customer service position he had in a software company; he then took a flight to Syria in April 2017 after selling his car.
John spent six months in Raqqa fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and eventually the city was liberated.
John is certain that the first-person shooter game he sometimes played for thirteen hours straight helped him a lot to obtain basic fighting skills and to become familiar with the weapons used for fighting against ISIS.
After he returned to Colorado, John spoke out and said that he was not scared of dying—he felt that videogames prepared him enough regarding the strategies needed to avoid death on the battlefield.
For example, one strategy was taking cover.
He also said that he did not learn any of his video game skills with the idea of going to fight for real; he was just a kid that loved playing the game, and he typically played on a daily basis.
The American forces gave the YPG Claymore mines, but a lot of Syrians did not know how to use them despite being at war for the last six years. John says that there cannot be a direct comparison between the state of mind of a person playing a game and another person that is going out to fight for real, because in the game your death is always virtual—but when you are at war you only die once.
The gamer quickly realized that the reality in Syria was a whole lot different than the digital world.
John managed to save $7,000 in order to be able to fly to Syria, and prior to that he cycled regularly to work to get in shape. He also bought some stuff from Amazon, such as binoculars and weapon slings.
In order to avoid being detected, John stopped in Germany on his way to Syria and called the number he had from the YPG, which he had already contacted before taking off; when he finally arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan, he got instructions to check in a local hotel. Soon a coordinator took him—along with twelve other men who volunteered for the cause—to the north-east part of Syria for a few weeks of training.
His videogame skills became useful after he joined a sniper group. As John himself said, they spent a lot of time looking for ISIS targets like cars, rocket launchers, and stuff like that. Then a group goes ahead, gets control of a building, and tries to survive.
John says that ISIS members were rather indifferent to danger and walked around casually. At one point, he and the other fighters began observing a nearby building that was under attack and they spotted an ISIS member. The gamer was not aware that he was ISIS at first, so he simply said to him to come over, after which the ISIS fighter leaned and did a gang sniper spray sideways. The man wore a black mask on his face. John and the rest immediately left their position in order to avoid return fire. After a few moments, the gamer searched for the man with his binoculars, but he was nowhere to be seen.
John decided that it was time to go back home after he lost his friend Jac Holmes. The 24-year-old Holmes died in October in an explosion. Despite the dangers, John does not regret his decision—although he was disappointed that he did not have the chance to eliminate any ISIS members because most of them had already left Raqqa.
He says that he was inspired to do what he did after watching reports about what the terrorists were doing, and he said that he wanted to fight them and be a part of something historical.
John admits that he lacked various comforts he was used to back home, and the strangest thing that he missed was chocolate milk. However, he felt like he wanted to be there and fight. He says that if he did end up killing ISIS members, he wouldn’t have any regrets because he considers them unsuitable for the modern world.
The brave man is now adapting to his regular life, admitting that he hasn’t really changed in any way, but he would like to consider himself wiser than before. He used to be unsatisfied with the regular everyday life, but now he knows what it’s actually like in a different world—now he just wants to live his life to the fullest, drinking chocolate milk, and spending time with his friends.
It is likely that he will never forget his days as a fighter.