A video gamer who quit his job to fight ISIS in Syria has claimed he survived with skills he learnt playing Call of Duty.
24-year-old American video gamer John Duttenhofer, of Colorado, decided to quit his job in customer service at a software company, sell his car and fly to Syria last April.
Taking up arms alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Raqqa, John spent six months fighting Isis leading to the city being liberated.
He believes that playing first-person shooter games for up to 13 hours a day helped teach him the basic combat skills and understanding of weapons necessary for fighting ISIS.
Speaking for the first time since returning to Colorado, John explained:
I wasn’t scared of dying or anything like that. Video games prepared me in a way for knowing strategies and how not to get killed, like how to use cover and not to stand in the open.
They weren’t something I picked up because I was going out there to fight, but as a kid I played every day after school. I could sit down and put 13 hours in like it was nothing.
The Americans would give Claymore mines to the YPG and a lot of Syrians didn’t know how to use that stuff, even though they have been living in a war for six years.
I don’t think you can really draw a comparison between the mental state of mind of playing a game and going out and potentially losing your life.
In a game you will get shot and you quickly learn if you are killed, but in real life you just die.
Of course reality set in quickly for John when he was out in Syria realising these bullets were real not computer-generated.
Saving up $7,000 to achieve his goal of flying to Syria, John got fit by cycling to work and brought items such as weapon slings and binoculars on Amazon before setting off.
Travelling through Germany to avoid detection, he dialled a number provided by the YPG, whom he had contacted before his trip online, when he arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan John was instructed to check into a hotel.
There a co-ordinator took him and 12 other volunteers into north-east Syria where they spent a few weeks training.
When John joined a sniper group, his history of playing video games came in useful.
Typically we would be looking for ISIS, for cars, for heavy weapons or rocket launchers. A group goes forward, occupies a building and tries not to die.
ISIS are totally blasé, walking around. There was one time when we started picking holes and looking at a neighbouring building that was being attacked and spotted an ISIS fighter.
I didn’t know he was ISIS at the time so I called him over and he leans over and does a sideways gang sniper spray. He had a black mask tied around his face.
We left the position so as to not take return fire. Some moments later I took a look at the position through binoculars and the man was gone.
When John lost his close friend Jac Holmes, also 24-years-old, in an explosion last October, he decided it was time to return to the US.
He felt ‘disappointed’ that he didn’t end up killing any members of ISIS but saw his ‘battle buddies’ be shot down.
John has no regrets about his decision though:
I decided to go to Syria after I saw reports about what ISIS were doing. I thought it was pretty f***ed up.
On one hand, I selfishly wanted to fight ISIS. On the other I wanted to be a part of something that was historical and groundbreaking.
The hardest thing being out there was that I missed normal comforts. I really wished I had brought a mosquito net and I missed air conditioning.
Apart from that, I felt pretty content, like I was doing what I wanted to do.
I was pretty disappointed because I did want to be the one behind the trigger who pulled it at an ISIS person, but most ISIS members had already left the city.
I had no guilt about it. They are a group worse than the Nazis. They want to live the dark ages out again and I didn’t want to live in a world with them.
As well as air conditioning, John admits that strangely chocolate milk was another home comfort he missed the most.
Now back home John is trying to adapt back to his normal life.
I feel like I’m still the same person. I’m not the tough guy now or anything. I’m not a changed man, but I would like to think I am wiser for it.
Before I went I wasn’t satisfied with getting up and going to work because the lifestyle in general felt like I wasn’t doing anything.
It is like two worlds and I wanted to get the most out of one by being in it and actually fighting.
Now I’m back in this world and I want to live to the fullest and enjoy everything.
I’m going to smoke as much pot as I can, eat ice cream, drink chocolate milk and hang out with my friends.
I am sure it will be an experience John will never forget.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.