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Something Other Than Soldier

Steve Watts | 29 May 2012 17:00
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Safety isn't often explored in games. In Call of Duty or Battlefield , we can always respawn; obviously, in real life we have to tread more carefully. The recent award-winning film The Hurt Locker took a closer look at another unexplored military position vital to keeping fellow soldiers safe: bomb technician. While various games in contemporary settings have stages set in war-torn Middle-Eastern cities, very few of them focus on the slower, more meticulous task of defusing a bomb. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and suicide bombers have plagued our soldiers in our armed conflicts over the last decade, but our war games have only focused on direct combat scenarios.

Any game genre that involves realistic police work could just as easily replace the cops with MPs, to showcase the important work of keeping order among our military.

Keeping bomb technicians and other support roles well-informed is just as important. A surveillance and recon team can manage its role without firing a shot. The war shooter could take a note from the stealth genre and reward players for not alerting suspicion or making their presence known when marking potential threats.

When those threats do result in the worst, our Air Force coordinates search and rescue missions. These are the very antithesis of the kill-heavy combat roles we see in modern shooters. Rather than attempting to wipe out the enemy, the role is to find your target and evacuate them as quickly as possible. Lethal force is avoided if at all possible, since it puts both the rescuers and the subject in greater danger. When and if firing is necessary to protect the downed ally, it would carry all the more impact for having a direct purpose tied to the mission of saving a life.

Members of the Military Police Corps in a combat zone assist by planning and protecting vehicle routes, assisting lost soldiers, and conducting investigations for inter-military crimes. Since their jobs involve keeping the peace among soldiers, they have to deal with fellow enlisted who are just as strong and well-trained, and do so in a non-lethal manner. Any game genre that involves realistic police work could just as easily replace the cops with MPs, to showcase the important work of keeping order among our military.

The real-time and turn-based strategy genres often involve maximizing your troop's ability to kill enemy units, but for real life officers, mobility and safety are key as well. A real-time strategy game could include combat as a necessity, but add a touch of realism by carefully weighing the strengths and expertise levels of troops, ensuring rotations keep them well-rested, and boosting morale.

Then, of course, we have the non-traditional support positions that aren't directly tied to combat operations. Supply pilots drop much-needed provisions to our troops, which are arguably more important and require the same level of accuracy as bombs. Even those outside the military can serve a support role in manufacturing the supplies efficiently. The factory management simulation genre would lend itself to this purpose.

Maybe these positions couldn't sustain an entire game, but they could at least serve as welcome distractions from the redundant run-and-gun gameplay spread over the course of eight-to-twelve hours. More significantly, portraying them would give a more holistic representation of the variety of ways people serve their country. Nearly 1.5 million men and women are active serving in the military today . Those seeing combat as portrayed in videogames are in the heavy minority, and the majority is just as deserving as our respect.

The military needs soldiers, but it also needs infrastructure, supply, support, command, and dozens of other jobs. Maybe the glamour of gunning down enemy soldiers is too tempting for us to ignore. Maybe the simplistic, classic mechanic of destroying a bad guy is the easy way out. But if our medium is going to pay respect to servicemen and women, as publishers insist that they do, we should give credit to a fuller view of military responsibilities. We'll get more variety in our gameplay, and that under-appreciated serviceperson will get our much-deserved tip of the hat.

Steve Watts is a freelance writer living in the Baltimore area, where we put Old Bay on literally everything.

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