Make Your Own Fun

Make Your Own Fun
The Virtua Corps

Jim Rossignol | 29 Jan 2008 12:46
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I should say that I too am a fan, but my own experience with Operation Flashpoint has been quite different. I played a few single-player missions, spent some time crawling around in a heart-bursting co-op session and participated in a crazy tractor race. The player who organized the race kept things interesting by sending attack helicopters after our tractors as we tooled around the course. Clearly, in a game like this, what the gamers bring to the experience is all important. Their input, especially in creating missions, scripting and modding, makes the overall experience.

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And this user-led creativity goes much, much further in creating an overall war simulation. A number of enthusiasts and commercial interests are now at work on stacking up other simulations on top of the soldier sim, making the game even more of a comprehensive military scenario toolkit. Bohemia created Armed Assault with the community's laundry list of features in mind, to the point where the game was tailored to the hardcore sim gamer's needs. More than any other title out there, Armed Assault was made with the people who were going to play it in mind. These same people were going to take it further, however, in the form of something called "Virtual Battle Space."

Operation Flashpoint had already pitched its tent firmly in the camp of soldier simulation, but it was to do far more than simply entertain armchair commandos. Virtual Battle Space, or VBS, a commercial modification first for Operation Flashpoint and soon for Armed Assault, is intended to extend the game in all directions, expanding its remit from game to modern-conflict training simulator with a full suite of editing tools. It's the logical extension of what Bohemia has been doing with their games for the past decade.

Thanks to the community's enthusiasm, VBS has evolved one step beyond what the gamers are doing, one step beyond it even being a game. Through the modifications in VBS, Operation Flashpoint became a serious military application; this is about as serious as modding is ever going to get. The resulting application has been employed as training tool by the armies, air forces and navies of the United States, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and The United Kingdom.

I chat to my captive ArmA player about all this, and he tells me most of the people responsible for creating these simulators, or even using them, are (in conjunction with Bohemia themselves) the same people who are on the game forums or are organizing the teams that make war in imaginary places every weekend. They're the virtual soldiers he fights alongside on a Saturday afternoon.

It's at this point the lines begin to blur. Does the fact that what started out in the realm of videogames has become a tool of the military say something about human nature? When does it stop being about entertainment? Are the soldiers who use this stuff to train allowed to say they enjoy it? In fact, are those people who gravitated toward this in the first place simply inclined to becoming soldiers, even if that soldiery is imaginary? More importantly, for observers like us, does the relationship of some people with these games, and the kind of things they push these games to do, speak of a more honest approach to admitting what games might be: surrogate experience for those kinds of actions that the modern world denies us? There's a reason why all those history books are full of blood and guts, after all.

Jim Rossignol is a writer and editor based in the South West of England. He writes about videogames, fiction and science.

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