December 20th, 1989 - Fort Clayton, Panama - 01:30 hours
The balloon has gone up - quite noisily. For the past half hour, we've been listening to explosions from Panama City as the bombing runs began on Noriega's headquarters. My fellow Military Policemen and I are standing around, waiting to get our orders to move out. We know we'll be securing the POW camp - we had spent the past week building it as a "training exercise" - but we don't know when. We've taken shelter at the front of the barracks because a few Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) snipers have somehow gotten into the dense jungle behind us and have been taking potshots at us for the past hour. To pass the time, we're saluting each other and yelling, "Sniper Check!" Some of my peers have begun writing on the camo coverings of their helmets - "Born To Kill" seems to be the motto de jour (thanks, Kubrick). As desperate as we seem to turn this into another Vietnam, it instead has the surreal absurdity of a Monty Python sketch. At any moment, I expect an officer in full drag to show up and begin dancing.

A few minutes later, we are told that some of the infantry guys are now in the jungle and have killed two snipers and are chasing a third. We all groan, because now we're going to have to fall in and roll out instead of enjoying the fireworks coming from the bombing in the city.

One of my buddies turns to me to say something, but I never hear it. At that moment, a mortar round lands several barracks down from us. I'd like to think it was the force of the explosion that knocks us over, but the truth is, we all shriek like children and fall on our faces.

Someone near me begins screaming.

An Outsider's Opinion?
I'm not, nor will I ever be, someone you're liable to confuse with Rambo. What I experienced during the Invasion of Panama was the tiniest slice of Hell. I could count on one hand the number of times I came under direct fire. I'm not a battle-scarred veteran, not a hardened soldier - I wouldn't even qualify as a dependable Boy Scout. But I do know what it's like to be in a firefight. With all respect to the superb Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series, no graphics card will ever be powerful enough to truly simulate the experience.

It is misleading and poor practice for anti-gaming activists - who usually have neither experience with actual combat nor the games they're accusing of being "combat simulators" - to make any comparison between what it's like to push some buttons and "kill" some pixels versus what it's like to hold a real firearm and shoot at another person. Even the most realistic of games, arcade games with plastic light guns cast from real weapons, fall woefully short of an actual firearm - there's no kick, the weapons are far too light, the act of reloading is done automatically and you'll never experience a weapon jam.

That and the fact that getting shot doesn't really hurt ... .

The loudest critics of games tend to be those who have never really played them - at least, not with an open mind. Their research into games usually consists of quoting the most violent scenes in the game that they themselves have only heard about and never actually experienced first-hand. Taken out of context and with selected description, it's quite easy to horrify people. If I described how one game allowed me to cut into someone's torso and carve out one of their organs, you'd think I was talking about something produced by Rockstar instead of Atlus' Trauma Center: Under the Knife.

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