167: The Thinking Man's Warfare

The Thinking Man's Warfare

"For the past seven years in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States and its allies have fought irregular enemies who eschew traditional military confrontation in favor of asymmetric tactics. These wars have been costly, painful and, consequently, highly controversial, both within the military and among the public at large. More than most other areas of popular culture, videogames have demonstrated awareness of their historical moment, as the plethora of military shooters and dystopian plotlines can attest. But thus far, games have avoided engaging the real-life issues to which they are responding."

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This is a great article on a really interesting subject!

Perhaps one solution to making a game on irregular warfare as a mainstream entertainment product is to take the realistic setting away. People may be squeamish or uncomfortable playing as soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, but if the same kind of circumstances were applied to a fantasy or sci-fi setting, it would be more palatable. You know, a game where you have to extinguish a dark elf insurgency in some imaginary land or something could still include all of the elements that need to be in this kind of game without being as controversial. People would still see the metaphor for the current wars, I'm sure.

I can understand why game designers haven't tackled unconventional modern era conflicts. First off a game should be fun or challenging or rewarding to some degree. Real war is not all that enjoyable. WWII era conflict plays more like chess or football with roughly equal teams maneuvering and acting in a strategic dance.

A modern Afghanistan game might have you patrol for weeks and then hit by mortar attack? How about briefly engaging an enemy that manages to ghost away into the sand? These modern conflicts are more focused on surviving an occupation and increasing stability in the region instead of "shootin' 'der badguy." Also unconventional warfare means the AI would have to be very clever and clever AI is not something that happens too often.

Personally I'd love to see a less bloodthirsty version of conflict in a video game. In much the same way that SWAT 4 rewards you for responding appropriately, dealing with nebulous enemies, collateral damage avoidance, civilians,and frustrating political censures.

War, as portrayed in the majority of video games available today, is oversimplified and rather barbaric. The side you play on (usually American forces) is unquestionably the "right" side, you are given free reign to kill and create general carnage because the "bad" guys "deserve it", you are able to survive being shot numerous times while you opponents are often not so lucky, etc.

I miss Deus Ex.

I'd adjust tactics if I wanted to teach a player about handling an insurgency by taking a cue from darker games and have the player be an insurgent instead. It's true that dealing with insurgents is an exercise in tedium, but switching sides and allowing the player to plan strikes against an otherwise organized community would probably offer enough thrills to get the message across. The themes of brutality, chaos, and varying factions inherent in an unorganized enemy insurgency could be communicated by having the player deal with them firsthand.

Obviously Iraq or Afghanistan would be inappropriate, but the movie 'Red Dawn' or some other fictional scenario could afford a setting people would readily accept.

I agree with Jeffries. Know the enemy is and always will be the heart of war.

But video games sold to the average Joe on the street need not always be about being realistic and education. Sometime we just need a little bit of escapism and need the game not to reflect reality, since we trying to get aways from it in the first place.

L.B. Jeffries:

Obviously Iraq or Afghanistan would be inappropriate, but the movie 'Red Dawn' or some other fictional scenario could afford a setting people would readily accept.

I have that game, sorta. Lets see here *wanders over to the shelf* Ahh, here it is: Freedom Fighters. It doesn't really deal with thing like religious fanatics, abject poverty, suicide bombers or even IEDs IIRC, but it is basicly the movie Red Dawn but set in New York.

Frederf:
I can understand why game designers haven't tackled unconventional modern era conflicts. First off a game should be fun or challenging or rewarding to some degree. Real war is not all that enjoyable. WWII era conflict plays more like chess or football with roughly equal teams maneuvering and acting in a strategic dance.

Oh so you're saying that chess and football aren't enjoyable? I must have missed the memo.

I know one game that has strategy that has gameplay that resembles this strategic dance. It's called star chamber and can be found at starchamber.net
It's a mixed breed of board game and card game and while that doesn't sound particularly like a war game, it frequently poses dilemma's where you have the chance to either fight or retreat and in my experience, big fights are bad. They're unpredictable.

Instead you're maneuvering, looking for holes in the defense, taking strategic points and trying to win small battles where you can have some form of tactical advantage.

I like the title. I think that's a good contribution, suites it well. Great article.

MorkFromOrk:

I miss Deus Ex.

Amen to that.

I think you could get the same experience as an anti-counter insurgency if you had a game that was a cross between Deus Ex and the marketplace scene from Ghost in the Shell(movie, FIRST movie). This presents a technical problem because you need lots of NPC's going about in a crowded, and very complicated area doing a variety of different things.
By making it cyberpunk(ala Deus Ex) you can distance the game from real world events which can avoid the difficulties but still provide a tight experience. But you don't have to do that; set it in the modern age, make up a plausible, yet not particularly offensive or for goodness sake OVERDONE(eg Russia/China/the decrepit masses of the Middle East vs USA) conflict but set it in an urban combat zone that is still a functional city. Assassin's Creed springs to mind, though I've barely played that game for a handful of minutes. But it just proves that we 'pretty much' have the technology to explore these themes and it's probably viable to start doing so.

Loved this article, lit out a few things I never really thought about. There were a lot of news reports about our (Dutch) troops stabilizing their part of afghanistan, helping with getting businesses in order and clearing out land for farming and the like. I never thought about playing a game with elements like that involved really.

That Battle for Baghdad boardgame seems very interesting indeed. I'll definately be tracking that one down when (if?) it gets an official release.

On the video game bit:
I instantly thought of Fallout 2 here, where there were many quests about negotiating between two factions or sabotage and the like. I specifically created a Mr Talky McSmartpants character to see how far I could get in the various cities' stories without resorting to combat and was posed with some great stuff left and right.

Typecast:
I'd love to see the GitS universe used for something like this. Heck, I'd love to see a decent GitS game period. Something that actually lets you free to find a path within the world yourself with various intrigues and conflicts left and right (Vampire: Bloodlines style) that you have to solve to gain links with groups to have access to required resources and intelligence.

Great article. I can see how playing a game with these elements would be more of a SimAfganistan than COD:5. Hrm. Somebody get Maxis on the horn. And copyright SimAfganistan!

I am in total agreement about the Battle of Baghdad board game. It looks well put together, and truly interesting. Hope it sees the light of day.

And finally. A modern or sci-fi Assassin's Creed would rock. Just replace the protagonist with Batman, and you have a GotY candidate right there.

Oh God, great piece. Hopefully, this kind of insightful writing will inspire more up and coming and current developers to really innovate on this facet of the video game industry, or the industry in general.

I know I myself came up with some great ideas while reading your article which of course I can do absolutely nothing with, and on top of that, I do not even know if it's possible to actually incorporate all the mechanics that surged through my grey matter while reading your excellent prose.

Keep up the great work, I'm very interested in seeing what you have to offer in the game journalism world.

Sorry to say but a game has been made, but most journalists ignored its existence and didn't even give it a proper try, its called armed assault, try playing sahrani life for a terrorist based experience fighting against car bombs and preventing insurgency, or warfare maps for true to life military style conquest.

do some research before you write your crappy articles, there is also a version built on this engine employed by US UK and Aus military to do things from training hummer teams to helicopter pilots.

Excessive_Zero:
Sorry to say but a game has been made, but most journalists ignored its existence and didn't even give it a proper try, its called armed assault, try playing sahrani life for a terrorist based experience fighting against car bombs and preventing insurgency, or warfare maps for true to life military style conquest.

do some research before you write your crappy articles, there is also a version built on this engine employed by US UK and Aus military to do things from training hummer teams to helicopter pilots.

I've mentioned ArmA: Armed Assault and its predecessor, Operation Flashpoint elsewhere. The problem is that the Sahrani Life mode isn't in-built into the game; it's a mod, which means that it doesn't have a very good chance of being noticed by the general gaming journalists. The core gameplay of these games, while fun and about as realistic as a first-person shooter gamer is going to get, is limited in its scope and only really covers two major factions and the smaller independent faction, along with some limited civilian models. Until what you are mentioning is actually resolved as an actual in-built capability of the base game, ArmA: Armed Assault will fail to be relevant to this article, and therefore your offensive tone is unwarranted.

I am, on the other hand, disappointed to see the lack of a mention of the militarised versions of the Real Virtuality games; the Virtual Battlespace series is among the most widely-used military training simulators in the world and the simulators were (possibly still are) sold on a limited scale to military gaming enthusiasts around the world, although only the most dedicated applied because of the extremely expensive base price of $1,500 for a single copy, which is small change to a military unit but rather more of a big deal to the consumer.

Do you consider a mod a script that downloads when you connect to a server? Warfare and Sahrani life is the most played multiplayer games on arma, this is exactly what the game was about custom script missions (which auto download when you connect, it even says downloading mission file) for game missions, completely in built and intentional, the warfare mod is actually going to be a default script in arma 2.

Mods are more like the weapon packs, sound packs, vehicle packs, and character packs, which very well may enhance your game.

My tone isn't intended to be offensive just direct and furthermore if journalists ignore modifications its in the worst interest of the gaming community games and their so called journalism, don't cry foul when I point out bad journalism, CS was a mod, in fact nearly all the half life games (other then half life obviously) started out as mods, people need to do their research before ignorance breeds.

This ommisssion is a problem with all forms of entertainment because most of it isn't intended to educate the audience but to ENTERTAIN. We've never seen a Rambo movie in which he mostly negotiates with local leaders or trains groups of insurgents even though that's closer to what real-life Green Berets do.

I wouldn't expect the big gaming companies to get behind this idea, but I could see it gaining popularity among indie developers.

Capo Taco:

Frederf:
I can understand why game designers haven't tackled unconventional modern era conflicts. First off a game should be fun or challenging or rewarding to some degree. Real war is not all that enjoyable. WWII era conflict plays more like chess or football with roughly equal teams maneuvering and acting in a strategic dance.

Oh so you're saying that chess and football aren't enjoyable? I must have missed the memo.

No I was saying that WWII era conflict, like chess or football are enjoyable because they are more "game-like" than modern warfare. You don't read for comprehension much, do you?

Frederf:

Capo Taco:

Frederf:
I can understand why game designers haven't tackled unconventional modern era conflicts. First off a game should be fun or challenging or rewarding to some degree. Real war is not all that enjoyable. WWII era conflict plays more like chess or football with roughly equal teams maneuvering and acting in a strategic dance.

Oh so you're saying that chess and football aren't enjoyable? I must have missed the memo.

No I was saying that WWII era conflict, like chess or football are enjoyable because they are more "game-like" than modern warfare. You don't read for comprehension much, do you?

I do and that's why I commented. Your post seemed odd to me. Of course I ready your first line as "I can't" understand, which flipped the whole meaning of your post.

The problems with Asymmetrical Warfare Gaming are the same as with Asymmetrical Warfare itself: It's not fair!

Imagine playing Halo, and you're about to finish off the other team, but then they run to some village and disappear and nobody there knows anything. You'd be frustrated, right? The other side essentially cheated, and you'd be tempted to wipe that town right off the map. That's the sort of frustration any player, or any soldier, would feel.

And that's the problem, in Asymmetrical Warfare the other side cheats. And it doesn't matter which side it is. Whether its air support, hiding in civilian clothes, artillery, or suicide bombers, the other side has advantages that make them almost impossible to deal with on their own terms. America can bomb in Afghanistan forever and not root out the Taliban, and the Taliban can raid and suicide bomb forever and not take a single American base. It becomes a static war of raids and intelligence and hearts and minds and sheer willpower. It's hard to make a game of.

The Half-Life 2 mod Insurgency was originally designed with counter-insurgency scenarios in mind, but being designed and developed by a bunch of amateurs (led by teenagers still in high school, but many developers are now working in the industry), it could not really have much more depth than applying a 'modern insurgency war' setting to the depiction of 'realistic' tactical combat. At that point, OIF had not begun, but INS was designed with the prediction that the Iraq war would turn into an insurgency after the initial invasion. A better-suited theatre would be Afghanistan, but the engine limitations shifted the choice to Iraq (and planned on the Balkans conflict).

Ultimately, I think it is not any developer's fault for not creating an accurate depiction of an insurgency, but it is largely the audience and point in time. The player has to be mentally prepared for what they are about to experience, and should not expect to approach the game like they would approach Halo or Call of Duty.

For a counter-insurgency game to be successful, I think it needs to have an extension of the game outside of the 'engine' experience. That needs to provide extra outside pressures to influence the player in a certain direction politically speaking, then it's up to the player to sort of the military strategy according to the political requirements (time limits, body count, media representation, etc). If a player decides to drop WP over a UN school filled with civilians, they won't see any immediate consequence in game... but once that action is documented (perhaps by a simulated in-game media?) and word gets out to the simulated political powers-that-be, that can change the course of the game. I think a game accurately depicting a modern insurgency conflict (as most modern conflicts are) could be a breakthrough in war games and will inevitably happen.

... if anyone is already pursuing it, I'd be interested in getting involved. I was the one who started Insurgency at age 16 in 2002 - while leading and designing the mod for five years, I was an infantry soldier in the Canadian Army reserves. I had to leave INS to pursue my education and career in photojournalism (now working as a freelance visual journalist in Toronto), but I have a life-long fascination with war and I aspire to document conflict with my camera. Perhaps once I return from war, I can again use video games as another creative outlet for my perspective of conflict.

You would not believe the amount of money floating around officer training classes to create these models and turn them into good teaching aids.

I personally can't wait to get rid of a lecture and fit it in with a gaming table and a lecturer walking around watching your tactics and methods evolve.

 

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