We Need Soldiers to Write About Games

We Need Soldiers to Write About Games

When someone dies suddenly there are a lot of jobs left to do. One of mine was organizing my dad's Vietnam papers. It was by turns painful and fascinating, a chance to learn new things about my father and a reminder of all the things I'd never know.

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My condolences for your father's death.

Otherwise, another great article. You're one of my favorite contributor to the Escapist.

The loss of a veteran is never noticed enough. I am sorry to hear of your loss.

As a former military member I understand your outsider looking in want to have military members write about war and games. The problem you run into is twofold. There are some military people who do not want to talk about war anymore, and/or if there was a game that was able to fully capture what it is like to be boots on the ground in the middle of people who want to kill you..... I am not sure it would be as popular as people think.....

*edit missed that last line*
I already tell my family/kids about where games are missing the boat in showing how things happen in the real world.

Sorry for your loss,

And I do think that games as done by actual veterans would be quite good, like Six Days in Fallujah, which would've been a really unique experience (since they consulted and developed the game with vets of Fallujah).

Sadly, it was shot down by a lot of negative media from outlets such as Fox News, the publishers bailed out, and the game was never made.

With the Old Breed by EB Sledge, is a gruesome (and I mean tragically gruesome) account of WW2's Pacific Theatre. You might have seen him portrayed on Band of Brothers: Pacific series.

War is terrible.

Realism. Where should resources for a title be allocated? Michael Bay explosions, or player-character moral dilemmas that will only garner further controversy on the news. Could you simulate the bombing of Dresden and still make the player feel comfortable enough to keep going?

But how do you ask a publisher to take risks on a title that will most likely boast a $40 million development and promotion budget? On a title that needs to pull off 2-4 million copies within the first few months?

Realistically, if one side wins out, another side loses.

This generation lacks an understanding of true suffering and death because, and let's be real, we live so very far apart from it with out socialized health care and similar government nets. There are so many ways not to fail that it can keep us comfortable in our complacency.

But we romanticize what we don't know, and have never experienced: war and attrition being just a few of them.

It's why we're so infatuated with death -- in media and entertainment. World War Z is a capital example. Approaching it with a psychological perspective, we see a generation crying out for a challenge, for something truly overwhelming, a world war. We frown upon war, but cannot resist our primal delight in it. (Or maybe William Golding was wrong.)

Adam Sessler says that video games offer the player just that -- whether you're Nathan Drake or Lara Croft, it's you against the world.

The problem I have with this idea is that after traumatic experiences, people have a part of themselves that they really can't share with others. I don't know many veterans, but I've known people who've come out of a terrible breakup, and I cannot even begin to understand the pain they feel, no matter how many times they try to explain it to me. And as for video games go, I don't see why anyone would want to play an 'authentic military experience'. For one thing, it would be really boring, and for another, it would do its best to cause you psychological harm. I guess when people understand what war is really like they'll treat veterans better, but very few people are going to pay money for a scarring experience that negatively affects their understanding of reality, and of themselves. Hell, I had a hard enough time watching the execution in Solitude, and that was in a fantasy RPG.

While this is certainly an idea worth exploring, I don't think it's as simple as just deciding to do it - the Six Days in Falluja project sounded pretty close to what you're describing, and the backers didn't want to stand up to "the heat". I think that the wider public will have to come around a bit more before this really happens. Either that, or a much more secure or bold studio and publisher would have to be involved.

Has anyone here ever played a game called Men of Valor?

It was a game that came out during the early days of the Xbox, developed by 2015, and its honestly a decent look at the Vietnam war. You play an African-American infantryman named Shepard, and you follow him throughout the early stages of the war and all the way through the Tet Offensive.

While the writing isn't awesome (it gets a bit "America is always right" a little at the beginning), it sometimes does a good job bringing forth atrocities committed by both sides during the war. Two scenes in particular stand out; a scene where you and your squad are ordered to burn down a village, and another when you stumble across a massive grave behind a church which is filled with people who had been executed by the Viet Cong.

But probably the best parts of the game are the openings and closings to each mission. Each mission usually starts with a letter written (and narrated) to his father, who will send a response after the mission is complete. It gives a nice look at what it was like to be a civilian during the war, as well as what it was to be a father or a mother of someone who was serving.

Check it out. Its a neat little game. It'd be interesting to see Richard juxtapose that to things his father told him about the Vietnam War.

Robert Rath:
boonie hat, which he got from swapping equipment with the Aussies

Just a piece of trivia, if the hat's Aussie kit then it's a giggle hat not a boonie hat. No, I don't know why... I expect because of how stupid a lot of Diggers (Aussie troops) originally thought they looked when they were first issued (basically being an Army green version of a hat common to beaches at the time).

If your Dad was swapping kit with Diggers then he either worked with them enough to get their respect or he had some really sweet kit the Diggers wanted. Possibly both... and if he was LRRPing, did you check to see if he had any patches or badges featuring a winged fairbairn combat knife?

Speaking of Diggers, if you haven't seen it, check out The Odd Angry Shot (1979). Aussie movie about the typical Digger experience in Vietnam and most of the vets I've known over the years say it's pretty accurate.

---

I think the hardest part of using the experience and experiences of real service personnel is you'd either have to be aiming at hardcore simulation gamers or you'd have to compromise and compress the intervals between action unless you're looking at just a single battle (and even then if it's a big enough battle) otherwise you'll have to include way too much hurry-up-and-wait time.

One thing I'd love to see done in a game is something akin the the USMC landings in Somalia... forced to do a full combat landing at night just so the beach full of tv crews could film it... Apparently what a full combat load weighs is nothing compared to a full combat load that's soaking wet, and the poor bastards couldn't even bitch about it properly because half the world's media was recording them. Amusingly, some of the marines claim to have not even been briefed on the media presence and basically tumbled onto the shore wondering what the fuck was going on.

Alternatively, just to fuck with people, I'd have the first mission play like normal but when it ends, pull back and have it as some soldier playing a game on a console to kill time on base. All the combat in the game takes place as the character playing a video game and occasionally have the character on his mates bitching over the top of the game about the crap they've been doing... although that might be a bit meta for a lot of people.

---

As an aside, around 10 years back a mate of mine had been blogging about his experiences as a sniper in Somalia when, out of the fucking blue, he gets emails from a journalist saying some of the events he wrote about being war crimes. About a week after that all started he gets hit up by some pricks from the Federal Attorney-General's department demanding that he take down all the entries about his deployment with the Australian Army in Somalia and refuse to comment on any queries about his writing or his experiences. Potential criminal charges were muttered about... and this was 10 years after he'd left the army and roughly 12 years after he'd been deployed in Somalia.

Thing being, the events in question were well within the operational RoE... the journalist was a cockhead but the government at the time didn't want any sniff of military malfeasance anywhere.

Brian Tams:
Has anyone here ever played a game called Men of Valor?

It was a game that came out during the early days of the Xbox, developed by 2015, and its honestly a decent look at the Vietnam war. You play an African-American infantryman named Shepard, and you follow him throughout the early stages of the war and all the way through the Tet Offensive.

While the writing isn't awesome (it gets a bit "America is always right" a little at the beginning), it sometimes does a good job bringing forth atrocities committed by both sides during the war. Two scenes in particular stand out; a scene where you and your squad are ordered to burn down a village, and another when you stumble across a massive grave behind a church which is filled with people who had been executed by the Viet Cong.

But probably the best parts of the game are the openings and closings to each mission. Each mission usually starts with a letter written (and narrated) to his father, who will send a response after the mission is complete. It gives a nice look at what it was like to be a civilian during the war, as well as what it was to be a father or a mother of someone who was serving.

Check it out. Its a neat little game. It'd be interesting to see Richard juxtapose that to things his father told him about the Vietnam War.

If that is the same game I'm thinking of, near the end you go rescue your brother who is near an OP?

or a firebase, I forget, it's been a while since I played it.

At the time I thought it was just a overblown, needless game mechanic to make the game harder at the end. Carrying his brother in a fireman's carry and shooting at the VC, unable to ADS and such seemed a bit unrealistic to me.

September 2012, during Basic Training at Harmony Church, 5-15th Cav we learned the various ways to carry wounded soldiers. We dont do fireman carries anymore because it can hurt both soldiers, namely the back of the carrier.

Yes, try as you might, when you have about 250 lbs. of dead weight on you, firing a weapon accurately is near impossible. At most you can provide forward movement suppressive fire, at worst you could end up hitting a friendly.

Just wanted to put that there, that game was great, the multiplayer even more so.

OT: During Basic Training, in order to graduate the basic part, you must complete the NIC, Night Infiltration Course [or the oxymoron, NIC at Night.], during this you crawl between 200 and 300 meters as Cadre Instructors fire the 240 7.62 LMG at you.

Granted, it's not how Jarhead depicted it, literally inches over your head [after all, a Drill Sergent's job is to train soldiers, not kill recruits], it's instead several feet, but the ammunition is real.

You dont get that whizz sound games give you, you just hear noise. Reports and impacts, if you are lucky you will see a tracer for a millisecond in the sky.

When the weapons start singing [one firing 5 to 7 rounds then the other fires the same amount], you dont care where the rounds are coming from, the only real safe place is the zero zone underneath the nests, and you have 200 meters to get there.

While I got injured at the second to last week and had to be sent home, I learned everything that there was to be a Soldier, including several things that I cant say because they are so classified that if something broke, the Army has to send it back to the manufacturer.

I still have my notes on how to call an artillery strike, I still have my notes on doing everything from Traffic Control Points, Recon, Driving a Bradly CFV, various weapon systems and the steps to utilize them.

The fact is... It's not fun having to radio into the Arty battery, send a report with a 10 digit grid, wait for splash, and then make adjustments since not every shot will ever land in the same area. It's more fun just to give a guy a radio and have him aim at a location and a few seconds later multiple rounds will hit without ever a Danger Close warning given.

But that's just it, I know games are meant to have fun with. That's why I dont get mad at people that enjoy MMS'es [unless you play CoD, then you are a casual, the developer said it themselves].

I know what kind of training is needed to actually care for a wounded person, but it would be a detriment to gameplay if you get hit twice, get 'revived' and healed, and then spend the rest of the game in a field hospital while doctors remove the rounds from you.

Think about it, what if before you play either the Story or Multiplayer in the next CoD game you had to go through Basic in it's entirety, and if you die you lose everything. saves, progress in multiplayer, weapon unlocks and such and you were not able to play it again on that account.

That game would suck. Games are meant to be enjoyed, to have fun in. People want realism in these types of games, but really... Realism is unrealistic.

My condolences, I am very sorry for your loss.

I'm not against the idea of truly making something "real" and human, but the thing is that these kind of games are mostly bought by 12 year olds and, sadly, they would be deemed as "too controversial", look at 12 Days in Fallujah. Big companies only want to make "rambo style" military shooters to empower people and make them feel like badasses all the freaking time, and people still threat the very devs when they make a milisecond change in the reload times.

Mahoshonen:
My condolences for your father's death.

Otherwise, another great article. You're one of my favorite contributor to the Escapist.

This, to open, since you basically said everything I wanted to say at the beginning.

Now, as for the article, I do think that games, like movies, have a chance to give a unique perspective to how we view war, or certain issues in general, especially if experienced people like actual war veterans aid in creating them.

The problem is, though, that realism like that doesn't exactly sell. We're a nation that glorifies pro-war stuff like Modern Warfare, where our boys are always right and always come out on top, or suffer one defeat only to gain their vengeance for their fallen comrades. Stuff like Spec-Ops and Apocalypse Now are amazing installments, but they're, ultimately, the exception and not the rule. For every one Spec-Ops, there's about five CoDs and one Medal of Honor that continue the same spiel, and it's all because that story is easy to write and is appealing to its target audience.

Sometimes people can't - or don't want to - handle the truth. It's the sad truth of the human race; there's a lot of bullcrap in the world we could fix if we'd sit down and fucking fix it, but we refuse to acknowledge it as a problem or one of any urgency.

Well stated. Sorry for the loss of your father. Fast or slow doesn't matter in the long run, loss is loss.

The links were good, I read them and appreciated you including them.

Personal anecdote. I had a friend that I had known for nearly a decade. I knew he had been in Vietnam in the early sixties. One day he leans back in a chair and I see the long ragged scar on the underside of his left arm. It was wicked long and I asked where he got it. Answer: That was my ticket out of Vietnam, back home and college. Counter sniper caught my arm, hurt like hell. When? So early we thought we were going to be home by Christmas.

Story got more personal from there but was collected in bits and pieces of several more years. I knew better than to ask him when he was angry, not everybody did.

I think one of the reasons that single player campaigns in modern FPS titles are such trash is because they have lost any sense of history or impact.

As much as people today like to shit on CoD, it's actually quite saddening when you look at the original games which were actually very good. I can still remember the first Call of Duty's single player campaign and the raw impact it carried. Maybe not to much through 'realism' but rather in the sense of 'wow, this kind of thing actually happened'.

The genre just had so much value as a recreation of history. Instead now, they've pissed away all the impact and genuine immersion from the games. Instead they feel more like crappy 90's era action blockbusters. Soulless, generic, dull.

I'm still shocked that there hasn't been a competent developer, willing to take it back to WW2 or Vietnam and make a modern FPS game with a powerful campaign story sourced from actual veterans. Vietnam in particular still has so much unrealized potential.

Heck, the only game that even came close was probably Vietcong, and that was a middling underfunded affair.

Really hope someone breaks the current modern warfare mold and restores some actually credibility in the genre as something more than just a scripted shooting gallery.

One thing that I really think could take off that would both enrich videogames and allow soldiers to tell there story is the development of serious video games that focus on the other crucial tasks in combat and combat support. For too long gaming has only seen combat down the barrel of a gun, but there are other situations that could be very very engaging and shed new light on the trials of the modern soldier. Games have gone through this to some degree (I was impressed with the Apache Helicopter missions in the Medal Of Honor redux, though the rest of the game was lacking), but we can go much deeper.

How bout playing a game with a tour of duty primarily as a medic? But forget the simple "press X to heal/use medkit" banality we are used to, how about making a third person style running game like the Prince of Persias and Assassins Creeds and Uncharteds, toned down in scope but focusing on rushing and moving to and around cover while avoiding fire. Traversing the slopes and hills of the Korengal Valley is no simple task, and it could be shown as such in a game. And the other meat of the game, applying field care could be a series of controller gestures or pressure gauged inputs, like the Wii Trauma Team game or like picking a lock in Splinter Cell, but instead you are applying a Nasopharyngial airway tube. All the while being mindful of security and keeping the patient stable until Medevac. There are any number of situations and numbers of casualties you may encounter at any given time, making loadout management more crucial. You could even play as other roles like a field surgeon or a Blackhawk MEDEVAC Pilot and/or crewchief.

You could even go further into the "soft" occupational specialties and still get a fun and engaging experience out of it. I work in Intel, and one of the pieces of training equipment I recently got experience on was a type of video game that focused on developing proper intelligence criteria and the management and application of various collection assets (drones, radar, etc). It's kinda hard to describe, but basically it played out like an extremely dense text based combination of Command & Conquer and Mine Sweeper. And as you went along, establishing the proper criteria and allocating the proper resource at the proper time based on your judgment resulted in more intel that lead to everything from a successful convoy to capturing a high value enemy to recovering kidnapped personnel. It was an extremely engaging experience that displayed equally serious stakes and tension as a game like Ghost Recon where you have to juggle shooting with troop management and support elements

And there are a multitude of other professions that could be explored that are theoretically just as exciting as the basic infantry dude setup we are forced to adhere to in the modern military shooter, everything from pilots to Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams to Air Force JTACs to simply a driver in a convoy, all of which could be imbued with an affecting narrative voice based on input from soldiers who did those jobs. Ground Pounder shooting combat, though the most critical task in warfare, is still only a fraction of what modern warfare entails, and there are many stories just waiting to be experienced through the unique medium of gameplay if someone was willing to try and we were willing to give them a chance.

Thanks again for another great article Rob, and my condolences for your loss. We appreciate your commitment to quality work even in times of tribulation. Peace.

Working on it! Halfway through my Journalism Degree. Then I plan to be doing some of this, along with whatever other work I can get.

Sorry to hear that your father passed on.

That said, I don't think you really want what your promoting. I've heard the argument over many years from people with anti-war attitudes that we should hear more from soldiers in game design. What they really mean is they want to hear more from soldiers who wound up hating war and with a negative opinion of conflict and the US military machine. Your father being drafted into 'Nam which is a war we never really fought, and wound up losing due to incompetent leadership that let politics interfere with victory, represents a rather loaded example. Indeed it seems like a lot of your own opinions about war were shaped by him, and his attitudes, which came from a very specific set of circumstances.

To be fairly honest with you, the truth is we already have real soldiers and military organizations involved in producing games. Plenty of shooters have used their consultants as selling points for an authentic experience. We've seen flak over using Oliver North in a video game (someone who was known to be involved in deep black operations, regardless of what you think of him, and we've even had game developers arrested because they have gone beyond consulting to the point of snooping foreign military bases for information.

The thing is that not every soldier comes back disenfranchised with war and the government. That's just the politically correct, and dare I say left wing, version. The kind of story that tends to be popular in Hollywood nowadays since it lets them walk the line between supporting vets (to avoid the kind of post-Vietnam backlash that came from attacking the soldiers themselves) and taking a peace at any price attitude. To be brutally honest with you people who have served in the military tend to be some of the most "bigoted" people in the world by left wing standards due to having seen what they were fighting against. To be honest I've run into more than one "War On Terror" vet who was all upset about how even handed the media tries to be in its portrayal of Muslims and how the civilian world is treating the issue, almost spitting in the face of everything the military is trying to do, and undoing the very nessicary work being achieved. To put it bluntly, coming home shows exactly why things are so borked over there when it comes to doing what needs to be done. The point here being that showing war through a soldiers eyes might not come down quite like you think, and actually convey exactly the opposite message that you, and your father, would want to be promoted.

Sorry for your loss

Therumancer:
The point here being that showing war through a soldiers eyes might not come down quite like you think, and actually convey exactly the opposite message that you, and your father, would want to be promoted.

I'm glad you posted this, as it is true. Likely because of media, and especially movies, people tend to think of soldiers in very narrow stereotypes. The fact is, there are as broad a range of ideas, philosophies, religions, political thinking and opinion on war in the ranks of the military as there are in the civilian world. I am a veteran of three separate conflicts and I highly doubt many people would want to hear what I really have to say on the matter, as it would not fit with either the very pro- or very anti-war stances.

As for "realistic" video games dealing with war, well, if you like the idea of playing a game mostly about being bored to tears interspersed with intense violence and confusion then I suppose that might work. But I doubt most people have any interest in playing a game where you spend a bunch of time lighting barrels full of human waste on fire and stirring them with a cammo pole.

Like everyone else has said, my condolences for the loss of your father.

As to the subject of the article, I'm massively torn on this issue. Should games be used as lighthearted entertainment, or as a teaching tool. Can they competently be both?

Games are responsibility free simulations where a person can just close the game and walk away at will. War is a brutal ugly and inhuman place where the most unimaginable horrors are witnessed, and sometimes perpetrated by, everyday people just like the rest of us. Those horrors change everyone who encounters them. And the worst part is that most of the survivors end up eventually going back to their normal civilian lives and have to get on like nothing ever happened. Often surrounded by friends, even loved ones, that will never truly understand the horrific events they've been through.

While I agree there does indeed need to be more military veteran game writers, or at least consultants, I'm not sure anyone could ever properly convey the true horror of war in a video game. I'm also not sure they should try as I feel it cheapens the very real sacrifices made by very real soldiers.

 

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