Battlefield Contemplations

Battlefield Contemplations

As I approach the onset of my 40s, I find that I have very mixed feelings about warfare-based video games. It wasn't always this way.

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And a game that also deserves to be mentioned regarding this sort of thing is This War Of Mine, which tries to give us a little look in how it is to actually live on a battlefield.

I gotta say, these days, even without going to a military academy and still being in my 20's, I'm not really engaged by military FPS' any more either. I can't help but feel that they're a little...tasteless. There seems something tasteless about glorifying the combat of actual war. I prefer the contemplative nature of games like this This War Of Mine and its ilk, there's a lot of angles to war that are very interesting and worth exploring in pop culture. Just going "FUCK YEAH SHOOTING PEOPLE!"? Not so much, I'll stick to pure fantasy violence for that these days.

Today, however, as I look back on it all, I can't help but think that the best war game I've ever seen is Valiant Hearts - a World War I-based puzzle game in which there isn't a single player character who so much as picks up a rifle.

Although at one point you do build and drive a tank around and blow up Germans as you escape a POW camp, and I remember something about a sniper. It definitely is a minor part of the game, though, and I appreciate the main thrust of the article.

I do wonder if it's necessary to have games that are just about shooting Nazis, though. There's always media that takes what is important and often traumatic parts of the past and turns it into stories. I've spent years studying and writing about the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, and read the awful descriptions of what happened to the people unfortunate enough to be inside the Cathar strongholds in France. That said, I still get a kick out of fighting battles in Medieval: Total War, watching the cavalry trample men underfoot and putting the city to the sword afterwards.

Aside from the fact that it's a game designed to be fun, it is somehow heartening to know that the medieval history isn't totally forgotten. I may bemoan the kids coming into university in the fall with their heads full of Game of Thrones but I can take some comfort in the idea that, while I will have to teach them that there were real people who lived and died for a thousand years to create what's in their 300 page textbook and the vastness that never got written down, some of the inherent truths and lives continue in stories.

Perhaps I'm not the right person to ask, given that I consider the current war a complete waste of time and life, but personally I think people need to get over the way games depict it.

Are people confusing the game with real life? Do they think what they see on screen is what is happening in the real world, with all that regen health and grenade indicators?

No?

Then what's the problem?

A new Medal of Honor could come out with the Taliban or ISIL or whoever as a named multiplayer team and it wouldn't change the real world one bit. Winning a match in Battlefield 1942 as the Germans, or in Battlefield Vietnam as the US doesn't change those countries from losing those wars. Honouring, commemorating, or exploiting? Possibly the games are doing all three, but so what? Did anyone care about the use of Nazis in the Indiana Jones films? Once the Graphic Novel Maus came out, did anyone think it was wrong to depict the Holocaust with Nazis as cats to the Jewish mice?

No they did not, because as rational people they can tell the difference between a creative work, and the events or period it refers to. Personally, if I had just come back from a battle with PTSD, I would probably rather have pop culture misrepresenting the war for entertainment than the conflict being ignored entirely.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go and watch the Hurt Locker. Which I hope I don't have to remind you is just a movie...

Let me give a quick shout out to Far Cry 2, which efficiently subverts the standard military-shooter conventions without being preachy. I was looking at some famous war photos last year and came upon an African dictator, and was immediately struck by a sense of recognition: I knew this man. I could practically hear him ordering me to blow up that dentist's office. I knew what would happen to the civilians in that country, just by looking at the way he sat at his desk in his general's uniform.

Yeah, I find my taste in games is different too. Mostly because I just don't find violence all that satisfying anymore, or at least not as much as a younger man. I prefer games that give me a non-lethal way to finish the game. I prefer games that let me deal with the social aspect of serious problems, and only use violence sparingly, and for intense scenes (like the events in Life is Strange for example).

I work with the VA, so I see veterans all the time, but that doesn't change my opinion on violent games. Though to be fair, I was never a huge fan of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, etc. I enjoyed some of them when they first came out, like the WW 2 one (yes storming Normandy was fun), but since then I've made a shift to other games that are less violent, or at least reduce the violence to a smaller scale.

That's why I love games like Deus Ex and Dishonored, and other similar games, that let me save the day, and beat the "bad guy" without actually having to kill anyone.

Robyrt:
Let me give a quick shout out to Far Cry 2, which efficiently subverts the standard military-shooter conventions without being preachy. I was looking at some famous war photos last year and came upon an African dictator, and was immediately struck by a sense of recognition: I knew this man. I could practically hear him ordering me to blow up that dentist's office. I knew what would happen to the civilians in that country, just by looking at the way he sat at his desk in his general's uniform.

Which makes Far Cry 4 just that tad bit disappointing. An amazingly fun game but it was still basically Far Cry 3: Mountain Edition. They could of gone back to the truly chaotic and realistic theme that 2 had.

Squilookle:
Perhaps I'm not the right person to ask, given that I consider the current war a complete waste of time and life, but personally I think people need to get over the way games depict it.

Are people confusing the game with real life? Do they think what they see on screen is what is happening in the real world, with all that regen health and grenade indicators?

No?

Then what's the problem?

A new Medal of Honor could come out with the Taliban or ISIL or whoever as a named multiplayer team and it wouldn't change the real world one bit. Winning a match in Battlefield 1942 as the Germans, or in Battlefield Vietnam as the US doesn't change those countries from losing those wars. Honouring, commemorating, or exploiting? Possibly the games are doing all three, but so what? Did anyone care about the use of Nazis in the Indiana Jones films? Once the Graphic Novel Maus came out, did anyone think it was wrong to depict the Holocaust with Nazis as cats to the Jewish mice?

No they did not, because as rational people they can tell the difference between a creative work, and the events or period it refers to. Personally, if I had just come back from a battle with PTSD, I would probably rather have pop culture misrepresenting the war for entertainment than the conflict being ignored entirely.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go and watch the Hurt Locker. Which I hope I don't have to remind you is just a movie...

Lone soldier running out into Baghdad in the middle of the night during the occupation? Don't worry, no one mistakes that with reality ;)

I remember loving Ghost Recon because of how tactical it was. I loved that game as a kid. I plugged it in years later, and was surprised by how awful it was. It sucks the dick of the military, sure, but it's worse then that. I remember a bit where I wandered off field in a training mission to see what would happen. The commander said something to the effect of "I don't need pussies/queers in my army." I promptly turned it off, and haven't played it since.

Spec-ops is the obvious choice for a good game, but it's well deserved. I do find it silly to criticize your decisions when you don't have a say in the matter, and the end is a little disjointed, but it's amongst the best games I've ever played. It feel like a horror title, which is hard to pull off in a game like that.

Add another voice praising Far Cry 2. Its a very unique game in many ways, and its gameplay manages to capture both the mundanity and chaos of being at war while the story itself depicts live for those living in such sort of a warzone without saying a word about it. You can't just walk down the road, even unarmed, without getting shot at indiscriminately. By who? It doesn't matter, because the only real difference between them two factions are the names. Where are all the civilians? Well given that everybody has a policy of shoot first, ask questions later, its not hard to imagine why you don't see any in your travels. Its a shame that few people give it any credit because they were so offput by the game being intentionally unpleasant to play.

Speaking of unpleasant to play, while there are problems with Spec Ops: The Line, I do admire the game's committment to its underlying messages to the point that it spills over into gameplay. While its certainly not representative of everybody's experience of war, it does try to capture a lot of the worst of it, and not just what happens, but that the soldiers have to live with they done. <any of that arises through voluntary, seemingly unscripted choices. For example, before the WP event, while you're going through the building being raided by the 33rd, civilians will occasionally dart across the screen. And then you shoot them. And then you reload from a prior checkpoint, and those civilians aren't there again. You have to deal with the consequence of your action, you can't undo mistakes, no matter how horrific that mistake may be. Thats just one of the many painful realities of war that most games will gloss over, that if you survive the war you have to then live with what you've done. The game even makes mention of this directly, stating that those with blood on their hands might be better not returning home at all, being confronted with PTSD and all the terrible things they've done, no matter with what intentions.

The WP scene from Spec Ops: The Line probably hit me a lot harder than it did for most people because I was reminded of a Vietnam veteran I know. He didn't talk much about the conflicts he was in, like most veterans, but he did talk about one time when his base was overrun. In the event that such a thing occurred, he was to order a napalm strike. So he did. There were over thirty US military personnel still on the base when the napalm came down. There was no way of knowing if any of them were alive when it came down, could've been all of them, could've been almost none of them. Thats not to count for all the Vietnamese that were also present on the base, many of which were assuredly burned alive by the napalm. The way he talked about it, it seemed like that call was his single greatest regret in life. He can't undo that however. He did what was expected of him and was horrified with the result, and he had to live with it for the rest of his life. Thats the sort of thing games, particularly war games, don't want you to think about. They don't want you to think about the consequences of your actions, they don't want you to remember how many bodies have piled up at your hands. Far Cry 3's ending is poignant in that you can't recount how many people you've killed, and thats a rather horrifying realization and strong point to be made about becoming numb to the war in games. Alpha Protocol included a counter for how many children you've orphaned, something you'd never see in likes of a James Bond movie or game.

MarsAtlas:
Far Cry 3's ending is poignant in that you can't recount how many people you've killed, and thats a rather horrifying realization and strong point to be made about becoming numb to the war in games. Alpha Protocol included a counter for how many children you've orphaned, something you'd never see in likes of a James Bond movie or game.

Umm- Objection! The games generally tell you exactly how many people you've killed during a mission. Not even the movies let Bond get away with this entirely either:

image
"I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of all the men you've killed... or if you find forgiveness in the arms of all those willing women: for all the dead ones you failed to protect."

 

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