Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie

Robert Rath

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Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie

If a game claims to be about modern warfare, then shouldn't it represent that warfare realistically?

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Izanagi009_v1legacy

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Robert Rath said:
Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie

If a game claims to be about modern warfare, then shouldn't it represent that warfare realistically?

Read Full Article
Very good point. I would argue that stuff like Spec Op: the line and Medal of Honor are half measures though; the issue is that gamers are living too comfortable of a life, far from the conflict and suffering that is intuitive. Gamers view war through the eyes of romantic militarism and you know how that worked out: WWI shattered the image of a just and clean war. We need a game that reflects the fact that some fight out of bloodlust, some out of unavoidable circumstance, and some out of money; a way of shattering the illusion of the "just and right" military like WWI did for the entire world. I submit to you an idea, we make either the "Siberian Film" of games or the "Evangelion" of game; a game of cold heart and iron fist, one that shoves you headlong into the pain and darkness and does not pull you out until you are at breaking point. A game like this could completely rid gamers of the romanticism of Call of Duty and enable gamers, young and old, to learn an important lesson about the world: it is cold, harsh, and full of darkness that can't be purged.
 

Ishal

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Inb4 a certain infamous poster comes in to "educate" us why we shouldn't be so friendly with China or Russia.

IED's have claimed more lives than anything depicted in these modern warfare games, and for every soldier or civilian they kill, they leave 4X more amputees. IED's and mines are a surgeons nightmare. The problem isn't with just a loss of limb its also about the particulates that are thrown everywhere when the explosive goes off. Dirt, sand, shrapnel etc. All those things can lead to nasty infections in the open wounds. One of the more dangerous types of bacteria Clostridium Botulinum is found in dirt and can lead to death if not properly cleaned.

Afghanistan is one of the countries with the most landmines and hidden explosives in the world, along with Iraq. Most deaths are caused by hidden explosives, and it happens in seconds then its over. That is the reality, that is modern warfare. But it doesn't translate well into gameplay, so I doubt we'll see real modern warfare anytime soon in games.

I rarely ever play games like that anyway, I know the gameplay I want is over the top and unrealistic. Give me fictional guns and aliens to shoot. Halo and Destiny sound great. They aren't pretending to be something they are not.

Edit: Good read Rob. It's true it isn't even modern is it? Its like near future warfare. There is a term for that in literature and gaming... strange-real? I think?
 

Falseprophet

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I have to wonder how the modern military FPS scene might look today if Six Days in Fallujah [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Days_in_Fallujah] hadn't been cancelled, and it ended up being a success--a game that really tried to recreate the reality on the ground with the guidance of people who experienced it first-hand. Would we have a whole subgenre of realistic FPSes? Would games finally be seen as a form legitimate artistic commentary on the human condition? Or would we still be awash in a sea of Tom Clancy/Michael Bay-esque cartoon fantasies?
 
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These aren't the kinds of wars we fought in World War I or II where you can simply force an unconditional surrender then rebuild with a cooperative but defeated foe, you have to deal with sectarian bloodshed, the threat of civil war and non-functioning or corrupt governments.
I think you've got your rose-coloured glasses on. In 1945, millions of Displaced Persons were flooding various countries as they moved away from areas of Soviet or American control, or were simply looking for places to live that weren't destroyed. There were difficulties in reincorporating the military into society, especially erstwhile German soldiers into a country now under occupation by forces that actively hated them (there are plenty of recorded instances of people continuing the war on a personal level after 1945). Many countries were dealing with civil war between Pro-American, Pro-Soviet and pro-independent factions.

Not saying that games about modern conflicts are better, but I can't think of a single WWII game that goes farther than V-J Day and rolls credits after the rebuilding.
 

Callate

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Interesting piece.

Realistically, war is hell. And from the accounts I've heard, when it isn't hell, it's tedium. Holding positions. Waiting for orders. Sleeping at odd hours. Repairing and maintaining equipment. And that's if you're fortunate enough to have good lines of communication and supply, and fortified positions- otherwise, it may involve a lot of running, hiding, scavenging, and starving.

Any game that puts the player into a position where their character is making a significant difference in the conflict has a fine line to walk, and it often seems hard enough not to overplay their role, let alone avoid oversimplifying the dynamics of long-term conflicts, insurgencies, non-combatant civilian populations, and so forth.

I agree that it could be done, and would be worth doing. But I almost wonder if it wouldn't require the genre to be torn up by the roots and redesigned. Death is almost inevitably either simply a failure state (go back to the last checkpoint and try again) or a scripted inevitability (Here we see that war is brutal and good people get caught up in events beyond their control, please wait while we load a scene featuring a different character.) Likewise, capture or serious injury. Characters are either named and important, or they're faceless "mooks" to be taken down by the dozen, often not even graced with individual faces. Holding a fortified position and gunning down hundreds of people doesn't lead to long sessions with a counselor, but a "bi-dink" and an achievement.

It somewhat seems like until some serious issues are given the time and energy they warrant, things like change in venue or the protagonist's nationality risk being little more than window dressing. A controversially-nationed hero or heroine might inspire some hastily assembled ire from Fox News or the like, but if the underlying mechanics make it little different, is it really going to be memorable or thought-provoking? And even if it succeeds on those fronts, does it run the risk of failing commercially, or failing to entertain?
 

A_Parked_Car

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Robert Rath said:
Modern Warfare is a Comforting Lie

If a game claims to be about modern warfare, then shouldn't it represent that warfare realistically?

Read Full Article
This was quite a fascinating read. The stuff you discussed has always bothered me as well, particularly the fetishization of military hardware. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to sit while one of my professors explained to somebody that the side with the nicer toys doesn't always win. My brother buys into this myth wholeheartedly and I get into arguments with him all the time, particularly when North Korea is brought up.

All this time I somehow missed out that you were a history major. You must not have mentioned it in the articles I have seen previously, since I'm not a regular reader of Critical Intel. My guess is that you have an MA at least? If you don't mind me asking, I'm curious as to what your BA concentration was and/or what you wrote your thesis on?
 

Leaper

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All politics and moral lessons aside, whole technical aspect of the Modern Military Shooters (MMS) is just flawed to the core. They simply do not portray how actual military engagements happen. You do not run through the streets with you assault rifles. You do not go into crossfire with enemies who are ~10 meters away from you. You do not blindly shoot in urban areas. Etc etc.

Like one person on the internet said : "You want realism? Here is realism : You wake up, get dressed up, ride humwee whole day, trying to look cool, you go back to barracks, sleep, repeat"

Actual military engagements nowadays are invisible wars - you do not see the enemy, because they are either in prepared positions, too far away for to actually see them, or are concealed in terrain. You roughly identify enemy's position and light it up with what you have. Most of the time any shooting happens, you are shooting boogy men - something that you think is there, but cannot say 100% certain.

I won't even go into details about hardware, Rules of Engagement or any other stuff.

I would actually like that some games perhaps would stay out of "war porn" and would rather try to simulate actual military engagements, the way that Arma does.
 

senordesol

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I'm always befuddled when America is portrayed as the underdog. Do you know how hard it would be to invade us (leave alone a surprise invasion)?

I'd love to see more explorations on when and how it's appropriate to use our vast military power and dealing with the consequences of that.
 

BloodSquirrel

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This is not to disparage the U.S. military in any way - they're the best in the world and have tried their hardest in every conflict I've mentioned - but we've entered an era of world politics that makes it very difficult to unambiguously win a conflict.
The idea that such a thing as as a cleanly won war ever existed is a fantasy.

Historically speaking, wars came in three flavors:

1) Wars to completely wipe out an opponent. And I don't mean their military; I mean sacking their cities, enslaving anyone who was valuable as a slave, killing the rest, and salting the Earth.

2) Wars followed by occupation, wherein minor rebellions and occasional troops being lost in the business of keep your boot on somebody's neck were considered normal and an acceptable cost.

3) Wars that amounted to punching another country in the nose to demand some sort of concession, or to simply loot and run. Usually followed by more wars, since the opponent is still standing and still has conflicting interests.


If you think that WWII was some kind of a happy success story compared to Iraq then you need to read some more history books. Germany was destroyed. Millions upon millions of Germans were killed, including civilians. Cities were left in ruble, their industry bombed to hell, and huge numbers of people were left destitute. We didn't just beat their army in an empty field, punch Hitler, and accept their surrender. Germany continued fighting long after victory was impossible, prolonging the death and destruction. By the time they surrendered it was because they had nothing left to fight with. De-nazification didn't happen overnight either.

By comparison there really isn't anything "ambiguous" about the US victory in the Iraq war; one government was removed and replaced with one more to the US's liking. The US achieved a level of stability considered acceptable and left. Any "ambiguity" comes from people who were imposing goals on it like "Make Iraq a super-happy paradise for all of time" which is something nobody has even achieved at home, much less could be realistically expected to achieve abroad.

Really, if anything, it's these romanticized notions of a "properly won" war that people should set out to deconstruct.
 

RandV80

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Watch any television program about the history of warfare and you'll find that it largely focuses on technology. The Romans won this battle or that battle because they had the ballista, or the testudo formation or the hasta, the History Channel will explain, but they won't tell you how the Romans managed to hold the territory after the battle, because that's boring political and administrative stuff not fit for television.
Now that you mention it it's interesting how true this is, to the point that one a piece of fiction actually does it I didn't even notice it. In Stephen Erikson's Malazan: Book of the Fallen series, while the primary focus is on the army it does emphasize the importance of a post-conflict occupation strategy and puts some detail into it. Guess it makes sense though since Eriksson is in addition to being a writer is trained in the same line of work as you are.
 

RhombusHatesYou

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Robert Rath said:
If a game claims to be about modern warfare, then shouldn't it represent that warfare realistically?
It should but it never will.

I don't see a game getting a publisher or distro deal in the US (or many other places) if it included:

- screaming into a headset for a medevac that you know could never come in time, even if all the helicopters weren't all tasked out, because an IED just took off your best mate's legs and wedding tackle and spread them over 100m^2 area.

- intelligence failures that send your platoon right into the staging areas of one of the enemy's battalions

- snipers being forced to watch a squad get wiped out because they've got hostiles sitting right on top of them as well

- ooo, yeah, a combat engineer having to crawl around in a mass grave to make sure to bodies can be retrieved without any unpleasant surprises.

- the local kid, the one who smiles and waves at all the patrols as they head out and return, catching a stray round or a piece of shrapnel in the face.

- playing as an MP having to investigate accusations of misconduct by US personnel.

- playing as the ground crew who hose out the medevac choppers

- working the morgue on a US/allied base

- watching a mate's mental deterioration that finally ends with him being led away by MPs when he starts showing up for duty, naked except for boots, cap and weapon and with his rank insignia drawn on with a marker.

- HI-LAR-I-OUS practical jokes involving shitting or wanking into other troops' boots and hats... probably while they're not wearing them but there are some real fucking ninjas at doing that sort of thing.

- pointed out how many rules of warfare you broke in 5 minutes in the average shooter.

... and I could go on. At length. For hours.
 

RhombusHatesYou

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Leaper said:
Like one person on the internet said : "You want realism? Here is realism : You wake up, get dressed up, ride humwee whole day, trying to look cool, you go back to barracks, sleep, repeat"
Press square to rack out, press circle to have bull session, pressure triangle to go find some grub, press x to go have a wank.
 

rayen020

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what's impressive is how tightly we grasp to that fantasy. Who remembers 7 days in Fallujah? a true story about real events and people and the costs. Could've been great, could've helped us understand what was happening and why and how we were fighting.

Nope slather it scandal, decry it, cause uproar, and shut it down. It is sad that we as a nation cannot and actively do not face the consequences of our actions.
 

Reeve

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Robert, you're going to have to demonstrate a causal link between playing a videogame and having one's attitudes or perceptions about reality altered - with evidence - instead of just asserting it as fact like you do in the article.
 

rasputin0009

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Leaper said:
All politics and moral lessons aside, whole technical aspect of the Modern Military Shooters (MMS) is just flawed to the core. They simply do not portray how actual military engagements happen. You do not run through the streets with you assault rifles. You do not go into crossfire with enemies who are ~10 meters away from you. You do not blindly shoot in urban areas. Etc etc.

Like one person on the internet said : "You want realism? Here is realism : You wake up, get dressed up, ride humwee whole day, trying to look cool, you go back to barracks, sleep, repeat"

Actual military engagements nowadays are invisible wars - you do not see the enemy, because they are either in prepared positions, too far away for to actually see them, or are concealed in terrain. You roughly identify enemy's position and light it up with what you have. Most of the time any shooting happens, you are shooting boogy men - something that you think is there, but cannot say 100% certain.

I won't even go into details about hardware, Rules of Engagement or any other stuff.

I would actually like that some games perhaps would stay out of "war porn" and would rather try to simulate actual military engagements, the way that Arma does.
I liked everything you said until the second-last word of the last sentence. Fuck Arma. It's not doing anything special. It's just as unrealistic as the rest. It's not trying hard enough to warrant any pats on the back.
 

Leaper

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rasputin0009 said:
I liked everything you said until the second-last word of the last sentence. Fuck Arma. It's not doing anything special. It's just as unrealistic as the rest. It's not trying hard enough to warrant any pats on the back.
Well it is trying to simulate all the technical aspects of warfare. Failing quite often, but succeeding often as well. It has a long way to go, but anything else pales in comparison.
 

BloodSquirrel

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rayen020 said:
what's impressive is how tightly we grasp to that fantasy. Who remembers 7 days in Fallujah? a true story about real events and people and the costs. Could've been great, could've helped us understand what was happening and why and how we were fighting.

Nope slather it scandal, decry it, cause uproar, and shut it down. It is sad that we as a nation cannot and actively do not face the consequences of our actions.
6 Days in Fallujah was shot down because the public didn't trust video games to deal with important subject matter without it being exploitive. It had nothing to do with not wanting to face the subject matter, it was because people thought it was going to be a big dumb shooter trivializing a real conflict. Probably because video games don't have the best track record in that area.
 

Machine Man 1992

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TL;DR Modern Warfare is bad and you should feel bad. This piece of fiction and entertainment isn't like real life so we should all stop doing it. Why can't all games be gritty and depressing like Spec Ops: The Line?

I don't mean do be that guy, but any article on modern warfare, the series or it's imitators, is predictable to the point of parody.