Author: Edward Osborne
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Date: 2009-10-24 09:29
Submitted by: TV-PressPass

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[p]This isn't an article on violence in videogames. I've read that story too many times before. Whether it's in a newspaper, a magazine, or posted on the internet it's a story that no longer interests me. You could call this an article on violence in people, but even then it sounds a little too dark and melancholy for me. [/p]
[p]We're talking about conflict. We're talking about war. And war excites us. [/p]
[p]Questions of morality and righteousness aside, a huge population of young men are fascinated with the experience of war. A US soldier might think America had no legitimate reason to invade Iraq, but he's still excited to be there. The stereotypical “I dunno if America belongs here, but I know I belong here,” comes from more than just movies. Some of this may seem American-centric, the the same issues arise in Canada and other NATO countries over the question of Afghanistan. The people at home debate the war, but to the soldiers involved it is often an experience rather than an argument. [/p]
[p]War can be fun. it's terrible to admit, but sometimes driving around with serious equipment and some good friends can be a fun time. The major downside of actual war of course is the possibility of death. The potential for horror and dismemberment. [/p]
But there are plenty of ways to get close to war without running the risks real soldiers do. And those alternate methods are growing every day, in the number of people involved and the amount of money spent. I want to look at three different forms of “combat without danger,” and maybe explore a little bit of why we enjoy fighting as much as we do.[/p]

If your searching through this article for the Arma2 reference, I'd advise you to scroll towards the bottom until you see a helicopter screen-shot. I realize some readers are here for their game and that's it. But if you're interested more in the adrenaline than in the rendering, I'd like to invite you into the chilly concrete bunker I found myself in last week.[/p]

In Canada we've received about ten centimeters of snow, and the city ground to a halt that first day. But I was up extra early, lacing up swat boots and sweeping the car off to get to the bunker on time. I was there to cover Daniel Clayton, an ex-special forces soldier who now runs a security company. He was hosting a tactical firearms course, where four men would come to him to learn how to shoot.[/p]

This sort of thing is fairly alien to me. Canada does not have the same gun culture that America does. But these guys, all falling between the ages of 25 and 40, brought their own weapons and their own outfits just to practice. The camaraderie is immediately recognizable. They joke and play just the same as the soldiers when I was covering the reserves and despite a few strained muscles from the day before, they are excited to go. [/p]

They start with basic pistol drills, firing from crouched and prone positions. Everything is put into realistic terms, as if they were ready to protect someone.[/p]

“CONTACT front!” Clayton screams like a drill instructor so that his voice echoes through the long dark hallway of the shooting range. Troy and Adrian, the two men on the line draw from hip holsters and work on their “double tap” pulling the trigger twice in a row to improve their stopping power. They only shoot once a week, they're not professionals by any sense of the word. But they score 35 out of 40 shots in less than a minute. As they rotate off for the next pair of shooters Troy offers a fist bump. [/p]

“This is so much fun,” he is literally grinning as he reloads his magazines.[/p]
Clayton shows them how to fire off hand, then how to shoot instinctively. We go through a “restaurant scenario” with all four seated around a VIP. The idea is that they will come under simulated attack from down range and have to move their client as quickly as possible back towards safety. The first time Clayton gets tackled and misses the mat when Adrian looks to shield him. So on the next run through it's my turn. We all sit around a table, and I have to admit there is a serious amount of tension as I make chit chat while we wait for the call of contact.[/p]
When it comes the reaction is immediate. Guns are drawn and start to fire, while I'm grabbed by the shoulder and twisted out of my seat. With his baby eagle drawn, Adrian steers me back towards the door. We stop every ten meters and crouch against the cold cement wall while he fires backwards towards the paper target of a man. When you're that close the pop of the eagle firing reverberates in your lungs.[/p]
The smoke clears and we're all back past the safety line, but my heart is going like a hammer. [/p]
By the time the rifles come out, I've filled up both my camera cards and am just fascinated by how much fun these guys are having. Clayton pours water on them, flashes my camera in their face, and forces them to put their arms into a bucket of snow, all for the sake of mimicking combat stress. And even when they come away cursing, they slap each other on the back and swear to do better next time.[/p]
This is combat neutered. The guns are real, the kinship between men is real, but nobody's going to go home in a box. Sure Clayton might tell them it's training for the real thing, but the fact is these guys are all happy in their jobs as roofers and investors. They will never have to go overseas and experience targets that shoot back. But they are buying their guns, paying for ammo, and paying Clayton for the instruction, all in the name of fun.[/p]
Fun is also the driving force behind another form of pretend combat. Denis Chernoff is nineteen years old, and during the summer months he drives out into the countryside to meet up with a dozen other players. Dressed in camo and coveralls they don sporting masks and load up air canisters and extra rounds. [/p]
Paintball is immensely popular, and there all kinds of different sub-games available. But when it comes to replicating combat the “bush-ball” sport takes the lead. They form specialized teams moving as squads towards predefined objectives; finding and engaging the enemy. It sounds like a small scale war.[/p]
It plays like war too, as various people scream for covering fire and try to flank the opposition. In some ways, this is perfect: the thrill of rounds whipping past you, with only the occasional welt if you screw up. [/p]
But in some ways this is definitely still a game. I watch as Chernoff creeps through a meadow to get behind one of the blue team. He's barely a few meters away from the unsuspecting man when Chernoff pops up. There are strict rules about how close you can shoot someone, point blank just isn't considered chivalrous. So he sprints the last few steps screaming “Mercy kill! Mercy kill! Drop your weapon!” The other player is taken by surprise and complies immediately, but it's part of the battlefield sensation that rings hollow.[/p]
The other barrier is just a matter of equipment. Paintball guns don't look like rifles, and really they don't need to. But they don't have the range or accuracy of rifles either, which can lead to some silly confrontations. When two opposing players see each other across an open field, they have to advance in unison and burn through a stream of paint before someone calls themselves hit. Maneuvering is only worthwhile within a certain range, and marksmanship just doesn't enter into it.[/p]
After the flag is captured and the war is over, the tired soldiers gather on a deck and share drinks. Once again, this idea of camaraderie comes into play as stories are retold and embellished. it's something that only happens once a month, but it's the adrenaline boost they all look for. In fact Chernoff complains that when the snow comes he won't have anything to burn up his energy.[/p]
Which brings us to the most popular and common source of make-believe combat. Videogames.[/p]
The number of games that have you butchering helpless fuzzy bunnies are few and far between. When violence comes up in a game, it is almost always you against an armed opponent. Sure there are plenty that feature a plasma gun against an alien horde, but there are just as many that depict World War II. Conflict is a central figure in story telling and in game-play for an overwhelming number of titles today.[/p]
Arma2 uses real-world weapons in an imaginary conflict and does a number of things to imitate and replicate combat. Unlike other games which advertise themselves as “fun” Arma2 advertises itself as a “military simulator” promising the closest thing to war this side of a sandbag. [/p]
There are a number of surface things that make Arma effective, the recognizable uniforms, weapons and vehicles are among the most prominent. You wear a Camelpak and carry an M16, then evacuate on a Blackhawk when the T-72s arrive. This focus on realism is immediately visible to even a casual player.[/p]
Other parts of Arma mark it as a simulator of combat rather than a Hollywood blockbuster. Disorientation from grenades and the detailed sound effects for incoming rounds create a sense that you are under attack; the key feature missing from other kinds of simulated combat. Conversation between soldiers as they are injured or spot enemies adds to the team aspect of war. Never with the same degree of companionship that happens in paintball or real war, but there is an effort there.[/p]
One of the most dramatic and effective methods is the games first aid simulation. There is no regenerating health here. One round can drop a soldier to the ground, forcing the player to rescue them and attempt resuscitation only to have the wounded soldier die. This sort of combat stress is close to the reality of war, simulating injury and death in more than just hit points. That death can take time for a soldier on the field. Its almost uncomfortable sometimes, when a point man is left to writhe in the street because the rest of his squad is pinned down and unable to help. But there are no last repercussions for the player. A well timed save its all that is necessary to rescue that injured soldier and play through the battle differently. Once again, combat without risk.[/p]
Whether your firing real guns in a controlled environment, shooting play guns at real people outdoors, or playing on a virtual battle-space giving commands, you are always aiming to recreate war without the danger.[/p]
Why do we seem to enjoy war? I think there is space for an entire book, likely several, addressing that question. And the fact is we don't always. We often recognize it as barbaric and misguided, but some people at some times cannot resist the allure. I think one of my favorite comments on war came from a biography on the novelist and war correspondent Ernest Hemingway.[/p]
“Hemingway viewed armed combat as the most central experience of his century,” Micheal S. Reynolds wrote. “Here a man could see his species stripped down the a primal level; here he could test his own emotional resources.”[/p]
Perhaps we are fortunate that we can test ourselves on easier ground.[/p]

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