Crispy Gamer

Pixels and Sand

Years had been building up to this trigger squeeze. Years of awkward super-soaker fights with girls, finding out laser tag’s more like disappointing regular tag, raging at paintball rounds for bouncing off targets, and of course, countless hours squeezing R2. I had held an M1 Garand before, virtually I mean, and won WWII with it a few hundred times already, but this wasn’t the giddy testosterone surge I thought it was going to be. I felt anxious. The M1 Garand is heavy. It’s made out of solid wood and steel, packing eight rounds of .308 death. It was too much gun for my office-drone arms, but hell if I was gonna let that take this moment away. I lined up the iron sights, and held onto to that rifle with all I had…which wasn’t enough. The report of a .308 round exploding out of a Garand literally sounds like air getting ripped apart. That was what loosened my “kung-fu” grip first; the force of that round did the rest. The butt stock punched into my shoulder, demanding that I man up and shoot the thing that ended the Third Reich right. That was the first time I fired a gun, and the second trigger squeeze wasn’t any better. I went back to the sights, and was shivering a little bit, feeling inadequate now, like a date with a really hot girl getting bored. CRACK! Again, into my shoulder. This time the instructor suggested that I prop myself up because he could tell the gun was having its way with me. The last six shots were easier, but I felt the force of each blast in the back of my eyes. It was baptism by fire.

It goes without saying, shooters, as well crafted as they can be, are going to be more than few a calibers short of the actual frontline. And yes, it is cheap to underline the obvious technical shortcomings of video games in assessing their accuracy of reality; it’s just part of the medium. Several modern shooters, notably the Call of Duty series, the latest Medal of Honor, and now Battlefield 3 market themselves as the real hardcore deal, immersive experiences reminiscent of cordite-choked sands. Let’s see how they buck up to the real thing in terms of measurable stats.

Ammo Organization and Reloading

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Yes, for obvious reasons auto-ammo organization is just one of those evils needed for gameplay. Is it as relatively easy to reload an actual weapon under fire? In a nice quiet room: yes. Under normal combat conditions: not really for most people. Even expecting the report of a blast, I was still flinching a bit, and that was knowing no one was shooting at me. If that weren’t the case, I know I’d have to deal with nerves and sudden-on-set Parkinson’s. Plus I know raging (or panic) would be imminent in the case of a jam. Under fire is definitely not the time you’d want anything to stop working.

Picking up extra ammo would be pretty exciting. It would be fantastic to be able to run over a corpse and have those extra magazines Velcro onto you automatically. No, this would mean you running out into the enemy firing zone (how else did they get hit) dropping your weapon, and rummaging through straps and bags for extra ammo. So as Zen-like as our FPSelves move like the sway of a lily in the wind while reloading, no, it’s not as easy.

Aiming

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We really take for granted the multivariable process undertaken by the left trigger (L2 for you PS3 guys). I especially love the COD mechanic of aim-and-release, where aiming is pretty automated one target after another. I’ve taken down whole squads in a matter of seconds using that, and I even kind of feel bad when they’re roping down from a helicopter. On some factors, aiming can be easy in reality as well. Opposite the Garand, firing the AR-15 (M16) and AK-47 Tactical (Kalash)—the difference between hard plastics versus solid wood and steel—was a breeze! They’re light and the M16 had a red dot sight while the Kalash had an ACOG. I even had a mildly badass moment when I blew apart two targets with the Kalash. I can imagine though that after a while of holding any heavier weapons plus factoring in things like combat fatigue, heat, and of course, being shot at, aiming might not be as easy anymore. I was really amused playing Bad Company that night and realizing I could hold my weapon at aim forever, no strain! And I like to use SAW weapons as a Medic! Aiming with pistols was also comparatively as easy. With low kickback and considerably less weight, a steady hand can definitely knock some impressive shots. Though hitting the same spot in succession while rapid firing isn’t quite as easy though. And yes, we had the chance to fire a Desert Eagle. No, we did not dual-wield them like COD because we like our wrists, and no, they’re not practical. It was like shooting the Garand one-handed.

Firing

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Again, comparatively on some points, shooters were actually accurate. Modern weapons have minimal kickback, not like the man-handling Garand. That results in being able to mark another target quickly after a shot. This also means you can still maintain effective fire at increased rates even on burst firing. But in terms of firing proficiently, that’s when the details really start to count. You have to maintain several variables at a constant in order fire proficiently. Are your sights aligned, align them again after a shot, is your eye close enough to the rear aperture, did your eye move after a shot, are you supporting the rifle enough, is your scope calibrated. Yeah, that’s when R2 and L2 start to look really attractive. It also makes you think about how your aim would degenerate during sustained full automatic fire. Even with experience, I would imagine maintaining laser-precise aim in full auto would be more than a challenge. This isn’t to say that all combat is taken with measured and precise marks; different situations might call for impulse fire or blind fire. But think about how many times you’ve held down the trigger on full auto during death-match.

The most egregious inaccuracy that occurs in all shooters though involves shotguns. There’s a whole generation of gamers that think shotguns are only effective within ten feet of your target; a weapon only to be used for intimate candlelit moments with the enemy, when things get really close and messy. I’ve been disappointed several times in Modern Warfare 2 online when getting a clean mark on a target with my Striker, and having it be as effective as a confetti cannon outside a range of about ten feet. I know buckshot spreads, but it doesn’t turn into fairy dust either. Trap shooting, which involves shooting airborne clay “pigeons” (targets) with shotguns, presents targets at ranges of about forty feet and greater from the shooter. The pigeons aren’t large either, so even though shotguns don’t have as much range as a rifle, they can still hit precise targets at considerable distances. When firing a Mossberg 509, I was even hitting targets at around 70 feet out. So yeah, shotguns will hurt and kill at long distances.

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The most interesting piece that I came across in researching for this article was a combat firearms report card from a Marine named Jordan stationed in Iraq. (The whole report card is available here.) The M-16 and more so recently, the M-4 tend to have starring roles in most modern shooters, but do you ever feel like they’re lacking sometimes? That’s because they really do, according to the report. The M-16’s initial jamming problems back in the ’60’s are common knowledge now, but it seems those problems have returned with the “talcum powder-like sand” in Iraq. The M-4 also suffers from these jamming problems. Maybe shooters could consider portraying this problem a little more since it is a reality. More of a concern, though, to Marines is the 5.56 round used by both. Marines aren’t particularly fans of it, due to its “poor penetration on the cinder block structure common over there.” More so he states, torso hits aren’t that reliable either. And there’s a funny reason for that: Several autopsies on downed insurgents allude to high opiate use. Two of the most common and iconic weapons in the American military aren’t cutting it. So if you’ve ever cursed at what was clearly a direct hit in COD, intentionally or not, that scenario can be accurate.

Ever noticed how the M-14 and Kalash always seem to be God-sends? That’s because they are. Usually a hit means a kill because these two use the 7.62 round. Both are incredibly reliable in the sandy environments and the M-14 is even being reissued in bulk. The same goes for pistols, both on the virtual and sandy fronts. It’s always going to take a few more hits with the M-9 (9mm), as opposed to the .45’s as Jordan confirms, with troops everywhere trying to get their hands on one. Of course we’ll have to take into consideration all the available customizations that most shooters afford us today. Sights, foregrips, suppressors, FMJ’s, and several other options will influence a weapon’s effectiveness and cater to individual tastes, but it’s nice to see that at least base stats are surprisingly accurate to the reality.

Combat

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The technical aspects of combat such as the weapons themselves and all their minutiae were easy enough to research, but when it came down to how actual combat occurs, it was surprisingly difficult to find sources at first. In games, combat takes place on the invisible linear path chock full of bad guys in large stand-offs. It wasn’t until I thought to type in “firefight” in youtube that I got a real look at honest combat. There are actually hundreds of personal combat videos uploaded onto YouTube, and they all showed a particular pattern of combat. It wasn’t the cinematic epic that gets covered by huge panning shots, it was actually a lot of cameras pressed to the ground and tucked against walls alongside troops that were burying themselves as deep in cover as possible. With the exception of large scale pushes and invasions, such as the Battle of Baghdad and Fallujah, combat isn’t nearly as dynamic as depicted in shooters, it’s almost a bit stagnant and at times, reminiscent more of trench warfare. Under fire in these videos, troops were always safely in cover and shooting back while calling in support from fly-bys or armor. Where as you see several of your NPC buddies get shot down running from cover to cover, in videos from the front, preserving life seems to be the priority, with everyone safely in cover with very little risk taking. Notable as well is the lack of movement. There will be 10 minute spans of video where troops are just hunkered down, safely providing suppressing fire. When have you ever stood in one spot in a FPS for more than two minutes? Though there’s one exceptional video where a troop runs out of cover to fire a LAW rocket (Editor’s Note: This video contains actual war footage and may not be for the faint of heart) with frightening joy, when compared to the majority of video, you’ll see this is a very exceptional case, reminiscent more of online antics than actual trained combat.

On the report card, Jordan notes that in the odd large scale infantry engagement, insurgents always get beaten down. Most combat really occurs in true guerilla tactic, and is the one most responsible for casualties. The most common of these is the I.E.D. (improvised explosive device). Most of the danger comes from these roadside menaces that target humvees, tanks, and APC’s. In conjunction to these, insurgents have also taken a preference to snipers. As opposed to the mass organized engagements we see in Battlefield and COD, actual combat overseas seems to be much more constrained. If anything, what we’re presented with echoes more the tradition of large-scale WWII engagements when the reality is more of the unconventional warfare type, with un-concentrated engagements and a massive underground network of insurgents. And no, not once did I see someone jumping onto a helicopter at the last second.

Though I have suggested that developers take some of these realities into consideration, by no means would I want them to try and get every detail of war rendered into 1080p. The core aim of a game is to be a game and provide entertainment, and it can do this elegantly but the initial purpose will always be the priority. And politics aside, war and combat aren’t pretty at all. Shooters sometimes like to play on themes of patriotism to add poignancy to the experience, but from what I’ve read and seen from troops, their primary goal is to survive and try to do that with their comrades. War has been a necessity in the past, but it also involves a lot of young kids dying, so, I’m not sure just how real we’d want our games to get.

Comments

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Okay, first I am going to be a little anal.  Sorry, I cannot help it!.  The M1 Garand fires 30-06.  308 along with the M-14 rifle replaced it.

Second, forgive the grammar and the lenght.  I am could never be a professional writer because I can barely spell brevity let alone excersice it

Now a few more serious issues.

#1 The "Jordan Report" has been floating around for years and appears to NOT be authentic.

#2 You mention the M-14 and Kalashnakov 'getting the job done' because they use the 7.62 round.  You are half right, but are also 100% wrong.  The Kalashnakov fires the 7.62x39mm round while the M-14 fires the 7.62x51mm round....the 308 mentioned above.  Honestly, a ton of US service men who have never seen an AK round will slur the difference as well.  It isn't always clear if they are just being sloppy with their terms or actually ignorant of facts.

While it is true that at close range the 7.62x39 thanks to it's 'big bore' round does hit with authority, the 7.62x51mm is significantly more potent.  This is one of the reasons it is used in our sniper rifles and delivers power at 800 yards and beyond.  Weapons that are using this round as opposed to the x39 are in an entirely different power class.

This distinction is missed in may video games.  It would be an easy fix.

#3 Modern sights such as the ACOG can and are mounted on guns like the M1 Garand which makes it a lot easier to aim.  The gun itself has base handling characteristics, and these can be modified by adding accessorites.  This is a feature a few games are exploring but more should.  Similarly, a gun is just the platform. The power comes from the ammo.  The bullet doesn't care what gun it was fired from when it is screaming toward it's target.  The gun does not imbue the bullet with some extra 'killing mojo'.   Weapons in video games that use the same ammunition should do identical damage (or nearly identical if there is a significant change in barrel length) Cool accessories do not make guns do more damage.  Video games need to improve on this.

#4 method of fighting.  Yes, finding cover is paramount.  However, realize a lot of the tatics you see are because in our current fight we are fighting a insurgency and have a huge equipment advantage.   When our guys encounter resistance, they hunker down and call in air support.  This is also when they have time to take video.  In a fight against an active military, hunkering down may work...or it may just mean now the tank or artillery has time to single out the group of men behind a wall and WHAM.  Cover has always been the infantryman's friend.  A shovel to dig a foxhole is probably more imporant than which rifle is being carried.  Still, realize you are seeing a very odd and very theater-specific fighting when viewing these videos.  The truth you see here is a different truth than the guys in Vietnam new or the guys in France during WW2 knew.

Also, there are still times when a firefight is all about forward momentum, be it a SEAL team storming an enemy compound (who need to hit it hard and fast, no holing up because that just means there is time for the enemy mass up in numbers and assault...or use explosives) or such battles as the one outside the city of Shewan in 2009 when a couple squads of marines (20-30) were attacked by a company sided group (250), the marines went at them and ended up killing 50 capturing many, and driving the rest off.  In such a battle you'd see a lot less 'hole up and wait for air support to drop a bomb'

"During the battle, the designated marksman single handedly thwarted a company-sized enemy RPG and machinegun ambush by reportedly killing 20 enemy fighters with his devastatingly accurate precision fire. He selflessly exposed himself time and again to intense enemy fire during a critical point in the eight-hour battle for Shewan in order to kill any enemy combatants who attempted to engage or maneuver on the Marines in the kill zone. What made his actions even more impressive was the fact that he didn’t miss any shots, despite the enemies’ rounds impacting within a foot of his fighting position. "

and FINALLY

#5 guns cannot be fired non-stop as seen in video games.  If you fire an AK fast enough long enough the handguard literally will catch on fire.  M-16s and the like stop working, not from dust but from heat buildup.  Video game designers seem to fixate on high RPM = good, where really it means you have a hard to control weapon that overheats fast.  

The M-16 boasts a 600 RPM rate, BUT what often doesn't get cited is it has a 'short term fire rate' of 90 rounds per minute...for one minute and then a 'sustained fire rate' of 12-15 rounds a minute.  How many games are designed where firing wildly is encouraged rather than discouraged by having a gun overheat?  I recall Wolfenstein having a SMG with a heat meter, other than that I can think of none.

How would the gaming public react to a game where if you fired 240 rounds out of your AK in one minute the handguard literally burst into flames?  THAT would be cool to see.

In conclusion: Video games can never replicate the stiff recoil and the ear splitting boom of the gun really being fired, or the stress of battle.  But neither can sports games replicate the crunch of a tackle or the fatigue from running back and forth on the basketball court.  Yet games like Madden embrace the minute details and statistics bringing what realism they can.  There is a huge audience base of gun lovers who would rush to buy a game that did for guns what Madden did for football stats.  Does every sports game and shooting game need to be at this level? Of course not.  Still, it is an untapped market.  I think people who aren't hugely into specific players, stats, and differences DO embrace them in games like Madden, and I think your average Gears of War player who couldn't care less about real guns could still be drawn in when such differences are relevant to the game.

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