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
Ammo Organization and Reloading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.