In this feature, we hand over the soapbox to members of the armed forces, who share their thoughts on the exploration of war in video games.
James Marr* // Submariner // US Navy
I've been active duty for two years now, and actually am still in training. In the military we are taught from day one that it doesn't matter whether you're an officer or enlisted man/woman, that attention to detail will save your life or your buddy's life. The inspections we go through in our initial training are ridiculous, but they serve that purpose. For example, we have what is referred to as the "Room, Locker, and Personnel" inspection in the fourth week of training. To prepare for this, the trainees literally spend dozens of hours folding, refolding, ironing, and removing loose strands from every required item to be inspected. It is a two-person job to fold socks the correct way to pass the inspection, as they must be done a certain way and meet a measurement exactly. If you are off by 1/16th of an inch, you're wrong and get no credit for your effort. And this is just a pair of socks, mind you.
What does this have to do with games? When the television show Last Resort first came on, I immediately started using that attention to detail to pick apart things like uniforms not being properly worn, the size of the captain's stateroom, and so on. If the writers of the show had just asked a former submariner, these things could have been easily addressed. But all this being said, I can remove my Navy cap and enjoy the show for what it is: entertainment. I would argue that my feelings about this show are similar enough to how soldiers feel about military shooters. They'll pick apart how wrong certain things are, but at the end of the day, they know it's just a game and can enjoy it as such.
For example, the team at Danger Close must have spent a lot of time trying to get those little details right in Medal of Honor: Warfighter. Your character wears Mechanix brand gloves. The guns feature brand-name manufacturers with little details like canted iron sights in addition to higher-power scopes. All these little things that we in the military instinctively notice from our training are what to me add up to make Medal of Honor the most "authentic" experience out there. The other thing that the game seems to do is tell the human side of service. No other game that I've ever seen goes into how service impacts the home life at all. Warfighter shows the awkward phone calls with the wife because you've drifted apart.
What is the point of a game? Ultimately it is to entertain, and maybe enlighten. But you're certainly not giving people the full experience. It's not possible. You can't convey or accurately make a player feel the intense pride we feel when the flag gets raised up the pole every morning at 0800. You can't really give a player an appreciation for all of the specialized training every person in service gets, no matter what their job is, so that they can excel at that job. You can't really tell a player what it means to us to serve, or make them understand why we do it. This is what most people will probably never get. Our job, ostensibly, is war. We protect our country, no matter the cost. We don't wish for war. We don't want war. But if there is a war, we want to be the ones in it. It's our job.
I don't think military shooters trivialize war. War is really a bunch of people doing what they can to help out the guy next to them. Games like Brothers in Arms and Medal of Honor do great justice to that camaraderie. I think the game would have to denigrate the soldier himself or his sacrifice to trivialize war, and I've never seen a game do that. Even Call of Duty doesn't, and you can play most of those games without knowing your character's name by the time you're done with it. Your character is really a nobody, just a gun on a screen.
*Name has been changed to protect individual's identity.