Military shooters are incredibly popular right now, but there is constant, raging debate over using a representation of real-world warfare as entertainment. Some people say it's too much, while others trot out the old "it's just a game" explanation. But what do actual soldiers think? Y'know, the people who live the life that AAA video games seem to idealize?
GameSpot's Laura Parker asked several members of the armed forces from different branches and occupational specializations what they thought about modern military video games, and how these games affect the way people view the military.
"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.
...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 likeand 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."
-Submariner (U.S. Navy), real name withheld
"As a soldier I accept that it is part of the sacrifice I am willing to make in losing my innocence by taking another human's life. We are willing to do this on our nation's behalf. Anyone who wants to join the military so that they can kill other human beings has no business in uniform.
My main problem with military shooters is that they seem to be less about celebrating the soldier and more about celebrating killing.
...It kind of makes me sick when I see promos like the most recent one for where the promotion line was something like 'There is a soldier in all of us,' and the last scene in one of is some dude casually dropping a nuke on a city. If games are going to be culturally relevant, then they will need to start feeding something other than a base inhuman urge to kill."
-Jef Palrafman, Lieutenant (Canadian Army), Sergeant (U.S. Army)
"I think most developers miss the authenticity mark when it comes to the emotional content of the game. Sure, the guns look real and the vehicles match the real thing, but most games are flashy set pieces that lead players from one explosion to the next. Most soldiers can tell you that this is nothing like the war that they have experienced. Military life is full of tedium and drudgery that is unfit for an action-packed game.
One game I thought really nailed the price of war was the Mass Effect series. Many of the choices and events you are presented with really drive home the unavoidable cost that everyone must face. When a character dies you understand the seriousness of the event, and this is something many games fail to portray."
-Nathaniel Dietrick, Combat Medic (U.S. Army)
"Yes, war is a big deal. I had some truly traumatic moments during my tour. But in combat, we crack jokes and trivialize the situation. You can't be super serious all the time. You'd have a heart attack. It's how we cope. If I ever really analyzed what I was doing, I would stop moving and probably die.
The bulk of shooters are so disconnected from reality. I get really put off anytime someone claims these titles are glorifying war or that they're disrespectful to the troops. I can't speak for the entire armed forces community, but every soldier I know plays these games or respects them from a distance. Most blockbuster shooters are so cartoonish it's impossible to take them seriously, and those that claim to be 'military simulators' don't go far enough."
-Steven Beynon, Specialist and Cavalry Scout (National Guard)
I can guarantee that a bunch of people in the comments are going to immediately say something along the lines of "it's just a game!" But here's the deal--a lot of you want video games to be taken seriously, rather than being immediately written off as immature fluff. I know I do. Part of taking media seriously is being able to intellectually discuss it, to dig deeper and understand its relevance. If it's "just a game," then it shouldn't matter if people think video games are worthless in terms of storytelling, music, or artistry.
It's only a game!
What I'm really wondering is why there hasn't been a more comedic take on the military in video games, like Stripes or Skippy's List. I'm also surprised that nobody brought up Spec Ops: The Line, which is one of the most eye-opening (read: traumatic) experiences I've had playing a game. Having heard from actual members of the armed forces, what do you think about military video games? Are they just misinformed Hollywood blockbusters, or is it wrong to present an unrealistic picture of our fighting men and women? Is it all an overreaction, and (sigh) they're just games, and shouldn't be taken seriously? Sound off in the comments!