Monday, April 14, 2008

Child Soldiers...

"Thirty thousand people used to live here... Now it's a ghost town."

A ghost town where pitched battles are a way of life for over 2 million children... Empty avenues, run-down buildings, and the burned hulks of vandalized cars. A distant crackle of gunfire; these are the streets where much of America's youth is growing up.

This is the virtual world of CALL OF DUTY 4, and it's the latest episode in a disturbing trend to train tomorrow's soldiers today.

It's not the fantasy-land game that Ender Wiggins played to develop strategic skills, but a tactical exercise in planting anti-personnel mines, picking a good spot to employ a sniper rifle from, or sneaking up on a careless opponent to slit their throat.

How good is it? From the perspective of this old warhorse, all that's missing are the civilians running from the fight (no chance of collateral damage here) and the smell.

Oh, this is just good, clean fun, indeed! Now instead of going to a movie and watching Bruce Willis blow things up and kill people, you and your friends can go online and take matters into your own underage hands.

You can play as US Marines, or as Islamic freedom fighters; Russian or British Special Forces, making this a rather egalitarian simulation.

And although this medium is a great method for deprogramming that pesky First Commandment from the Nation's youth (Thou shalt not blah, blah, pass the grenades, please!) your humble correspondent does have just a few small suggestions to improve upon this virtual arena...

A few non-combatants running around will add not only realism, but more potential scenarios. There's already the "Vandalism" challenge where you blow up cars for points; we can now add the "Revenge" challenge where you have to mow down at least 5 civilians within 1 minute after one of your buddies gets wasted. Good times! (oh, and for the Spetnaz and Al Qaeda contingent, the challenge is slightly different; it can be completed at any time, but the civilians must be captured with the "Tie Hands" perk, then "executed" with either a bullet in the head, or a knife (off with their heads!) - sure, this sounds a little more complicated than the good-guy version, but hey, nobody said villainy was easy!

Right now the game's too fair - the team sizes are even, and for example, in the "Sabotage" mission, each side takes turns attempting to plant a bomb, or defuse it. Everyone knows only the terrorists plant bombs; Marines would never do that. So, how about scenarios where only the Islamic troops get to plant bombs? In crowds? They score points for total numbers of people killed; Marines can only win by killing all the opposition without sustaining excessive losses - for fairness sake, such scenarios will of course only allow a "handful of insurgents" to fight against a "surge" of US forces.

The sounds of the various guns, explosives, and helicopters is perfect. Even the sound of footsteps crunching in dry leaves. But something's missing - oh, snap! It's the screaming of injured soldiers. Adding in the pitiful wail of a gut-shot Marine begging for water, or a Russian calling out for his mother would certainly add another layer of realism, and opens up all sorts of game possibilities! You can already commit suicide with your pistol, or booby-trap your dying body with a grenade, but what if you could hope for a buddy to come rescue you if you lay in the street and howled? It would give the opposition a good reason to shoot-to-wound (vice kill) and use you as bait to lure in the do-gooders...

Wouldn't life be better if the cities of the damned were patrolled by renegade mercenaries in heavily armored vehicles escorting random diplomats or warlords? Computer-generated, highly accurate warriors who answered any gunfire or suspicious motion with a hail of bullets and grenades? Sure it would...

Well, that's my two cents; of course this new version of the game would be highly recommended as a "fix" for PTSD; use methadone to wean drug addicts off the hard stuff? Why not use interactive gaming to wean combat addicts off violence? Hey, you can beat a 9-year old online instead of the wife and kids in the next room... Three cheers for modernity! Hip-hip-hooray!


Diodotus said...

Good points all... though I don't agree that players assuming the identity of US Marines should not have the same exact options that actual Marines do... killing wantonly, raping and pillaging are choices any soldier can make... what would make it more realistic is if the scoring structure varied by team to reflect the institutional and normative constraints of the different fighting forces.

Anonymous said...

What are we doing to our kids?

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