10 lies video games tell us about war
Liar, liar, tank's on fire
With Black Ops II firmly in our clutches, we got to thinking this week about all the different ways in which war is presented in video games. It’s been the central preoccupation of the video gaming medium ever since we had graphics decent enough to simulate it, but we’ve made some missteps along the way.
Game developers are not historians, and they’ll always try to stretch the truth in order to make a product more entertaining. Here are 10 of the ways they’ve been fibbing to enhance gameplay over the years.
Lone wolves win wars
Gamers love feeling important–nobody wants to be a cog in the machine (unless they’re a COG in Gears of War but that’s different). They want to be Duke Nukem, blowing up aliens with one hand and wooing the women of Earth with the other. They want to be Master Chief, saving the world from aliens. They want to be the one that wins the war, so it comes as little surprise that military games tend to cast the player as a solitary war machine who manages to single-handedly defeat the Nazi menace.
It’s not that individual soldiers don’t exhibit extraordinary bravery. It’s that 100% of the time they’re backed up by a team of highly skilled experts who allow them to do what they do. It doesn’t matter who you are. Even if you’re a highly skilled Navy SEAL, if you go behind enemy lines without the aid of the rest of the US military then you are going to die. Fast.
Secret agents are the answer to everything
We’re not sure why US generals ever feel stressed about anything. After all, as video games have explained to us over the years, if anything goes wrong you can just send in Sam Fisher to kill everyone. Like, literally everyone, without any repercussions.
We’re not entirely sure how often the United States employs secret spies behind enemy lines, because otherwise it wouldn’t be secret, but we’re pretty sure it isn’t how Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid portray it. Either way, the better strategy for getting what we want is to sail a battlecruiser into someone’s port and say, “what’s it gonna be?”
Getting behind enemy lines is easy
In any World War 2 game you’ll inevitably be put into the shoes of a paratrooper and asked to jump behind enemy lines. These games pay lipservice to the danger by showing the anti-aircraft guns firing in the background, but rarely do they pose any actual danger. In reality, the life expectancy of a paratrooper was about twenty seconds back then, and had about a 50% casualty rate.
Not to mention the fact that there’s really no guarantee that where you land is going to be somewhere significant. To our knowledge there’s never been a game in which the main character landed in a wheat field, and spent three days hiking through no-man’s-land to get to the mission only to die immediately or be taken hostage and held in a cell for four years.
The enemy sucks at everything
If video games are a solid representation of the struggle our grandfathers and great grandfathers endured during World War 2 then we have no idea what took them so long to bring down Hitler. In video games, enemy soldiers tend to be pushovers, and you can kill 6-7 of them every time you raise your gun sights. How the German soldiers in video games even make it out of bed without dying is a mystery to us.
Whatever their evils, German soldiers were just as capable and well-equipped as the allied soldiers were–and the same goes for other enemy armies in games. Yet in video games, the player is able to out-shoot, out-drive, and out-strategize them at every turn.
Above: The difference between video game Nazis and Zombie Nazis is purely semantic.
Wars are really exciting
Perhaps the largest problem that modern video games face in their depictions of war is the simple fact that they make war seem entertaining. Without even mentioning the horrible mental scars that are inflicted on many US service members, there’s also the problem of crushing boredom. Most of World War I was spent with opposing armies dying of diseases as they sat in trenches for months on end–where’s that game?
Hopefully, one day the video game industry will come around and make a video game that’s entirely about going out on uneventful patrols, wondering what loved ones are up to, and whiling away the hours by playing video games on the base. It’ll be super meta, you’ll all love it.
Every soldier is John Wayne: President of the United States of Honor
All forms of entertainment love to distill war down to simple binary conflicts. In gaming we usually see evil war villains named Voldemort Bin Laden facing off against John Country, bastion of American Liberty and Freedom. The game usually ends with Sgt. Country firing a shot through the head of V.B.L. in slow motion, as an eagle soars by with the Declaration of Independence in its talons, the Blue Angels flying overhead, and Springsteen piped through the PA system.
Reality isn’t quite that simple. People who are fighting on any side of a conflict are rarely motivated by a desire to do evil (even if they end up doing evil things), unlike the many game characters that are trying to build nukes to rule the world just because. And as we’ve seen in the past, not everybody who is fighting on our side is an authority on morality either. The reality is that no nation has a monopoly on goodness.
Pictured Above: Voldemort Bin MechaHitler, Tsar of Kicking Children
International law is for greenhorns
It’s usually only about five minutes into a video game before some general tells his super soldier right-hand-man that he should do “what needs to be done” to complete the mission. After all, international regulations are for nancy politicians who don’t understand the realities of the battlefield. “You don’t exist, you’re a ghost,” right?
Maybe that’s true, but it’s also true that if you’re abandoning the rule of law then your cause is no better than the people you’re fighting against. In fact, you might just be more evil than they are. Laws exist for a reason, folks, and you don’t want to go down in history as a vicious war criminal even if your cause was just.
Above: Torture was outlawed in the Geneva Conventions, Snake.
Shooting humans with guns is easy
Video games probably wouldn’t be all that fun if every gun shot slightly differently, or if the wind could alter your shots, or if they included no auto-aim. Most games these days include subtle auto-aim features to help your targeting reticule stick to the thing you’re aiming at. Fortunately, that’s not how things work in the real world.
In reality, it’s quite difficult to shoot humans. We’re shaped kind of funny, and we can run pretty fast. In fact, a study of police officers (re: people trained with firearms and told to shoot people that do bad things) showed that accuracy decreases by a huge amount when the target is running. Since there’s no snap-to on real guns, most of the bullets spent would be flying around your enemies’ feet.
Battles win wars
This lie may have been true way back in the old days when giant sword-and-shield armies would mash themselves together then see who had the most people left alive after a few hours of bloodshed. However, in the modern age, even the largest battles are mostly skirmishes for position, spilling buckets of blood so that one army can have control of a bridge or a hill.
The real–incredibly boring–key to victory in 20th and 21st century warfare is your supply chain. As previously discussed, in large wars most soldiers are identical. What matters most is how well equipped they are. It doesn’t matter much if you have the larger force if your army is starving, has no winter clothes, and is low on ammunition.
War is right around the corner
There’s never a war when you need one, is there? And when there is a war it’s considered too taboo to base a game on. The solution for many military shooter devs is to set their games in the near future, when the world is, yet again, all about war.
Inevitably, the near future holds some awful event that will push us into war. In Ghost Recon Island Thunder Fidel Castro dies and upsets the balance of power. In Black Ops 2 China is pushed into an escalating trade war with the US. These games love to pick one small event and imagine that it will snowball into World War 9. The truth is that most of these types of matters get ironed out with diplomacy before blood is ever shed, at least in the modern day.
War… war never changes
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy war games. We’ll be blasting fools in Black Ops 2 every night this week. We’re just asking that you keep in mind that while our games are fun, they’re generally a completely inaccurate representation of what soldiers go through to bring victory to their people.
And if you’re interested in seeing what other lies video games have been perpetuating over the years then check out our feature on the lies that racing games and outer space.
By Andrew Groen