War Stories: How Medal of Honor and Others Get It Wrong

“It is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.” – Robert E. Lee

First-person accounts of war, from Robert Graves’ epochal WWI memoir Goodbye to All That to contemporary examples like Generation Kill, share certain similarities. Whole chapters of banality, absurdity, and boredom are punctuated by mere paragraphs piecing together the confusing, tragic, arbitrary violence of combat. In Afghanistan today, many soldiers spend weeks simply waiting for something to happen, enduring extreme weather, tedious paperwork, and grueling physical training.

These experiences stand in stark contrast to the current array of “Modern Military Shooters,” which depict soldiering as a never-ending series of white-knuckle firefights. Players spend their time mowing down hundreds of be-turbaned enemies, striding forward with a voice in their ear telling them who to shoot next. A carefully choreographed slaughter ends, another begins.

One such game, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, has recently made news. Several Navy SEALs who consulted on the game have been disciplined by the Navy for showing developers Danger Close classified equipment designs unique to their elite unit.

This indiscretion was almost certainly committed in the name of “authenticity,” a buzzword often deployed by the Modern Military Shooter. Danger Close’s designers wanted to depict the SEALs’ weapons in Warfighter with as much loving precision as possible. Their game bills itself as the “most authentic shooter” on its official website: www.medalofhonor.com/most-authentic-shooter. Under the slogan “Authentic Game, Authentic Brands,” Warfighter explains its claim: the game “partners with real world brands that supply Tier 1 Operators around the world with weapons and equipment.” Rarely has the collusion between consumerism, entertainment media, and the military-industrial complex been so naked, or so nauseating.

Let’s be clear: representing an “authentic” experience of combat has nothing to do with equipment. Not the dimensions of a rifle scope, nor the texture of the uniform, and certainly not the brand logo on a pair of gloves (right). As long as games of this ilk continue to provide the same shooting galleries full of foreign heads to be pulped, the same clips of ammunition that magically recombine every time you mash the reload button, they will never be authentic. When real soldiers are shot, they bleed, or they die; they can’t hide behind a crate for five seconds until the trauma is magically healed. In the wars of 2012, many come home missing limbs that never heal at all.

One Warfighter subplot, the deteriorating marriage of protagonist “Preacher,” is a heart-wrenching  exception. When Danger Close leaves its virtual battlefield, it can depict the unique horrors of the home front with painful, intimate accuracy. These are welcome truths; according to Pentagon statistics, the military divorce rate is at its highest level in 10 years.  Unfortunately, they only bring the rest of the game’s unrealistic failings into sharper relief.

Modern Military Shooters can’t have it both ways, expiating jingoistic, war-porn fantasies with interludes of human reality. Better to admit that they are nothing more than hyperbolic fun, not so far removed from other video game fantasies — the kind with spells and swords. Players don’t mind; Black Ops 2, unapologetic about its floating numbers, future technology, and other fanciful touches, raked in $500 million on launch day alone.  Developers will keep making these lucrative shooters as long as people keep buying them. But they should stop claiming that they’re authentic.

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6 Comments on War Stories: How Medal of Honor and Others Get It Wrong

gasmaskangel

On November 16, 2012 at 8:48 pm

As a veteran I appreciate the sentiment (Iraq 2007-2008 and Afghanistan 2010-2011), and you’ve actually touched on one of the reasons I find modern warefare shooters to honestly be kind of funny, in a grim gallows humor sort of way.

It strikes me as hilarious in the same way that moral guardians claiming that video games teah people how to be effective murderers does. Operating an actual gun is about as far from it’s video game representation as an obese asmatic Tekken master is from winning an MMA chamionship. The utter disconnect between what is being depicted and reality, while still being claimed as truth is a glorious absurdity.

JawaEsteban

On November 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Seconded on gasmaskangel’s comment. As a Marine going on 14 years of service, I very much appreciated this article. I too find military shooters to be sadly amusing in a black humor fashion. CoD has about as much relevance to actual combat as GTA has to performance driving and urban renewal.

One of these days I’m going to have to get one of those magical reloading rifles that never jams and always results in a kill after a cetain number of hits. Sure would make things a lot easier than doing it the old-fashioned way. Also a crate. Really could have used one of those in 04′.

Danny Buoy

On November 19, 2012 at 3:10 am

As already stated a few times, if shooters really were realistic then people wouldn’t buy them. There have been some pretty authentic simulators in the past, but they end up falling by the wayside because – surprise surprise – they’re boring as hell.

max

On November 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

lol some shooters are realistic like arma 2, i played it for a couple of mins, found 2 ennemies around 50 meters away,tryed to shoot them, never could even hit them while they could hit me, and then went back to battlefield 3 where we dont have such a problem lol…

Daniel Acosta

On November 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Too bad ArmA III devs are in jail… we need that game ASAP.

SamuraiSeven

On November 27, 2012 at 6:33 am

I am also a veteran and agree with this. Most of the “action”in real life is training. Then when the mission comes to fruition, it is rarely a firefight. It’s usually over quickly and hopefully covertly.

I understand that the timeline is often bumped for the sake of drama but drama and authenticity rarely go hand in hand. Drama is usually purposely created (whether consciously or unconciously) and not natural in warfare.

Authentic warfare games probably wouldn’t sell very well unless they are based on different groups in different countries collaborating. That’s the only way to stay in the action for long.