Toby wonders why more games don't force you to follow the rules of war.
By Toby McCasker on April 10, 2013 at 10:39 am
If FPS games have taught me anything, it’s that you always shoot first, shoot some more, and then keep shooting until everyone and everything has been shot. We expect that from games like this. We have for years and years now. Occasionally there will be the option to not shoot; to approach your target(s) in a more considered or subtle way. It’s always a clear and present line between force and subterfuge, maybe diplomacy too.
The choice is yours, so make it quickly before someone notices you and we default to shooting first, shooting some more and continually shooting until everyone and everything has been shot.
I was shocked to realise that this isn’t the way the world actually works during wartime. Sure it makes practical sense. You can’t just have soldiers going off full-cocked, and cocking hammers and… I’m just trying to use the word “cock” as much as I can right now. Be it the impressions left by too many hours spent blowing up digital worlds and people or latent sociopathy, that was previously my conclusion: When in conflict, kill everything.
Not so. There are rules. Rules of engagement. ROE.
Today I read a curious story about a man in Vietnam. This is during the Vietnam War circa ‘71, and this US soldier is piloting his scout plane around and he sees some Commie bastids down there. Obviously he wants to shoot them up, but the ROE forbid him from doing that unless they open fire first. He does everything to bait them into it, and by “everything” I mean he keeps buzzing them at lower and lower altitudes (eventually he even puts his landing gear down) in the hopes they’ll get annoyed and swat at him with bullets. They don’t. They’re aware of the sanctions the US is operating under, crazy as they seemingly are. They show him their asses instead.
Now there’s an idea. Not the asses bit, the other bit.
I imagine a game where you are already in the throes of some uncertain conflict. Things are tense in medias res. When you spot the enemy coming up over the horizon in their ones, twos, threes, you are not able to fire. ROE. You try. You hammer a key or click the mouse to hose down the area with self-preservation but your guy quips something like, “I’ll be court-martialled. Ain’t going back to my wife” or “I’m not a monster… yet ho ho.”
No, you have to wait for the other side to open fire on you, like our friend in his plane. To do that, they have to see you or at least suspect that you’re there, crouched or prone in the bushes. When and with what kind of fury they decide to pull their own self-preservation triggers is your worst guest. Maybe they, like those bum-bearing Viet Cong, are aware of the rules you play by. Maybe they mock you, their faceygons twisting into smirks. They saunter by on their way to lunch in the belief you can’t do anything.
What about: once this initial meeting has played out in this fashion, now your grunt clicks the safety off his guns and you’re good to go if you want. No one will ever find out about your M60 accidentally discharging 10,000 rounds into the backs of these Regulars – or will they? Who’s the authority here? Who lets moral high command know you’ve broken the rules of warfare in this theatre, and what are the gameplay sanctions for doing so and being caught?
Maybe it’s your superior officer’s (“Sarge”) duty to write you up when you get back to base. Maybe he somehow doesn’t survive this rumble in the jungle. Errant 7.62x51mm, sir. Friendly fire’s a helluva drug.
For more thoughts on combat in games, why not check out this piece from yesterday?
Pictures from Air & Space Magazine.