by, 02 May 12 at 03:12 (4952 Views)
"My fellow countrymen. When you hear these words, the beginning of the fifth meeting between the United States and Russia in the Olympic War Games will be just minutes away." - The Survivor, by Walter F. Moudy
I crouch in the basement of an abandoned building, my heart thumping away in my chest like some out of control metronome. Knowing that death is lurking in every room, hallway, and shadowy corner, I fear to take my eyes from the red dot sight on my combat rifle for even a moment. It would only take second of distraction, truly less than that, for my part in this game to come to a quick and brutal end.
Realizing that inaction could be as lethal as action, I prod myself forward, up and out of the basement and into a long room, one trashed by the calamity of violence that had descended upon this city like a cloud of despair. All seems quiet. I slowly creep forward in a crouch, quietly crunching the detritus of sudden abandonment beneath my combat boots like the fragments of a discarded beer bottle in a seedy back alley. My eyes never leave the long axis of my weapon for even a second as I carefully move into the unknown. As painful as it is, I need to always stay in motion so as not to make an easy target of myself.
Every now and then a shot sounds, but never nearby. Just where is always hard to say. What was that old saying about never firing a weapon twice? Like a flash bulb going off, the sound of gunfire fades as quickly as it startles, leaving nothing but the empty, whistling wind in its place.
I compel myself forward, eventually coming to a hole blown in the far wall. I sit there for a bit and just listen, for what I am not sure. The shuffle of boots? A magazine being snapped into place? Something. But I hear nothing. So I quietly enter the wall's orifice and emerge out the other side like from some obscene birthing process involving kevlar, gunpowder and malice.
The sun is brighter than it has any right to be on such a day like this. With annoyance, I quickly shield my eyes with my left hand that was bracing the barrel of my weapon. And then the realization of what I had done hits me. My left hand quickly returns to the weapon. Squinting, I push forward randomly. To a hill of rubble. Then amidst some abandoned cars contemptuously overturned by malignant overpressure. Nothing. No movement. No...body. Just the metallic tinkle of grit blown against machined steel. I sit there for a bit, not sure of where to go. Stay in the open? Head indoors again? Danger has become Heisenberg principle, and I have become Schrodinger's cat.
Boots. Running. A crack of a shot.
Another shot. From my left. Other side of the the car that I am sheltering behind.
Flight or fight kicks in, and suddenly I am breathless. I slowly inch around the front fender of the car. More shots and some tracers racing from left to right. A soldier running flat out, oblivious to my presence. Running right across my line of sight.
In a moment of clarity I understand that it is him or me. If not now, certainly later. And I hate him for that realization. For making me choose.
The target runs closer, and I take aim at a point of intersection between my weapon's barrel and his expected path two seconds hence. A lifetime.
My finger lightly on the trigger; my breath held. A fleeting sense of anticipatory boredom. The crack of three rounds leaving my weapon; the tinkle of brass casings hitting the ground. A crumpled rag doll a few paces to my front. Somehow, it seems a non sequitur.
Things become quiet again. I wait for my fallen target's previous foe, but...no. Scared off like a lone wolf, no doubt now looking for easier prey. Perhaps we'll meet later.
Without a second look at the crumbled form in front of me, I move off in search of danger. The game continues....
...And that pretty much sums up the opening moments of a recent "Hardcore Free-for-All Deathmatch" experience I had in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Seeing how I found myself in a game where four of the other five participants seriously outranked me by 20 or more levels, I didn't give myself a chance in heck of doing well. And I didn't - placed last with four kills - but I did have a memorable experience. Here are some brag clips :
I still have the scars from that darn car blowing up in my face.
I really have to hand it to Activision/Infinity Ward/Sledgehammer Games, they still know how to make a blockbuster of a game. I am really enjoying my time with CoD:MW3. Much more than I thought I would, in fact. After experiencing the large, impersonal battlefields in Battlefield: Bad Company 2, I am getting a kick out of the much more intimate MP battles of this game. Sure, when it comes to recreating WAR writ large, nothing can beat Dice's magnum opus. But if you are interested in something a bit different, something based on spec ops and small unit actions (a distinction that I believe a lot of CoD haters miss), MW3 nicely fits the bill.
Sure, it is easy to hate Activision and CoD - it is a mega-billion dollar franchise after all, and that never sits well with the "OWS" crowd that seems to occupy a big percentage of the internet, too. And it is true that Activision never seems to properly patch their mega-hit. For example, Black Ops suffered from a game killing "stat reset" bug that was never patched on the PC to my knowledge. Even here I noticed some odd errors, such as a subway poster that seemed to be inlaid into the tile rather than on top of it. There are also some UI oddities in MW3 that a proper PC publisher would never allow. So there is good cause for anger at a dev that publishes and runs. And then expects you to shell out more cash for DLC. And more again for a CoD spin-off. And again for a new CoD (no wonder why we have this 'blackout' campaign. Reminds me of Eve Online's recent troubles)! Regardless, the game is an example of master craftsmanship in the art of game design. I am even finding the graphics to be quite nice - just check out that screenshot up top. That is on medium-low. And it runs as smooth as silk. Some like to attack on CoD's aging engine, but...really? I think Activision has wisely chosen nice graphics with great performance on aging consoles.
There is something else that is catching my interest with MW3. Just as Starcraft II's e-sports focused multiplayer reminded me of William F. Wu's prophetic On the Shadow of the Phosphor Screen, MW3's MP gameplay has reminded me of another notable science fiction short story called The Survivor, by Walter F. Moudy. Long before The Hunger Games, this 1965 story told the tale of one soldier's participation in the brutal "War Game Olympics" that were created so as to avoid another US - USSR war like the one that devastated the globe in 1998 (I must have been asleep ). Instead of another world war, every four years the two nations would send their best 100 soldiers - comprised of eight 10-man squads armed with rifles and grenades, one light machine gun squad, and one mortar squad - to battle it out on live television in a specially created, symmetrically perfect stadium. The nation of the last man (men?) standing wins billions in "reparations". Interesting premise, right? It certainly is a darkly entertaining story.
The war game is presented with all the color and commentary of a football game. Example:Of course, no good "sporting event" would be complete without an instant reply (much like my brag clips above ):"This could be it!" Bill Carr's booming voice exploded from the screen like a shot. "This could be the first skirmish, ladies and gentlemen. John, how does it look to you?"
"Yes, Bill, it looks like we could get our first action in the east-central sector. Quite a surprise, too, Bill. A lot of experts felt that the American team would concentrate its initial push on control of the central hill. Instead, the strategy appears to be - at least it appears from here - to concede the central hill to the Russian team but to make them pay for it. You can't see it on your screens right now, ladies and gentlemen, but the American mortar squad is now positioned on the north slope of the north hill and is now ready to fire."
His words were interrupted by the first chilling chatter of the American light machine gun. Tracer bullets etched their brilliant way through the morning air to seek and find human flesh. Four mortar rounds, fired in rapid succession, arched over the low hill and came screaming a tale of death and destruction. The rifle squad opened with compelling accuracy. The Russian line halted, faulted, reformed, and charged up the central hill. Three men made it to the sheltering rocks on the hill's upper slope. The squad captain and six enlisted men lay dead or dying on the lower slopes. As quickly as it had begun the firing ended.
"How about that!" Bill Carr exclaimed. "First blood for the American team. What a fantastic beginning to these 2050 war games, ladies and gentlemen. John, how about that?"
"Right, Bill. Beautifully done. Brilliantly conceived and executed with marvelous precision. An almost unbelievable maneuver by the American team that obviously caught the Russians completely off guard. Did you get the casualty figures for that first skirmish, Bill?"
As you can probably tell from these two passages, The Survivor is a dark tale that is more than a bit revolting by how it treats the carnage as entertainment. Nonetheless, one has to stop and wonder if it is that far off the mark from contemporary gaming reality. Granted, there is a big - HUGE! - difference between watching real men die in combat as a form of entertainment, and gunning down simulated men in a video game. Still, I am reminded of Emanuel Lasker's quote about the bloodless conflict of chess boiling down to "what human nature most delights in - a fight." I think that is the point Moudy was making with his short story. For whatever reason, war, "a fight" in the words of Lasker, is a fatal attraction for mankind. And if we can no longer do it for real, or, if we no longer need to do it for real, we will then simulate it for the purposes of entertainment just because it is who we are: fighters.Colonel Bullock spoke: "Bill, I want you to notice that man there - over there on the right hand side of the screen. Can we have a close-up on that? That's a runner, Bill."
He broke of when the runner to whom the colonel referred stumbled and fell.
"Wait a minute, folks. He's hit! He's down! The runner has been shot. You saw it here, folks. Brilliant camera work. Simply great. John, how about that?"
"Simply tremendous, Bill. A really great shot. Ed, can we back the cameras up and show the folks that action again? Here it is in slow motion, folks. Now you see him (who is that, Colonel? Ted Krogan? Thank you, Colonel) here he is, folks, Private Ted Krogan from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here he is coming around the last clump of bushes - now watch this, folks - he gets about half way across the clearing - and there it is, folks, you can actually see the bullet strike his throat - a direct hit. Watch this camera close up of his face, you'll watch him die right in front of your eyes. And there he goes - he rolls over and not a move. He was dead before he hit the ground. Bill, did any of our cameras catch where that shot came from?"
"Yes, John, the Russians have slipped a two man sniper team in on our left flank. This could be serious, John. I don't think our boys know the runner was hit."
The Survivor even addresses this point, albeit superficially and cynically:
However, by the end of the story - something I'll leave you to discover on your own - it becomes clear that Moudy believes there to be no redeeming quality to violence, whatever the supposed noble purpose....a mousy little man from the sociology department of a second rate university had spent ten minutes assuring the TV audience that one of the important psychological effects of the TV coverage of the games was that it allowed the people to satisfy the innate blood lust vicariously and strongly the viewers to encourage the youngsters to watch....
Does Call of Duty and/or other shooters represent some sort of militarization of society, as some contend (rather poorly, I would add)? I personally don't think so, especially when most Western nations have shrinking armed forces and a populace increasingly intolerant of any form of military activity, no matter how low intensity it might be (see: Afghanistan). Rather, I believe Lasker had it right. We delight in competition, and what is warfare but extravagant competition? And if that is so, shooters are merely extravagant competitions from the safety of our dens. Here's a thought: perhaps shooters are the ultimate indication not of the militarization of society, but of the demilitarization of society? In other words, our entertainment might seem violent only because our world has become uncharacteristically non-violent. What say you?
Regardless, one thing is clear: Moudy might have lived before the era of video games, but The Survivor suggests to me that he certainly would have understood the popularity of the shooter genre.
If you would like to read The Survivor, you can do so here: http://like-the-hunger-games.blogspo...-survivor.html