NYT is realizing
March 22, 2002 6:30 PM   Subscribe

NYT is realizing that computer games can be relevent, and not just a silly fad that only kids and the uneducated can enjoy. In this review (albeit very belated), Thursday's 'Circuits' section reviews both Operation Flashpoint, the widely acclaimed, disturbingly realistic combat simulation, and Halo, the shooter du jour on the XBox.
posted by GriffX (9 comments total)
For the first few missions, before you were put into command and the realism seemed to dip into 'commando' territory, the game really gave a feeling of a depth of war. 30 of your men rushing to a town in a valley, only to be pushed back into a retreat by tanks. I don't think it'd change someone's attitude about war, but maybe their perception on how it's fought.
posted by geoff. at 6:55 PM on March 22, 2002


War is an unimaginable horror which dehumanizes those unfortunate enough to see it!
You have not seen it on TV! Not through pictures. I haven't either. But here's what I've read:
Bullets can kill you instantly if they hit your head. Bullets will kill you within seconds if they hit your hear, minutes if they hit your femoral artery. Takes a few minutes anywhere else sensitive. Hours in the liver. A bullet probably hurts more than anything you've ever experienced, when you factor in the sheer anxiety factor.

Bullets are weird anyway. You normally think of a gunshot as a big *bang* and then a little spark when it hits something. Maybe you just think of the bang. Imagine being where the bullets go. Today's weapons propel bullets fast enough that you see them before you hear them. It is a difference of a millisecond or two, but probably quite frightening. Bullets aren't huge, but you can see them. A weird trail of sorts. And they whistle and buzz when they pass you by - the bang noise is really less noticeable, I've read. Larger munitions make more a ripping noise. Shells fired can sound like the world is tearing apart. They are *really fast* moving pieces of metal that will go straight through you. They are scary. Sometimes they are small, sometimes big, sometimes the tips are hollow so they bore through you/get stuck in you. They can hit any part of your body, from your head to your hand to your hip to your knee to your eyes and ears to your ribs and stomach.

Most munitions are not fired at the enemy but above them. Something like 90% of bullets fired in Vietnam were not aimed at anyone. Combat is mostly boredom, waiting, anxiety and, when things happen, posturing, on both sides. Yes, and complete confusion.

Killing other people is incredibly hard. It is only really possible when you are absolutely convinced that the enemy will kill you, and when their backs are turned. The people who headed the Manhatten project cried when they were done, before a single bomb was dropped. What do you think it's like to have killed someone before your eyes? And they don't go away: I'd imagine they just crumple in a mass and twitch and moan and bleed for a long time.

As has already happened, your own forces can and will kill you. This happened just recently. The DoD basically lied about it (Garth Brooks CD and American chewing tobacco in wreckage? hmm)

Poor, poor bastards. The only difference between the people fighting and me is that I'd pussy out before I got off the plane.
posted by Settle at 7:11 PM on March 22, 2002

geoff - that's what I took from that review, actually - that it's fun to fight a war game where you know what's going on and everything is clearly structured and understandable as you 'fight', but that in the best parts of Flashpoint, you really get an idea of the confusion and the sense of futility of war. Anyhow, that's what I got out of the game, and I was glad to see a journalist from a major newspaper getting it as well; hence my post.

PS - I never, ever want to be in combat, which is why games like Operation Flashpoint is something that I think is good. I've never been shot, and I've never shot anyone, but the way I imagine it is not like having a little hole made through your body; rather like having a giant hole-puncher (the paper kind) swoop down and punch a hole through you. I find war and combat fascinating, but I have zero desire to be involved in it. This will sound naive and silly, but I do think that games like Flashpoint are a positive force in that people who play them (as the NYT writer said) realize that war is usually dying in the dirt, not even having seen the person who shot you.

Quake - Operation Flashpoint = A gamer who doesn't ever want to go to war.
posted by GriffX at 7:22 PM on March 22, 2002

Settle -- cite?

I've always preferred the more realistic FPS -- though I haven't played Flashpoint. I quickly became a fan of Team Fortress back when it was still built on Quake, because DeathMatch seemed silly (and I sucked at it to boot). It's very hard to get the sense of a good clan match in a pick-up game, but when it did happen you could really get the sense of how even minimal teamwork could make short work of the enemy. The guys who did Marine Doom, first a lark, later adopted as official training (e.g. shipboard), understood that the key skills to emphasize weren't mastering complex mouse-keyboard macros in order to jump off the stairway, spin 270, and target the sniper before you hit the ground, but small-unit coordination and basic tactics like cover fire, building entry scenarios, rules of engagement, and communication, communication, communication. The goal is to use the game to develop those battlefield skills that it's harder to work on, that in many ways get lost in the shuffle of weapons training or policy.

The analogy might be to professional flight simulators. Pilots shouldn't need the sim in order to know how to fly the plane -- they need it in order to have unusual, unpredictable scenarios thrown at them so that they can learn to coolly react and bring their training to bear on the problem.

In that respect, it's unsurprising that chess and go and other abstract games developed out of the art of generalcy. A visceral simulation wasn't available, of course, but then you don't want realism when you're trying to think of the battlefield problem -- you want to develop your ability to think in terms of resources with different capabilities selectively brought to bear on the threats at hand.
posted by dhartung at 1:03 AM on March 23, 2002

In that respect, it's unsurprising that chess and go and other abstract games developed out of the art of generalcy. A visceral simulation wasn't available, of course, but then you don't want realism when you're trying to think of the battlefield problem -- you want to develop your ability to think in terms of resources with different capabilities selectively brought to bear on the threats at hand.

Breeding athletes instead of thinkers. Need to know basis. Survival at all costs to self in interest of the mission at hand.
posted by crasspastor at 1:28 AM on March 23, 2002

I have Flashpoint and I highly recommed it to anyone.
A few mission into the game you get caught out in the woods, alone with no reinforcements and limited ammo.
It's scary as heck trying to find your way to an extraction point, especially since the battlefield situation is fluid and you have to change your plans to adapt to new situations.
Most likely, you won't even know who shot you until the camera pans back to show you that soldier hidden in the bushes 100 meters away.
Aside from this game and the paintball field, this is as close to real combat as I ever want to get.
posted by black8 at 1:52 AM on March 23, 2002

Some interesting points I've discovered: Flashpoint is from Bohemia Interactive Studios, which is a Czech software company. Also, while not all details are yet clear, they recently announced an expansion pack or mod for the game called Independence Lost, which may even appeal to liberals -- it's a fight, you see, for East Timor's freedom, with native resistance and Australian infantry. Not clear whether this is also set in 1985, or whether it's Indonesia alone or a fictional Soviet-backed Indonesia from the Cold War. Talk about bridging your cultural gaps....
posted by dhartung at 2:04 AM on March 23, 2002

You can hardly say that the NYT "just discovered" games. They've had the Game Theory column almost every week for years now.
posted by Ptrin at 8:07 AM on March 23, 2002

A: there are plenty of realism mods for Q3a. I play True Combat. That doesn't even give you crosshairs.
B: I've not played Halo but I have enjoyed some of the vids that people make. I like warthog jump best.
posted by davidgentle at 11:22 AM on March 23, 2002

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