Developers of games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3 spend millions of dollars to ensure their games are as realistic as possible. Everything from the noise of guns firing to the war-torn environments are created with meticulous care. Military experts are brought on board to ensure that details look and feel as true to life as possible.
Everyone understands that shooting games are fantasies but how close is the experience to real-life combat situations? We asked three soldiers who have served their country in dangerous war-zones.
They explain that as much as they enjoy playing games, the real-life experiences are vastly different. And while games can be very good at portraying physical environments, they aren’t even close to recreating the emotional strain of combat. Also, while games focus on the individual, real soldiers are trained to focus on the team.
One thing is certain, real life combat is much more tactical than its videogame version “Full blown-out combat is not a common thing,” says Marine Lance Corporal Nicko Requesto. “No enemy is going to stand out in the open for you to easily shoot, but most of the time enemies in these games like to stand in front of my weapon. Soldiers learn to cover each other and work as a team covering all line of fire while maintaining a dominant position and then maneuvering to pin the enemy with fire.”
Marine Lance Corporal Anthony Andrada, who has already served one term in Iraq and is currently on active reserve, adds, “The games attempt to show how realistic the war situation is, but in the end, it’s just a game and not really what war is really like. They are all more of just shoot and move type games.”
Even though these games may look and sound realistic to a degree, Andrada says, “the feeling of real danger isn’t there.” He adds, “During dangerous missions, I constantly feel uneasy and on guard at all times.” Furthermore, he says the games do not capture aspects of daily life that include the “fatigue of going out for long hours and daily stresses.” Due to the inherent limitations of the medium, Andrada believes that videogames don’t implement this sense of uneasiness because “they can’t.” He explains that games fail also to capture the highs: “Every time we enter friendly lines again it’s a world off a person’s shoulders.”
Though these games try to be realistic, most gamers don’t realize that lugging around an unrealistic amount of bullets, weapons, and gear is hard work. “Most of the time, I have a crazy amount of ammunition in these games; however, in real life, the magazines only carry up to 30 rounds,” says Requesto. “A lot of us learned about the theme of ‘one shot, one kill’ in order to save ammunition. I just waste ammo like crazy in videogames.” Also, while games feature a huge variety of guns, Andrada points out that, “most soldiers don’t even get to see those guns let alone use them, because the military only allows a few service rifles to be used.”
Due to these fundamental differences, many tactics in these shooters would “never work in real life,” states Andrada. Requesto adds, “Often in these games, I would break cover and just shoot, most of the time I just dash forward and start shooting. The cover and concealment concept is almost nowhere.”
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Brian Gonterman, who served one tour in Afghanistan, said that the enemy AI in games isn’t sophisticated enough to behave like humans and that they work based entirely on systematic rules programmed by the developers. “In a game, you know what to expect; whereas in real life, the situation changes every day and you learn by going out of the wire all the time.”
One depiction that these militaristic games often showcase is the use of small squadrons of soldiers. Often these games will feature four-man teams and even lone-wolf missions. How accurate are these portrayals?
According to Requesto, these four-man teams are common and are called ‘fire teams’. The concept of lone-wolfing it, however, is not standard procedure. “In the military, we have a thing called the buddy system….there is always team accountability and awareness. No one would ever go out to conduct any part of an operation by themselves. You take care of your buddy and your buddy is supposed to take care of you.”
Gonterman adds. “I was in a recon unit and in a sniper section. We never did one-man missions, but we would go out in two, four, or eight-man teams, then split off into smaller groups depending on how many people we had and the mission task, but I never did a one-man team for an entire mission, it was too hostile.”