Soldiers And Video Games: 'Heroes In A Frontline Combat Context Do Not Exist'

Every now and then a soldier will write about the obvious differences between war, and the portrayal of war in video games. This article is almost like that, but the brutal honesty, the matter of fact way in which war is depicted, is unnerving. According to ex-soldier 'W' "[h]eroes in a frontline combat context do not exist".

This section is particularly eye-opening.

Here is a real scenario that should be put into a game:

A friend of mine came under fire inside a compound. He followed up the shooter, who disappeared into an escape tunnel. My friend followed standard procedure and threw a grenade into the tunnel entrance before following up. When entering the tunnel, he found only the bodies of a woman and a small child, whom the terrorist had used to cover his escape.

When I spoke about it to my friend years later, he recalled how pissed he was at losing the insurgent, and how bad he felt afterwards about it. He’d had his professional pride tarnished. I asked him if he ever thought about the woman and her kid and he just looked at me blankly.

He didn’t even remember they were there.

This article is an absolute must read.

Call of Apathy: Violent Young Men and Our Place in War [Medium Difficulty]


    It would be interesting to play a shooter where you start out as an idealist, but as the story goes on, he starts to lose his humanity.
    But I don't think anyone would want to play a true war simulator, which is why that Fallujah game failed. We all know deep down Call of Duty and Medal of Honour are nothing like reality, and that's the way we'd want to keep them.

      Which is also why the argument against violent video games is mostly rubbish...these games are very much fantasy and unlike real violence/war/etc

        I think the argument is more that violent games like this are fantasy. They desensitize/trivialize something that maybe we shouldn't.

        As a soldier they might end up that way as a coping mechanism or the like. But that's something that no game conveys

        Idk that's the way I've always taken it anyway.

        As fantasy based as they are they represent something all too real to most people. If we lived in a world where men elves and dwarves died by the sword and guns weren't used I think you'd find the fantasy setting being criticized in video games because it too closely resembled the real world even if the mechanics and the like were 100% unrealistic

      The thing about that is that to make it realistic, you'd have to miss most of the time to account for being a goddamn terrified soldier. If somebody actually did go out there enough to try and make such a game, the general populous just isn't going to get past that mechanic.

    A riveting read that cuts to the chase. It needs no elaboration -least of all from us - to show how far story telling has to go in the game medium before it can ever brooch those subjects even slightly meaningfully.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I don't play real-world FPS games (at least not the ones set in real wars that is). I think they're mostly just about reinforcing the ego's of young men who think they are invincible bad-asses. You meet them all the time, the dude who will talk for 3 hours about the SAS and believes one SAS soldier could beat anything else in the world be it ninja or someone standing 10ft away with a rocket launcher (nah man he'd dive into the bushes and circle round behind that [email protected]) but secretly recon they'd stand a chance against one themselves. These are the people for whom "chk-chk-booom!" is a normal phrase used daily if not hourly.
    Most of these kids have fairly comfortable lives and wouldn't know a thing about even the tamest of worldly horrors. I'm glad I read this, it shows that even if the army is full of nutters at least some of them realize it.

    COD is the cheesy 80's action movie for the interactive generation. Nothing wrong with that. Its also extremely popular with real life soldiers. Im not a soldier so I dont have the reason why, but my guess would be pure escapism like most of us. Only the unbalanced and children would ever dream of thinking a game is an accurate portrayal of one of the worlds most difficult jobs.

    This is why I personally don't respect soldiers.

    The only time I will (and do) respect soldiers is when they have been conscripted or joined the army to genuinely defend their country in desperate times i.e. WWI and WWII. Professional soldiers HAVE to be ok with the idea of killing someone - which is something that most people in society would not be ok with doing.

      Keep in mind that this is only one mans opinion. To say you only respect conscripts is a little harsh. Many join the military because of education, lack of real world options, and yes, even pride in ones country. Soldiers are just like the rest of us, they arent superhumans. There will be nice people, dicks and a few sociopaths, just like any major city.

      How was Australia threatened in WW1? It wasn't, so I guess you don't respect the WW1 Australian soldiers. Australia wasn't threatened in Korea either, so there goes any respect for the soldiers that helped defend South Korea.

        Not Australia directly, but remember we still had very strong ties to Enlgand and it was expected that Australians would fight on England's behalf. At the time Australians still felt very strongly connected to the British Empire.

        Plus those wars were 'full scale' wars where either side was fully prepared - political wars. The current wars are not traditional wars. America did not declare war on the countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, they just invaded. They are fighting disorganised guerilla 'soldiers' who die by the hundreds fighting for what they think is right - defending their country from invaders.

        When an entire country mobilises for war such as with the Korean War, then the defenders going to war is justified. I guess what I mean to say is I don't respect how our soldiers are being used in these current 'wars'.

        I'm about to say something pretty controversial here:

        I actually don't have much respect for the WW1 soldiers. They were easily lured by jingoistic nonsense and the opportunity to kill a bunch of people of a different skin colour. They weren't defending the rights of some poor repressed people or defending our interests in the slightest. You can't even describe it as real patriotism. The reason why I observe a moments silence on the 11/11 is not out of respect, but to reflect on what war can do to those who underestimate it.

          I agree with you somewhat. A lot of the Australian WWI soldiers did join for the adventure and excitement of travelling and bonding with their mates but I don't think many of them knew what to expect in combat and did not go purely to shoot at people.

          Imagine if you were born during that time period where globalisation was only just developing. You most likely would never have travelled overseas and lived in the same area your whole life isolated from the rest of the world. The idea of free travel to an exotic land with your mates on an adventure would almost have seemed like a blessing. A chance to get away from their stagnant lives and see the world. Plus you would feel proud serving your newly independent country etc. and the age of imperialism and power was still 'in' and it wasn't uncommon for countries to mobilise their populations against each other. The realities of war, ESPECIALLY trench warfare, were unknown to most of the participants prior to the outbreak of WWI.

          But people nowadays, unlike those men, know what to expect in war. Most people are not ignorant to the realities of war since we are able to see real footage from war zones - dead bodies and all. Plus we have seen the death and destruction caused by previous wars to know better.

          Bottom line is if you join an army to serve on the front line, you KNOW and ACCEPT that you have to kill people. It's a very different situation for people who were conscripted or didn't know better during their time in history.

          But yes wars are horrible and I don't think we should encourage them by revering soldiers and portraying armed forces as heroic defenders of nations unless the 'defence force' is truly defending from an enemy invasion onto the defender's soil.

            I agree about the hero worship. Sometimes it gets taken too far. But the idea that the military should be used purely to protect our territorial sovereignty is fantasy. War is politics, always has and always will be. Thats not to say the military is always put to good use (Vietnam and Iraq for instance).

            The point is someone has to do it. You should respect them because as long as they do their jobs well, conscription wont be necessary, which means you can sit at home and not fight.

            Well that and they understand that they're being trained to kill people, even if they don't like it. They are also there looking out for their mates and stepping infront of bullets, which takes more than a little courage.

            Saying you don't respect soliders these days because they know they might need to kill someone is simply pathetic.

          One problem with everything you just said and Oui Wii nailed it perfectly.

          You're looking at those who signed up for WW1 through the eyes of a person in today's society. There was no internet or TV or anything of the sort to properly convey what war was like back then. It wasn't a case of they should've known better, it was a case of they couldn't have known better.

          One question though, how often have you voiced this opinion of yours in public?

            Still waiting on your answer as to whether or not you've voiced that opinion in public...

      That's okay OW.

      Soldiers continue with their lives without your respect, likely never sparing a thought for you.

      They have better things to do. :)

    Did he not remember because it messed him up or something?

      That's the sort of thing you blank out. Probably unconsciously too.

      That's one of the ways the psyche deals with traumatic events.

      Never mind. I just decided to read the whole article and I get it now. Scary shit. Lost a little more faith in humanity. If I killed... *anybody* I would be scarred for life. I probably wouldn't be able to handle it. If it was a child... my god.

    Mark Donaldson deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire so that casualties could be evacuated. When they subsequently realised that an Afghan interpreter had been left behind, he crossed 80m of fire swept ground to go and pick him up and carry him back. That sounds fairly heroic to me.

    The british merc who wrote the article is of course entitled to his opinion, but his service doesn't mean we have to agree with him.

      Agreed. He deserves praise for bringing to light a part of the culture we rarely get to see, but thats all it is in my opinion, a part.

    I don't think you could judge the bloke based on that - He might have just not wanted to remember. I mean, there's been plenty of cases where traumatised victims aren't even able to remember what actually happened - Though the pain of the experience is still there. I believe the term is "Repressed Memory" or "Motivated Forgetting". But don't take it at my word, apparently it's highly controversial - Just saying... Keep an open mind?

    Good article but I don't really see this is being hugely groundbreaking.

    They're video games. They're not realistic. If they were realistic, no one would play them. They're an enjoyable commodity.

      I believe the problem the article points out is that the games in question CLAIM to be realistic, at least implicitly.

      And yet they aren't realistic. They show the "popular" idea of "realistic" war. Not ACTUAL realistic war.

      As you correctly point out, realistic war would not be fun, because war is not fun! The problem is that the games deceptively represent themselves as realistic, when they are not.

    This is similar to the censored-if-specified chapters like 'No Russian' from the Modern Warfare games. It really makes you stop for a second and forget that you are playing a game.


      I played WM2 on the launch day. I heard about the no russian level, but to be honest it still didn't prepare me. I forgot I was playing a video game at that point, was a little bit of a shock. To think parents buy these f**king games for their kids!? I only shot the security guards, no wonder they shot me at the end, they knew I was fake xD (I know its scripted to happen anyway)

        Why did you only shoot the security guards? are they somehow different to 'real' people? answer - NO.

        Sorry and this isnt to troll your opinion but why not skip the level (you CHOOSE not to remember) or play the level as intended and kill everyone?

        ITS a VIDEO GAME, do you somehow feel that because the characters look like humans its wrong to shoot at them sometimes but not others? because you shoot at humans throughout that whole game not just this level. its not wrong to shoot at the people in this level, your not comitting any crimes or moral wrongdoings, if you did it in real life however id want you hunted down and tourtured a thousand times worse then you would deserve.

    Corporal Roberts-Smith comes across as a frontline hero. It's hard to doubt what he has done. I've heard of a lot of other small acts of heroism as well - whether it be in Vietnam, Korea or Afghanistan.

    I'm sorry but frontline heroes do exist. I don't think anyone has really been under the illusion that it is a common occurrence though.

    arrogant, heartless people in don't say

    Has this guy played Battlefield Bad Company? It might be more his style...

    Yeah.... One soldier says so and suddenly we should completely disregard every notion that a soldier can be noble. Just like how every insurgent out there is an evil terrorist out to destroy civilised society.

    No frontline fighter has ever saved a child or mother, no sir, because it's never reported so it never happens, and he doesn't have any mates who'll be mentioning that to the news, I mean, what sort of news is that? A soldier saving a life! How dare he! He should be taking them.

      "Just like how every insurgent out there is an evil terrorist out to destroy civilised society."

      Stereotyping anyone who is involved in armed conflict is stupid. But this, especially this. The "bad guys" are not always entirely comprised of bad guys and it's terrible how often people forget that.

      Best example I know of personally is my grandfather. He fought for Germany in WW2. Tell people that and they go a bit funny...but when I add the following; "I use the term "fought" loosely" as he was Romanian and conscripted at age 16 by gunpoint and given the choice of fighting for Germany or watching his family be shot." and things change.

      People often forget that ALL sides have terrible people and ALL sides have innocent people.

    I call BS on this article.
    An unnamed soldier from a PMC? Yeah seems legit.

    Anyway, if we DO accept it as genuine, it only really reinforces the idea that PMC contractors are dicks at best and psychopaths at worst.

    And video games don't reflect the harsh realities of warfare? Well duh.

    A really great article.
    A very close friend of mine's little brother has been to Afghanistan and Iraq and I knew him before and after he enlisted. After his last tour of duty he had the "thousand yard stare", with not a shadow of the fun-loving kid he used to be left in him.
    There are many reasons why someone will want to join the army - he grew up on a farm and was always a crack shot with the rifle, and so it seemed like a logical career for him.
    But the thousand yard stare is there for life, and he's only 21. I don't really have a point to my post here, but the article really resonated with me because I know someone who may have accidentally killed a woman and her child, and being at war has seriously f**ked him up.

    From what I understand, having lived/worked near an army base and spoken with plenty of military personnel here and there, when a soldier leaves the military to work for a PMC that's usually a good indicator of what kind of soldier/person they are. There's rarely a positive connotation attached.

    There are assholes in every field.

    A great piece.

    Yes, there are some truly idealistic members of the military (let's say they have a big case of Captain America Syndrome), who're basically in love with that heroic romanticized image that we see in far too many action films.

    But professional combat troops, or the majority of them at least, are scarcely anything like the idealized image we have in most mainstream entertainment.

    Sometimes, a dose of cold harsh reality is a good thing.

    We should remember that culturally, War Is Hell narratives surged after Vietnam; Conscription showed a hell of a lot of normal people the horrors of combat.

    With the Cold War over our heads and the threat of M.A.D., the possibility of war was rarely glorified.

    As these memories faded from our consciousness, war became an easier thing to swallow.

    And of course, we get things like Gears of War and Band of Brothers... which, whilst not exactly showing war as NICE, do seem to portray the whole macho-warrior-bromantic-bonding as very much a "positive consequence" of war.

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