Trig­ger ger Happy

Steven Poole oole on why games are get­ting war­fare’s fu­ture all wrong

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Say­ing that mod­ern war­fare is like a videogame has be­come cliché. Laser-as­sisted ri­fles, ‘smart’ bombs, Amer­i­can pi­lots in Ari­zona bunkers us­ing joy­sticks to con­trol fly­ing killer robots over AfPak – that kind of thing. But then what is the player of

Call Of Duty: Ad­vanced War­fare sup­posed to think when, at one stage of the game, she re­alises she’s ba­si­cally play­ing Frog­ger? Try­ing to cross a busy dual car­riage­way (and shoot men in the mid­dle of it) with­out be­ing flat­tened by a se­ries of sus­pi­ciously iden­ti­cal bul­let­proof buses, the player might run up the side of the road a bit, try­ing to find a pedes­trian bridge, but then her vi­sion goes all fuzzy and a com­mand to stay in the ‘mis­sion area’ is pro­jected di­rectly onto her reti­nas. So, a mur­der­ous jay­walk it must be.

If war is like a videogame, this is a videogame that is like a war that re­ally is a videogame. The war of the fu­ture, pre­dicts

Ad­vanced War­fare, will be a post­mod­ern com­pi­la­tion of his­toric game me­chan­ics. Not just your stan­dard­ised fun­fair shoot­ing gallery (now just the back­ground noise to any such game), but also Frog­ger, Jet­pac (for fu­ture sol­diers’ boost-jump ca­pa­bil­ity) and

Max Payne (for their slow-mo­tion abil­ity), not to men­tion a sar­donic dose of Heavy Rain. I mean, surely the early mo­ment in

Ad­vanced War­fare at a mil­i­tary fu­neral when the player is stand­ing in front of a cof­fin and is urged to “Press Square to pay your re­spects” is too bril­liant not to be a dev­as­tat­ing satire of the whole QTE tra­di­tion, the still-yawn­ing chasm be­tween the act of de­press­ing a plas­tic but­ton and the emo-nar­ra­tive am­bi­tions of the ‘cin­e­matic’ block­buster con­sole prod­uct.

If the war of the fu­ture is go­ing to be a videogame – and this must be true, since the de­sign­ers of Ad­vanced War­fare couldn’t shut up about how many mil­i­tary ex­perts they had con­sulted dur­ing its mak­ing – what about the war of the past? Like you, I learn most of what I know about the wars of the past from movies star­ring Brad Pitt. Re­cently I brushed

The war of the fu­ture is go­ing to con­sist of vast swarms of minia­ture armed drones the size of in­fant bum­ble­bees

up on my knowl­edge of WWII by watch­ing Fury – or, to give it the ti­tle it should have had, Brad Pitt In A Tank. It turns out Brad Pitt’s war might have gone bet­ter for him if he had played a few videogames. (Spoil­ers follow un­til the end of this para­graph.) At the cli­max of the film, Brad Pitt has de­cided, for no very good rea­son, to fight a large company of Nazis us­ing only his tank and the crew­mates thereof. When the tank’s main ammo runs out, Brad Pitt climbs up out of his hatch to man the .50-cal­i­bre ma­chine gun mounted atop the ve­hi­cle. Im­prob­a­bly to any FPS afi­cionado, no Nazi sol­dier thinks of try­ing to get around to the rear of the tank to shoot Brad Pitt in the back. But at length, he does get taken down by a glinty-eyed Nazi sniper in a ghillie suit. Poor Brad Pitt: any videogame player could have told him that you should never spend too long on a tur­ret.

Re­veal­ingly, the most thrilling shots in Brad Pitt In A Tank show a top-down view of a tank bat­tle, as the lum­ber­ing ma­chines cir­cle on their tracks, swiv­el­ling their tur­rets to try to tar­get each other in a kind of fran­tic slow­ness. In other words, the film’s aes­thetic peak most re­sem­bles a hi-res up­date of a 1970s Atari 2600 tank game, Com­bat. Is it just a psy­cho­log­i­cal truth about a gen­er­a­tion who grew up play­ing videogames that they can­not see such a thing with­out be­ing re­minded of an old con­sole clas­sic? Per­haps, but in this case the ref­er­ence was very pos­si­bly de­lib­er­ate on the di­rec­tor’s part: after all, a flat, pla­nar, es­sen­tially twodi­men­sional view­point is some­thing that most peo­ple au­to­mat­i­cally as­so­ciate with videogames even if they have never been in the habit of play­ing them.

Of course, what the war of the fu­ture is re­ally go­ing to be like has not yet been por­trayed in any visual medium. The mak­ers of Ad­vanced War­fare are prob­a­bly at least right to think that Kevin Spacey will wear a weirdly re­al­is­tic but slightly too stiff rub­ber mask of his own face in the fu­ture. But oth­er­wise they are wrong: the war of the fu­ture is go­ing to con­sist of vast swarms of minia­ture armed drones the size of in­fant bum­ble­bees. In this fu­ture, there is no room for hu­man sol­diers or clumsy tank-like ma­chin­ery on the bat­tle­field. It will just look like a weaponised ver­sion of the Bib­li­cal swarm of lo­cust: a cloud that eats ev­ery­thing it passes over. That’s not very tele­genic or lu­do­genic. In which case, Ac­tivi­sion and its ilk might have to come up with some new ideas for elec­tronic en­ter­tain­ment. So the fu­ture, after all, might not be to­tally bad.

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