WELCOME TO WAR. Do you want to take an early lunch?
This is one of many brutally mundane choices facing you in Real Army Simulator, a point-and-click game based on developer Yifat Shaik’s mandatory enlistment in the Israeli army.
Shaik’s playable bureaucracy is deliberately drab, devoid of glorified warfare descriptors. There are no drill sergeants inspiring you to dedicate your life to service, or any moments of close ranked camaraderie with fellow soldiers. Your character is a blonde woman lacking any standout features or a tragic backstory: she lives with her parents, her commute takes over two hours and she marches from single-toned scene to scene as you click through her options — none of which are exciting, and some which only marginally improve your situation.
As a pre-release game, the latest update contains three episodes: routine, guard duty, and commute. Within each, the narrative presents your faceless emissary with a scenario and vague background characters loafing around, all punctuating the same point: how you spend your military service doesn’t matter. Your work is mindless and you’re not saving anyone. The banality of your service is also apparent in paltry selection of choices. Desertion or outright disobedience are never presented to the player. The closest you can get to defiance is making backtalk while shining your shoes, or mildly objecting to getting a heavy gun (that stays in its holster). It’s even in how you move: your character’s movements are limited to marching from one scene to the next.
The most exhilarating part of the game happens in the guard duty episode, where you are exhausted on night patrol and trying to nap in the bushes off-route. You try to do so with your equally tired partner, as you both try to hide from a soldier who might report your actions.
Shaik’s realistic wartime satire exchanges nerve-wracking fear of foes for never-ending power struggles with superiors. Several choices pit the player against ass-kissing tactics or no-frills compliance to a direct order, often teasing at an outcome before you even choose it.
The realism also subverts how women in war fiction are usually impossibly tough badasses who “aren’t like most girls,” whatever that means. The player is sleep-deprived, wearing an unwashed uniform, and spits on her shoes to keep them clean. The women soldiers in Shaik’s game are just as bored as she is, keen on switching patrol shifts to hang with their friends, or sneak off patrol to watch cartoons.
Taking away what is impulsively fun about a typical military game — a gamut of guns, bloody battles, and platoon formation strategies — exposes the countless cogs and gears keeping the institution running. As army slang goes, “embracing the suck” as just another cog is the true terror of this simulator. Try it at realarmysimulator.com.