Power Up

Broken Pencil - - Table Of Contents - by Al Donato

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.

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