The World Changing Potential Of Games Rooted In Reality

Since they have earned their place in pop culture and especially to the outsider, video games have often been conceived as being associated with the fantastic. Imaginary far-fetched worldscapes enjoyed as a newfangled distraction from our boring reality. Whilst this isn’t entirely wrong and oftentimes is the case, to simply assume this at face value would be doing a disservice to the medium. As many gamers will know, there are a plethora of titles and genres which not only dabble in reality, but go as far as to try and replicate it, stick to its truths or influence it beyond the confines of the screen.

The game that is most widely remembered as the first home video-game had humble beginnings. It was an early iteration of Pong created by Physicist William Higginbotham in 1958, which was revealed to the public at Brookhaven National Laboratory open days. In a later interview he recalled that he figured –

“It might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavours have relevance for society.”

Tennis for Two
The game Higginbotham created, he named it ‘Tennis for Two’ and’ it utilised an oscilloscope as a screen to play on.

 The origins of video-games as tools to aid proponents of the computer age is quite telling, in that it shows us, alongside being entertaining  they can be apparatus to inform and sway our opinions. We’ve come a long way from their origins in aids for computer salesmen, now games have the potential to reflect and explore much more, even to change the narrative of society itself.

I am going to look at how and why video games rooted in reality have potential world changing capabilities, as well as explore some of the ways that they have been used as tools to change reality. And most importantly why this should be something we concern ourselves with as a community.

Games As Art And Literature

Storytelling, it’s something our species have done since even before the advent of language – when we left our mark on cave walls to express ourselves, now we leave them on blogs. Like storytelling itself games have come a long way since their creation. In simpler times we had little pixelated avatars doing something for some reason but as what we could create in games advanced so did characters, worlds and the stories being told. It is clear that storytelling and video games have a symbiotic relationship, both have influenced each other, together. This is especially apparent when you look at games such as The Stanley Parable or Dream which have a heavy focus on exploration and narrative, as a way of exploring storytelling itself. Or any number of games that satirise real world events, such as the Command and Conquer; Red Alert series, which satirises the Cold War going hot.

 

ROOTED IN REALITY
A hilarious and far-fetched look at some of the awfulness that could have stemmed from the Cold War.

 

American film critic Robert Egbert is one of the most well-known voices in this old and tiresome debate and is of the view that ‘games will never be art.’ Whether or not academics or critics would argue against this mediums inclusion in these realms, doesn’t particularly matter in my eyes, it is clear to anyone who plays them and experiences them that they have artistic and literary merit. They are works that have visual and mental impacts on us, they are perfectly capable of making us feel and think. Most gamers, myself included, probably don’t really mind how their legitimacy in the world of high arts and literature is viewed by the respective gatekeepers but it does matter that they are art and literature that is developing a new narrative.

Games constantly break the fourth wall, from the tutorial guiding you to press ‘X’, to your characters commenting on your actions or inaction, such as when Sonic gets tired of waiting for you to play after a period of inactivity. They treat you as less of an audience member and more as a character, we are much more than just an audience when we game, we are an influencer, a protagonist on the stage. This is what I believe makes games powerful in the art of rhetoric and discourse, as we can relate even more to them and therefore they can sometimes be even better at influencing us than traditional literature. It is us who live through the story as the protagonist. Combining the worlds of art, literature and audience participation into one little multi-dimensional package makes them proficient at influencing us. It’s a form of storytelling that is interactive and can easily engross us as an audience, this is why it matters.

Sonic Waiting gif
Sonic growing impatient with you making him hang around, he knows you know he’s gotta go fast.

Historic And Current Events

There are historical games aplenty, for some reason nerds and geeks whom game, seem to have an obsession with these settings be they ancient or old. I am going to examine one such example as I think it best represents this fixation on historical games and the potential perils of rooting a game in reality. That example is World War Two games of which there are bloody loads.

One of the biggest triple A games of 2017 another timely timeless timed out ‘Call of Duty’ game set in WW2, showing us that love for WW2 games just won’t die, kind of like the COD franchise. But why is the historical narrative and accuracy so important? Somewhat sadly, simply put it’s because games are one of the primary ways many children and young adults will be engaging with the history presented. Whilst historical accuracy doesn’t determine whether a game is a great game or not, I feel developers and games companies owe it to society to be as accurate as possible when it comes to the historical narratives, at the very least. Where possible all sides should be put under the microscope for criticism. Allied powers committed atrocities in the war too and more often than not it is only the evil of the Nazis that is dealt with. In fact I cannot think of one game that deals with the atrocities of the allied powers and doesn’t treat them as simply righteous heroes [if you can think of one, please comment them as I’d be interested to see.]

Not to say that games should be propaganda, just that we must understand that they can inform us and if they do they should be on the right side of history and the nice side of morality. An example of propaganda in gaming that’s on the right side of history, is the controversy that ensued around the advertising campaign of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, where developers MachineGames and publishers Bethesda used the opportunity to double down on the anti-Nazi rhetoric of the game.

This ability to influence opinions becomes even more worrisome with regards to games that focus on the reality of current events and our future, they have the potential to impact the political narrative of the world. Sometimes this is owing to real world events not being done justice and misinforming those who play at best and at worst, because they are outright pushing an awful agenda.

Atomic Games, are an example of a developer which wanted to capture the truth of a contemporary historical account, yet the game they created remains unreleased. It was a game that Marines from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines of the US army wanted made, to tell of their experiences in the Second Battle of Fallujah during the Iraq War, it was named 6 Days in Fallujah and to be published by Konami. These Marines had originally been assigned to help make training tools for the US army, but after their experience in war they wanted to tell the story of what happened to them personally and approached Atomic Games. The games creation caused much controversy from war veterans and anti-war groups who claimed it to be glorifying wars and disrespecting the many casualties as well as veterans. Ultimately Konami dropped what could have been an interesting look at war through the eyes of those on the ground. A former soldier who fought in Fallujah told the LA Times of the games significance,

“Video games can communicate the intensity and the gravity of war to an audience who wouldn’t necessarily be watching the History Channel or reading about this in the classroom. In an age when everyone’s always online or playing games, peoples’ imaginations aren’t what they were, sadly. For this group, books may not convey the same level of intensity and chaos of war that a game can.”

The fact that these soldiers had originally been assigned to Atomic Games to help develop training tools for the US Army goes to show how games can be used to further awful agendas. Now even ISIS and other terrorist organisations have been utilising video games  for recruitment and training. Even modding their own version of GTA V known as Grand Theft Auto: Salil al-Sawarem (loosely translating to ‘the sound of clashing swords’, artwork for which I used as the featured picture at the top of this article.  An example on the flipside of this issue is the new game designed to train teachers how to react during a school shooting. Games as a medium have become a way to influence the world to the developers’ agenda.

Rooted in reality 3
A screenshot from the recent teacher training resource game.

Video games can be used to teach us about our contemporary world and its past, as well as warn of potential future outcomes. This coupled with the possibility that the game you’re playing is being used to influence and inform your opinion on reality, should be something that you keep in mind personally. And something I feel we should talk about more as a community and society, to explore the ways we can use this as a positive as well as how we can avoid the negatives.

Tools For What And Who?

Games that are rooted in reality can potentially change the world, their usefulness as tools can and should be much more far reaching than learning tools and propaganda.  Alongside games, those who play them should be seen as a resource, a large community of people who dedicate their time and efforts to overcoming obstacles, solving issues and puzzles to advance, often sticking at something repetitively until they crack it and succeed. As such there should be games that are designed to help solve real world problems faced by our society because gaming can make a better world if we so choose to utilise it.

Some of the questions we should be asking as a society is if games can be tools,  for what and by who are they?

I believe games should first and foremost entertain, but if they are utensils to change the world, then they must be tools for the betterment of humanity by those who wish to see social change.

Survival Games; Echoes Of Life And Its Futility

Survival games photo 1
If you stare into the abyss long enough sometimes the abyss stares back and it’s actually just a void full of unfinished early access survival games.

If there was ever an over saturated genre in the video game market, survival games would be in the running for whatever kind of award that can get you. The genres’ undying popularity has spawned great games like Rust pictured above. Of course the sheer number of fans for this game type has paved the way for large piles of early access games, some ending up in the quick quid and never finished heap but still for the most part ending up in gamers’ libraries. We just simply can’t get enough of them, it seems they give us a certain joie de vivre.

We’ve got your dinosaur taming survival games with the likes of Ark: Survival Evolved, of course naturally there is a horde of Zombie survival games such as DayZ and Just Survive, then there’s Sci-Fi survival in space with the likes of Osiris New Dawn and an underwater alien planet setting with Subnauticanot to mention the legions of bog standard potential real world dystopia versions a la HurtworldYou name it people want to survive it, kind of like life itself.

Another way in which survival games echo life, is that they’re utterly bloody futile!

A Dog Eat Dog World

The one thing that ties all these different survival scenarios together is being thrust into a hostile environment and using your wits and surrounding resources to survive. Ultimately there is no real end goal to these games beyond that, unless they’re single player with story progression. For the sake of this article, I’m going to be focusing on multiplayer, specifically player versus player rather than just the environment. This is where you can find the real echoes of life in our society and the sometimes all too easily conceivable pointlessness of it.

Sadly, for the most part the survival game community is a dog eat dog world, where people will kill you on the off chance that you might have some goodies in your inventory even though you look like a fresh spawn. Then there is those who would in fact just end your miserable existence for the thrill of the hunt, even when there’s no sport in it. But there are players who prefer to make friends in this futile existence, I am one of these players, there’s enough pain without a guilty conscience. I remember one friend gaining encounter  in a game of Just Survive;

A real life pal and I were new to the server, we had nothing but the clothes on our back and hope in our hearts. It was night and we were warily making our way into town, when in the middle of the road a creep with a torch silently beheld us. To put it simply we had no fight so we went into flight mode, to put it plainly we were cowards. So as we ran, like an excitable dog he preceded to chase us for a 5 minutes saga of humiliation, freaked out by a torch lit stranger. We took shelter in a house, so he stood at the window flashing us not saying a word. That’s when we made another break for it and bumped into a stranger kitted out with a backpack and rifle, we begged him for assistance to end our fear. Putting our trust in a stranger with a weapon rather than one with a torch. He scared off our light bearing accoster and we teamed up and to this day are still friends.

  A rare occurrence in these worlds of mistrust, what with the nagging paranoia that your supposed newfound friend is just waiting for the opportune moment to stab you in the back, learning your weaknesses and biding their time – we’d be stupid not to strike first right? It’s an infernal pattern with a ripple effect, shit on or be shat on.

In these games you have few options once you’re surviving and well equipped, try to just exist in perpetual defence for the mere sake of it, accumulate to exterminate the competition, to share in their hard work by raiding them, and taking their possessions for your own. Or try to work with people in exchange for mutual cooperation and face the risk of being so easily betrayed. 

So why do we enjoy survival games so much?

Leaving Your Mark And Making A Story

Survival article 1.jpgBase designing and building is one way you can leave your mark.

Throwing yourself into the pattern of destitution, accumulation and loss to someone or times scythe in the form of a server wipe, seems a tedious repetitive task with no end in sight. Almost as futile as cleaning your house, however it is definitely a lot more fun. It’s infinitely more enjoyable to face virtual futility than the actual consequential reality. Like life itself, for all its futility, the goal of survival is to enjoy the ride and thus give a point to it all.

Leave your mark and enjoy the process, whether that be in the form of your creations or the friends you make along the way. That’s why survival games are an important and enjoyable genre, they’re player based experiences that allows us to embrace life in all its futility.

Squad; A MilSim Masterpiece

If you’re a fan of Military simulators and haven’t played Squad yet, I implore you to check it out right away. Usually you should probably wait until you have actually started the review to say that, however Squad isn’t your usual game. I’m so convinced that you’ll be convinced, I’ve jumped the gun.

Squad is a PC game set in the modern day war environments of the Middle Eastern occupations and insurgencies, as well as the Eastern European separatist Novorossiya movement. It is a tactical first-person shooter, with a massive focus on cooperating within your squad, as part of a wider team  in up to fifty-a-side servers.

In this game communication is vital to survive the fight as well as win it and this really sets it apart from a lot of games in its field. But why else do I think you should check it out?

Community

Developed by Offworld Industries it was created in the same vein as the Project Reality mod which was well received and known for its heavy focus in the realism of gameplay as well as teamwork. Squad does its ancestors proud and has brought this focus and love for communication and cooperation into the forefront of the next generation, as well as the community who make that facet work. Starting out on Steam’s Greenlight service it received over 9,000 votes in just a day and a month later a Kickstarter which lasted a month raised CA$434,805. Although there are many other reasons why Squad is great, what truly makes a MilSim successful, is the community who love to play together and work together. Squad has cornered that market well.

Squad photo 1
The developers announcement a day after the Greenlight campaign.

Realism

Having stemmed from Project Reality which does exactly what it says on the tin, means squad is up there as one of the most realistic military simulators to date. Whilst still keeping it fair enough by allowing you to be revived and healed, its damage system is pretty unforgiving. It takes a while to cycle through heavy equipment as well as giving you realistic stamina and movement. It takes practice to get a hang of the different weapons at different ranges, but anyone who appreciates realism in military shooters will appreciate all this in Squad.

No other game has made me feel such terror and excitement at the sounds and visuals when taking and returning fire. From the realism of the crack of bullets on the ground around you to the meaty sounding explosions which kick up dust and small rocks at your feet, it feels intimidating.

One minute you can be patrolling peacefully through the beautiful forests of somewhere in Eastern Europe towards a capture point, the next you’re being mortared from out of nowhere and genuine fear grips you as you panic in the maelstrom.

Factions And Squad Member Roles

You can play as one of four factions so far, with similar squad roles except a small split along the lines of conventional and unconventional warfare found in contemporary combat zones.

Squad photo 2
The Four flags of the factions included so far.

                                                                

Squads are split into three role sections;

Command and support –

  • Squad Leader – Arguably the most busy and stressful position, but to me, ultimately the most fun and rewarding. You are in charge and responsible for co-ordinating with other squad leaders in the command voice channel, you will need to also give orders and relay information to and from your squad. As well as marking enemies and such other points of information on the map, placing ‘rally points’ (the point from which you can spawn) and approving vehicle claims (nothing to do with insurance honest). You can place forward operating bases (FOBS) and the buildings you can construct in them, every other member has a shovel to build on your orders as well as deconstructing enemy positions.
  • Medic – You are responsible for keeping your teammates fighting fit, and should probably not be doing too much fighting up front, often you’ll find yourself sticking close to your squad lead to the point of feeling like their batboy. A vital support role that can be the difference between an attack failing and succeeding.

Squad Roles –

  • Riflemen – You are the core, the main fighting force who will do the bulwark of the killing and dying, if shooting is your thing this should probably suit you best. There are a few different primary weapon and optics choices. Equipped with a grenade, smokes and sandbag emplacements as well as a shovel for building structures or taking down enemy structures. You will do the groundwork and grunt work for your squads’ success.
  • Scouts (Unconventional only) – This is another one of my favourites roles, you operate up front and sometimes behind enemy lines, gathering information for your squad and causing disruption to your enemies. You are equipped with a lesser rifle but come armed with an IED (Improvised explosive device) which you can place and set off with a remote detonation device. Along with the IED you also have an anti-tank mine, these can both destroy vehicles entirely, which is vital to unconventional factions as conventional factions hold all the best vehicles.

Fire Support Roles (Limited to 3 per squad) –

  • Machine Gunner – You will take positions to offer suppressing and supporting fire to your squad as ordered.
  • Light Anti-Tank (LAT) – You are a vital member of the team equipped as a rifleman but in place of grenades you have anti-personnel rockets as well as anti-tank rockets. Vehicles can make or break your attack or defence and must be dealt with efficiently.
  • Heavy Anti-Tank (Unconventional forces only) – Same as above except you are equipped with a heavier rocket to help take out the better armoured vehicles of the conventional forces.
  • Grenadier – Great for assaulting enemy positions when they’re taking cover, good to help your approach or stave off enemies taking cover when approaching your position.
  • Marksman – As and when required your squad leader will give you special fire missions but in general you are a more precision fire support role watching over your squad.

The roles add to the variety in game play and tactics making for a diverse play experience overall.

Squad photo 3
Squad role selection screens compared; unconventional on left and conventional on right.

Varied And Detailed Map Design

There are maps from environments in South-East Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, some are based on real regions, but all of them are stunning and great for combat in their own ways. The map designs are based around objective capture points which are well thought out and conducive to the flow of the game, they are balanced and allow for different strategies and tactics so the game Meta is wide-ranging. There are infantry based maps which are smaller scale and vehicle based maps which are vast battlefields. The amount of detail and thought that has gone into the map design really sets it apart from other shooters.

Large Scale Mobile Warfare And Base Building


There are a plethora of vehicles in Squads factions which match some of the hardware available to them in the real world, and their weapons are a pleasure to use as they really pack a punch. However driving is tricky and true to life and being effective is difficult, especially considering drivers and gunners have to communicate and work together closely whilst undertaking their separate tasks. This mobile dynamic is highly enjoyable whether in a supporting role to infantry or as a focus of your squad as a whole and it is also much needed. Some maps are so vast that without vehicle transport, you’d be running a marathon. You’ll be surprised to know that the most important vehicles on the battlefield isn’t even armed, it’s a logistics truck, the use of this vehicle can make or break your teams efforts.

Logistics trucks are vital in base building, they supply FOBs with ammunition and supplies for building the HABs (respawn areas) as well as mortars, machine gun emplacements, solid defences and ammunition for resupply.  With base building the developers have given you the ability to change the face of the map, created a staging point for attacks and a fortress for defending wherever you please.

Indeterminable Boredom Punctuated By Moments Of Terror?

I have found that this old quote regarding war rings true to some when they first play Squad.  And admittedly I can see why, if you’re on the back foot and the enemy team is just doing better altogether, it can feel more like a running to your doom simulator than a MilSim. But sometimes, communication and teamwork breaks down and you’re going to get steamrolled.

However, even when this happens I find there is fun to be had in the camaraderie of the challenging struggle to fight for a comeback. Not to mention, the landscapes are so great for jogging through it might actually have sale value as running simulator. The breath-taking vistas of the maps are done great justice by Squads graphics. So if you find this happening in your first games, just stick with it, losing is so much less boring when you can understand what’s going on and see the bigger picture. Just check out the beautiful views until you’re ready to lead. Then you can take charge and ensure you never have to play a running simulator again by always leading to victory.

Squad photo 4
One of  the maps many vistas, this railway bridge is found on the map Mestia.

Squads large scale gameplay and immersive realism means that so many different stories and narratives are created on the battlefield. Such detailed maps and so many different roles from an individual basis to squad level means each fight is a different experience. There is just so many variables to react to in this immense and immersive battle and that makes it a MilSim masterpiece in my eyes. 

With Version 10 just having been rolled out live this month adding many more features, there is no better time to get involved with your boots on the ground. Squad is a game with a community backing behind it and developers that sincerely want to push their project forward in the best possible ways for the genre and those who back it.

Look out for a V10 review coming soon and to all my future squaddies and enemies, see you on the battlefield.