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Switching Weapons – Maiden Voyage

Posted by Jim on June 23, 2011

Hey gang, I want you to meet Sergeant Jim Beverly.  He’s a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, a purple heart recipient, veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a long-time video gamer. For Jim, gaming has become a medium between the warzone and the homefront. I’m pleased to debut the first article series on Nerdy Show, “Switching Weapons”. In this series Jim expands on his life as a serviceman, his life as a nerd, and his conflicts on battlefields real and virtual. Some articles are like reviews, some are like journals.  One thing’s for sure, after you’ve read this, you’ll never look at military FPS the same way again.

– Cap

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There’s a common misconception that the average military gamer is a beefed up jarhead who lives, sleeps, and breathes Call of Duty, slogs protein supplements, and bench presses two beautiful women sitting on either side of the barbell.  What’s that you say?  That’s no military gamer stereotype you’ve ever heard of?  Well, it appears you have a misconception of the misconception.  Hopefully this column will clear that up.

Military gamers are like any other gamer.  We represent a diverse and varied group of video game enthusiasts with different tastes, wants, and expectations of games and their designers.  The thing that makes military gamers different from any other person with a controller in their hand, is that each and every one of us has one undeniable thing in common: service.  There’s a prestige and a spirit that goes into putting on a uniform, and every member of the armed services has experienced it in some form.  It’s that spark–that spirit–that binds us together, that gives us something to hold in common with our fellow military gamers.

Appropriately, the first game I’ll be discussing is Battlefield: Bad Company 2.  Why Battlefield and not Call of Duty?  Well, there hasn’t been a game, in my experience, that has truly captured the feel of the military than the Battlefield series.  I’ll explain this in three main points; authenticity versus realism, sound design, and tactical versus twitch gameplay.

Don’t get me wrong, Call of Duty is fun, it’s just not that authentic.  Authenticity is often misunderstood as something that has some basis in plausible fact.  That’s something I feel falls more in the line of realism, whereas authenticity I believe provides an atmosphere that reflects an actual emotion or feeling.  In other words, art imitating life.  In Battlefield, when your soldier runs out of ammo, the character in game screams “Need a fucking clip.”  In combat, a soldier will scream “need a fucking clip.”  This is authentic.  “Cover me, I’m reloading,” sounds cool, but it’s not how you generally hear things in an actual combat experience; at least none I’ve ever been a part of.  Combat is visceral, it’s hectic, and it’s not polite.  Being able to recall those emotions, that adrenaline, and that sense of urgency in a safe, non-threatening environment is something I, as a combat veteran and purple heart recipient myself, definitely find therapeutic.  It sounds strange, but letting myself fall back into that state of mind with no actual inherent danger, helps me cope with the memories and experiences themselves.

And why sound design you ask?  Why not graphics, story, or even focus on actual gameplay?  Well, in a real-life combat experience, sound is paramount.  When you’re crouched behind a humvee or pressed against a wall, sometimes all you have to go on is sound.  This, Battlefield does exquisitely.  I don’t just mean firearms, explosions and footsteps.  Sure they all have their distinctive sound, even echoing realistically based on terrain, but the most authentic sound, however, is the dialogue between soldiers.  They speak like real thing.  They yell, they curse, they jab at each other and support each other simultaneously; nothing is more true of real soldiers.  I can recall numerous raids and missions in Iraq, where each of these men that fought by my side, had my back, and kept me safe, spent the entire ride home ridiculing the size of each others’ manhood.  Ah, memories…

Lastly, there’s the difference between tactical and twitch gameplay.  Combat is a bit of both.  You have to think, analyze, and engage intelligently, but you have to be quick.  Battlefield fosters this beautifully. In Call of Duty, you shoot, sprint, knife, repeat.   In Battlefield, when playing a medic, and there’s nothing more invigorating than waiting for an enemy to expend their ammo, sprinting out, reviving a friend, and dashing back into cover.  Real life combat isn’t running and gunning.  It’s thinking, acting, and reacting.  Having a quick trigger finger won’t win games, but playing your class and working as a team will, and let’s face it: military gamers aren’t any different in that at the end of the day: we want to win.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 strikes quite a few chords with me personally as a military gamer.  It provides authenticity in atmosphere, sound design, and gameplay to an extent very, very few other games have. But it’s more than just one game.  As any military gamer like myself knows, it’s hard to bear the burden of service; to go foreign lands, to fight, and to experience what we do.  It’s even harder, however, to come back from that and re-enter society, and any way we can filter and re-live those memories and experiences in a safe, recreational environment, helps soldiers like us cope.  It’s that community, the gaming community that we embrace, that provides us with one more connection to the society we love and protect.

About Jim

Sergeant Jim Beverly is a Pharmacy Specialist in the U.S. Army, and, for much longer, an avid gamer. A purple heart recipient and veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, Jim is always looking for ways to connect with his inner gamer, despite his obligations to his country. He strongly believes that the medium of gaming can be used to help servicemembers cope with adversity, post-war trauma, and strengthen relationships. His philosophy on life, the military, and being a nerd is shared in his column "Switching Weapons."

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