Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 29, 2008
Shooter thoughts

There was a thought provoking comment in yesterday's comments, so I decided to bundle the answer of that one with other thoughts on the shooter genre. The question was whether I, as German national, wasn't having problems with World War II shooters, where the player is killing Germans all the time. Answer: No, not really.

Well, the one thing that is bothering me is that some people could get their history knowledge about that period from this kind of game. Nazi Germany certainly was in need of what nowadays would be called a "regime change", but believing that every German soldier was an evil Nazi personally responsible for the Holocaust is just plain silly. But World War II shooters aren't about history or reality, they are pure fantasy. Just have a look at the facts: There were 100 million soldiers overall participating in WW2. And there were 20 million military casualties, plus 40 million civilian casualties (which includes war crimes, the Holocaust, millions of people dying of disease and starvation in the Soviet Union and China, and the atomic bomb). But if 100 million soldiers kill 20 million soldiers, statistically most soldiers didn't even get one kill in. The number of kills with guns that single characters are depicted of achieving in a shooter game is totally unrealistic. You're killing more enemy soldiers with guns in a single mission than any real soldier did during 6 years of World War II.

Which leads directly to the next thought, of *why* you get so unrealistic high numbers of kills in a WW2 shooter game: Difficulty setting and save/reload. If you want a more realistic view of WW2, you should play on the highest difficulty setting, in a mission you don't know yet, and end the game when you get shot for the first time. Because at that point you're either dead or getting sent home with a serious injury, probably some body parts missing. Call of Duty 2, which I'm playing, has frequent automatic save points, and on easy settings you can withstand several hits before actually going down, which then automatically reloads your game at the last save. Great fun in a game, but nothing at all to do with the real horrors of war. Real war is "long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror", and the shooter games just skip the boredom part and give you several hours of the terror part in much diluted form.

Which brings me to my last thought, the number of hours in a shooter game. Which is typically around 10. In about 10 hours you can play through the whole single player campaign. Which is why this isn't going to be my new hobby, I've spent thousands of hours in World of Warcraft, and a game that is offering tens of hours of entertainment is just a short diversion. As I said, I'm bad a shooters, so I'm playing at low difficulty settings. So playing any of these games in multiplayer would just be an exercise in frustration, which I'm going to spare myself. I want to play Battlefield Heroes when it comes out, but not any of the more serious shooter games in multiplayer. A singleplayer games shooters can be fun, but they are far shorter than MMORPGs.
To be fair, most people when they play FPSes devote themselves to online multiplayer which can suck just as much, if not more time out of you than wow. It all depends on how much enjoyment you get from a relatively simple premise that ends up much more complicated (Click on others, avoid being clicked on).
To be fair, many "realistic" FPS games tend to put you in the role of a special ops soldier, whose kill counts can be quite large. Especially with snipers. Of course, assaulting pillboxes and other enemy emplacements is much more hazardous than using full camo and a sniper rifle.

Also, a portion of those 100 million soldiers were support personnel, like cooks, medical personnel, buraucrats, mechanicians, drivers, couriers, engineers.. they all have combat training but are not expected to directly contribute to the casualty count. But no game ever puts you into those roles, unless it's to provide an introduction to the setting before the battle starts and you're suddenly forced to defend yourself.

Personally, I see the reduced realism as an acceptable tradeoff. We play games to have fun, and real war is definitely not fun.
This idea honestly never crossed my mind. And I am German, too.
But, you know, you are all citizens of Berlin - and I have yet to meet a country where the people do not dream the American dream.
Thanks for the thoughtful responses to my German question Tobold and Nils. I am Irish and some of my forefathers would have choked at the thought of my playing as a "British" soldier but I have never played a game where Irish are all baddies. Perhaps I might have a problem with a game set in Belfast though, I don't know.

Don't worry about shooters taking you away from mmos Tobold. They are completely different experiences and can complement each other. Shooters offer a short burst of high adrenaline filled testosterone release. I find that a quick blast of FPS can be a welcome change after a period of prolonged MOing.
I can't remember exactly which game it was, but where's at least one WW2 FPS where the only difference between friendly and hostile NPCs was the language they used while speaking or yelling. That they were people who could be quite agreeable (and are quite agreeable, as the various WW2 veterans' organizations have shown) under different conditions.

But the dehumanization of the enemy is nothing new, and has been going on almost as long as there has been conflict. One of my favourite pieces of wartime propaganda is Disney's "Education for Death", which tells the tale of a perfectly normal German boy, Hans. At the end, he is a square-jawed, goosestepping, merciless killer marching into the front lines. The short animation both humanizes and dehumanizes him, illustrating what Philip Zimbardo later referred to as "the Lucifer effect". Or in other words, how to turn normal people into monsters (and by inversion, how to turn normal people into heroes). While there are some genuinely evil people (bad apples, in Zimbardo's words), there are also systems that create evil people (bad barrels) and conditions that create those systems (bad barrel-makers). The "Education of Death" focused on the "bad barrel" part.
The difference is that in MMORPGs you can just kill the same monsters for hours and hours, which personally I find rather boring meanwhile. If I want to do repetitive tasks, I can do it IRL and earn money for them. Or I can paint minis, which I do regularly right now (click my link for some of them), and which yields a tangible result.

Shooters just offer more diversity. It is true though that if you leave out the multiplayer part, they offer it only for a short time.

You can always try and step up your shooter play, practicing for a couple dozen hours and then entering the online fray. You'll be a reasonable shooter player in less time than it takes to grind an epic tailoring recipe or any of the honor/arena system rewards ;)
For a really good look at WW2 from a German perspective, and some insight into how otherwise good people were convinced to do some utterly evil things, I'd recommend "Ordinary Men" by Christopher R. Browning. It's just an amazing look at the war from a perspective that is usually not explored very deeply. The words of the German vets are heartbreaking at times, and chilling at others.... but most often they are both.
Audi Murphy was credited with a couple of hundred kills in WW2.

But yes, its not realistic. Now fly your magic carpet to do battle with the Lich King.

Shooters are mostly made by their online play. COD4's campaign is unusually good, but its prep for multiplayer. Which you would suck really bad at.
Now fly your magic carpet to do battle with the Lich King.

That is exactly the point. Nobody thinks flying a magic carpet or battling Lich King has anything to do with reality. But historical games superficially often look "educational", and I'm sure some people believe them to be more or less accurate depictions of history and war. Viewed purely as games, shooters are totally okay. But as depictions of history they are rubbish.
As far as shooters and storyplay goes, go back to 2007 and play Bioshock. (I just picked it up for $20). It is very well done.
Historically, less than 1% of all soldiers serving during WWII for the U.S. were actually engaged in combat with the enemy either in Europe or the Pacific (This would be higher for the Germans of course, especially at the end of the war). The number of soldiers involved in the logistical effort for modern armies is immense. Combat studies after WWII also found that half of all soldiers facing direct enemy combat did not actually fire their weapons which in the post-war era led to changes in the training process for infantry servicemen. So the numbers are actually even more screwed up than the 100mil : 20mil figure would suggest.
Nazis make good opponents in computer games and movies, as they are usually depicted as evil and very dangerous enemies. There are very few computer games that make me as a German really swallow when I kill German soldiers. They are usually abstract enough to be just seen as the "opposing force", and the direct link to german history or feeling personally offended as a citizen of Germany does not exist at all.

There are some conservative elements in Germany that see computer and video games as the root of all evil, e.g. if someone goes nuts and kills people with a gun, it was probably because of Counter-Strike or other shooters. They are usually taking the fact that games and whatever we do has some influence on our mind by far too far.

Americans do not have problems to play the terrorist forces in Counter-Strike or the Nazis. A German should not have issues with that either. You only get this notion if you somehow feel the need to atone for the atrocious actions of Germany during World War 2. People are still ashamed and feel guilty of what has happened in Germany nowadays.

But I can play Company of Heroes online as the Germans or Blitzkrieg, a rather old WW2-RTS, without supporting the Nazi party or giving a political message. There are of course people who do not want their children to even look at a gun or play a shooter, but they have double standards, and often do not have problems with their children killing Orc or Human players in World of Warcraft (just think about the name and the irony gets even funnier).
Tobold, if I argued that WoW was leading people into being to comfortable with the occult, you would laugh even though the game is coated with magical spells, demons, the undead, and so on. You're basically using the anti-D&D argument but this time it will lead the ignorant into misunderstanding WW2.

How many shooter players would think its realistic that you can get shot 3 or 4 times and all you have to do is huddle for a 20 seconds or pop a bottle of aspirin to make it better?

As far as history lessons go, WW2 shooters (Wolfenstein aside) really aren't that bad. Once you get past the super-Rambo action, most of the events generally follow a vaguely historical line at least as far as weapons and battles go.

As to the outrageous kill ratio... there's a reason why there isn't a Peasant class (51 point talent: carrying water) in WoW. You don't play games to clean toilets, you play them to be the hero.

Once you get out of Granny mode, I think you'll see your current concern as the sort of parental hyperventilation that gets applied to virtually any unfamiliar entertainment (e.g. comics, all video games, MMOs, the Beatles, etc.).
Toxic, being not realistic does not imply that it is bad. It's just not a realistic depiction of war. It can still be a brilliant game.

However, if you think it is realistic, the problem is more with you (and your education) than with the game.
I guess my problem with it is that I just don't get why this was published.

Yes, shooters are not realistic depictions of war. In other news, the sun rises in the east.

If you aren't going to play multiplayer the games aren't worth the money. Check.

These two posts are just sheer wankery. It says nothing that isn't either obvious or ignorant.

What was the point of these posts exactly?
Why so toxic, Toxic? Had a bad christmas?

What was the point of these posts exactly?

Point was I blogged about playing a game that was new to me, as I'm blogging about all the games I play. Somebody asked whether shooting Germans would cause me problems, being German, and I replied, and added some other thoughts about shooter games. I honestly have no idea what got you so riled up. I wasn't saying anything against Call of Duty, it is a very good game. I just commented on a general problem with historical games, that a design which is good for gameplay just can't be realistic historically. That is true for all historical games, even Civilization. Doesn't make them bad games.
I think the point is that this is an opinionated blog and Tobold has just shared a personal opinion/observation. You don't have to approve or disapprove. The writer is not looking for a fanbase. The next post might be about rainbows and how water and sunlight are involved.
Don't forget the magic that is co-op PvE play in online shooters, where you can still play at easier difficulties with other people who want to do the same. That extends the life of gameplay significantly, as does the eventual progression to a harder difficulty when your skills improve.
You should definitely try out bioshock. It has lots of RPG elements and building your character is as important as your aiming. It's only 5 dollars on steam right now.
Tobold, why you dont have children ? is it pure mutual decision between you and your spouse or is it medical factors ? I found out it is 100x better if you played games with your kids.

just a thought
If you want to try out more FPS games, I recommend unreal tournament 2004. UT 2k4 has been out a while but it's still one of my favorites. You should also give the multiplayer side of FPS games a shot that's where all the fun is. I wouldn't call it a serious FPS since it has been out awhile, but it's still fairly active for a game this old.

It's kinda silly to compare a single player FPS campaign to an mmorpg, there is another side to FPS games that you are overlooking. My brother plays COD 4 with a clan and a lot of these clans are in leagues which have competitive tournaments. Players in these clans study maps, constantly doing 5v5 scrims, and doing whole bunch of other things that put them on a whole other level than players that just log on to a public server for a little fun.
Considering if they made a "real" WW2 game, it wouldnt be able to be released in any retail space due to the maturity and violence rating. There are some games, such as company of heroes, that bring a more strategical and immersive feel to the WW2 era. For a FPS to take the next step, there would need to be some crumbling of the social stigma regarding things like shooting woman and children, and mass genocide and even violence against pets. Im not sure ppl would want to play a game like that, or developers would want to go there with a game.

One game for example, fallout 3, had to go through a few revisions before it was lowered to only a mature rating. Lately, I have been playing a ww2=ish FPS myself called Resistance 2 for ps3. This game propells my motorboat like mad, as it brings elements of one of my favorite classic game (Smash TV) with a modern lvl'n'mup FPS game with a class system. It is pretty well done, and despite it being a shooter game you control with a gamepad (which brings in the whole autoaim arguements), I think its more robust than your typicaly twitch happy headshotting fps like counterstrike for many good reasons.

Quake Live has an interesting take on the whole skill issue, one that I expected for quite some time really but haven't seen executed well before: An automatic matchmaking system, where you get to join arenas of roughly your own skill level. I guess there will be the odd prick exploiting the system irregularly, but so far it does look pretty nice to me.

I just joined the beta yesterday, and I have five invites to give out - comment on my blog to get one :)
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