In early 2012, I bought Battlefield 3. It was my first military shooter in a long, long time. The last one was Call of Duty 2, back in 2005. Or 2006. I did play Counter Strike in between, but there’s a fundamental difference between them.
Counter Strike is to war, what cats are to tigers.
CS is a silly, fun, occasionally serious but mostly tame, video game. Family reunions seem more like war than Counter Strike.
Military shooters, on the other hand, promise to take you deep inside the black heart of war. And about 5 minutes into my first multiplayer match in Battlefield 3, I had a realization.
I did not want to go deep inside the black heart of war.
While CS had its contrived maps with oddly placed crates and double doors, BF3 put me somewhere in the Middle East (or Eurasia? some place bright and brick coloured), on streets with cars and bicycles.
Think of Counter Strike as an Olympics 110m hurdles race. Nice, clean, well-engineered track with those strong, languid-on-the-surface athletes.
BF3 was a steeple chase where a scraggly man with very bad running form (me) was forced to jump over thorny thickets with a pack of hungry wolves snapping at his heels.
Fundamentally, they were the same. Running as fast as you can and jumping over stuff. But the latter is just… terrifying.
I roamed around this virtual street, feeling vulnerable, when I heard my first BF3 gunshots. They were awful.
CS had made me believe that guns sounded like what they did in Bollywood movies.
Then this entire invasion of Afghanistan happened, then Iraq, then the Mexican drug wars. People posted videos on liveleak and YouTube. I was now exposed to the sound of gunfire in cities. It rang against the walls. It was impossible to identify, spatially. It accompanied heavy breathing and shrieking. It was unpredictable.
That’s what BF3 guns sound like. I sat there wondering “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?”
Then I heard a low mechanical rumbling. Like wheels made out metal… I looked around frantically. Took me a minute to spot the elephant in the room.
A tank. A FREAKING TANK.
I was pretty calm till I saw the little orange red triangle above it. OH CRAP. If video games had taught me anything, it was green = friend and red = enemy.
I ran like a maniac. I could only run as fast the video game let me, but in my head I was the flying Sikh. (note: I was neither flying, nor am I Sikh.)
I got behind a structure but the tank kept shooting. It was deafening. There was rubble and dust everywhere. The structure I was supposed to take cover behind had been razed to the ground.
And there I was, standing face to metaphorical face… with a tank. Staring down its barrel (or turret or glory hole, whatever it’s called). I let it shoot me. I gave up.
I dreamt of being chased by a tank later. That’s how bad it was.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to trivialize war. I’ve put 10 hours into BF3 (very little by multiplayer shooter game standards) and I’m still scared of big maps and more serious game modes.
I’m a wuss.