Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

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Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Shandi » 11 Nov 2014, 17:57

Hello, all.

I dearly hope someone may relate to me in this. It's quite possible this forum has discussed it before, but I don't know.

Today was my husband's third Remembrance Day as a member of the Canadian Army. Something has been bothering me for a good three years now that I've kept to myself, not knowing how or with whom to discuss it, but MinniChi's Remembrance/Veteran's Day thread made me hopeful to hear some gaming forumites' thoughts on it.

It's the way soldiers are taken for granted as faceless, expendable, and generically bad in so much of games and film. I am of course hyper-tuned to the love of my life's humanity, and ever since he became a member of the forces, it's a version of him that I see in every nameless uniform. I don't like most of what I see.
Even in games and films that otherwise treat life with value, it's as if putting a character in military garb releases their worth. Soldiers are dispatched without option of surrender or second thought.

I mean, I know, I get it. It's fiction. It's done to other groups. Most games and action films involve a ton of fodder, whether they be orcs, human henchmen or any number of what-have-you.
But it really gets to me that even in my Scribblenauts iPhone game, a "hero" will attack and kill a "soldier" without provocation. Just because s/he's in combats instead of a cape?

I can hardly stomach anymore when someone alludes to the old "They signed up for it" line. Canadian soldiers join for as many different reasons as there are members, but I think you'd hardly find any who don't include the motivation to better themselves, to help people, to serve and protect the sanctity of life. How does the ambition to be a hero translate in pop culture to faceless fodder?
They don't sign up to kill and die. They promise to do what it takes to make the world a better place in any way they're told, including in battle, but also sandbagging when it floods for heaven's sake. Heck, a lot of them would never see combat even in a war zone. They're computer nerds, scientists, researchers, and doctors, to name a few, who just happen to also be trained and willing to defend themselves and others if necessary.

I really don't like this "fair game" mentality toward soldiers.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Elomin Sha » 11 Nov 2014, 19:06

A few companies have tried to address this in the past with mixed results in the gaming industry.

Six Days in Fallujah was in development and quite controversial a few years ago where you played as the squad who went through hell in those six days and many of them died. I was interested in seeing the game to see how the team handled it but it was canned when final funding couldn't be secured and some family members didn't like the idea of playing one of the deceased knowing they were going to die.

From a game design stand point if the Rules of War were added it would bog the game down and people wouldn't play it. In one example you are not allowed to shoot a paratrooper until their boots hit the ground and they cannot shoot until they have touched the ground.
To either side in real life some soliders could consider others to be faceless individuals. No idea.
The Left Behind Series of games did try to put a face to every solider you controlled with detailed back story of their lives. It was text heavy and generally many people don't want to read blocks of text when they want to play a game. It was an interesting idea but the games scored poorly and were a financial flop mainly for poor design and ridiculous religious overtones (get too close to a person playing rock music you get converted to satanism, or something close).

For escapism or curiosity, war fascinates people and the only way some would feel comfortable would be to see a fantasy version. People went to the cinema to see newsreels of the war and watch a few cartoons at the same time.

Medal of Honour reboot had a 15 minute dedication scrawl to all the armed forces personnel serving in Afghanistan at the time as a mark of respect. It may have been the first game to almost accurately show what some conditions were out there.
It had flak from US Armed Forces (higher ups) because the online portion allowed you to play Al-Qaeda. AFES or Afies were not going to have the game sold and EA changed the name to Opposing Forces and apologised after giving their reason for their inclusion. Parapharsing, someone has to be the bad guys, ie Nazis.
The Higher Ups said thank you but refused to allow the game to be sold on bases despite the positive light it put on US soliders.

The ones who can really say if they feel they are being taken advantage of with their depictions would be the serviceman themselves retired or still serving.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Shandi » 11 Nov 2014, 19:41

Hmm. I suppose the solution is hard to imagine at this point. Mind you, most challenges seem insurmountable at some point. It used to be too much to ask to have rounded characters in games at all.
I wonder if other people see this as a problem worth acknowledging. Even orcs get to be people now -- look at WoW. It's also less the portrayals themselves that bother me though, and more that they seem to reflect and reinforce a faulty cultural perception. As I hear tell, the U.S. military has caps on acceptable losses that I would consider rather high. The Canadian Forces, in contrast, apparently doesn't believe in the concept of acceptable loss, preferring to opt out of situations that are too likely to result in member deaths. However, most of pop culture even in Canada is U.S.-centric. I wonder if the games and films are only affirming my fear that many people do indeed see soldiers as disposable or dimwitted enough to be fair game.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Deedles » 12 Nov 2014, 01:05

I think Valiant Hearts seems to be a good game for not just making war faceless. I haven't played it myself yet(waiting for Steam's winter sale to buy any new games), but have seen some reviews, and that's the impression I get from them.

As for a TV series Band of Brothers is obviously meant to make you see the men in the uniforms.

Sadly I can't think of much else, and I think that's because you're right; There really is a worrying trend of making soldiers into faceless cannon fodder, or elite troops that most soldiers will never be.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Metcarfre » 12 Nov 2014, 08:46

Generation Kill (the book) was very good, but of course it's basically non-fiction. I hear the series was good as well.

The Thin Red Line (again, the book) is painful but good as well.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Merrymaker_Mortalis » 12 Nov 2014, 09:23

Was the BBC series "Our Girl" good for this? I didn't watch it, but BBC dramas statistically are quite good.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Dutch guy » 12 Nov 2014, 12:11

When it comes to depiction of actual soldiers in games I'd also recommend Brothers in Arms. Very detailed WW2 era game that has you playing ACTUAL events, in recreated maps. It includes a lot of background material and storytelling. It certainly makes you realize war is never a good thing, and those that fight them would mostly rather be doing something different.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby plummeting_sloth » 12 Nov 2014, 21:35

I suppose Spec Ops the Line does a decent job of turning you around and, among other things, going "These people are not toys, their deaths should something"
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Elomin Sha » 13 Nov 2014, 02:43

I forgot about Spec Ops. A selling point I would do to customers would say: "It makes you realise it is all your fault."
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Merrymaker_Mortalis » 13 Nov 2014, 03:23

What CoD MW2 failed with, regarding identity of soldiers is that the enemy soldiers on levels felt like they were infinite. You'd murder many and they'd keep coming.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Elomin Sha » 13 Nov 2014, 06:12

To some that's how it may have felt.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Metcarfre » 13 Nov 2014, 07:06

I just finished the story of BF4.

What a stupid, stupid game.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Shandi » 13 Nov 2014, 11:48

Merrymaker_Mortalis wrote:What CoD MW2 failed with, regarding identity of soldiers is that the enemy soldiers on levels felt like they were infinite. You'd murder many and they'd keep coming.
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Games that have numbers popping up above heads of enemies don't help either.


Yes, those are some of the kinds of cases that seem unfortunate for sure.

I don't know, I guess we don't want every game to be realistic. There ought to be some way for your objective to just be to vanquish your enemies or whatnot. I just wonder whether most consumers have the kind of grasp of fiction vs. reality that I would hope they do.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Darkflame » 13 Nov 2014, 17:03

Well, in the case of the US theres a quite a disconnect between everyone declaring they "support the troops" and people wont say a word against them.....while at the same time having a terrible treatment of veterans when they get back. (credit to Iron Man 3 here for making this a plot point)

I dont think anyone consciously thinks soldiers lives are worth less, but certainly little effort is extended to actively help. Videogames sort of just reflect soceity at large.

I think in some ways its because people think they are respected so much they assume they will be treated well.

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Its worth noting though its hard coming up with a fair enemy in a real life setting; Even Nazis were still people.
How do you make a realistic "lets shot people" game while respecting people as...well...people?

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That ones a whole different issue, and its almost so wrong for me to think its a bug :-/
Soldiers as having lives worth less then anyone else is bad enough, but that assumes they are automatically evil. To bad Scribblenauts is DC/WB, Id like too see what happened if you put Captain America next to one :-/
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Tycherin » 13 Nov 2014, 17:31

Darkflame wrote:Its worth noting though its hard coming up with a fair enemy in a real life setting; Even Nazis were still people.
How do you make a realistic "lets shot people" game while respecting people as...well...people?

This seems to me like part of a much, much bigger question - i.e., how do you have your job be shooting people but still respect the people you're shooting? In real life, to say nothing of video games.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Shandi » 13 Nov 2014, 23:54

Tycherin wrote:how do you have your job be shooting people but still respect the people you're shooting? In real life, to say nothing of video games.


Well, for one thing, calling it the Department of National Defense is not just a euphemism. Tragic stories of collateral damage by U.S. forces notwithstanding, Canadian Forces members are bound not to shoot anyone unless given no other choice. Seriously, Elomin was totally right in saying that the rules of war would make games unplayable. From what I understand of my husband's training, the standards he would have to meet to justify use of deadly force in the line of duty seem even more stringent than those the average citizen on a domestic street would need to claim self defense. Not only does the Geneva Convention have its share of weird and backward-seeming rules, but the Canadian Forces takes its commitment to peace keeping even more super seriously -- to the point that there have been instances of troops being unable to do anything about raids on humanitarian aid convoys (stripped by opportunists), because bands of thieves knew that as long as they didn't hurt any people, the blockading and stealing alone did not allow for any preventative physical action from the soldiers whose hands were tied by policy. All they could do was yell with their weapons pointed at the dirt unless threatened with immediate bodily harm.

So, the idea of a soldier's job being to shoot people is in itself a misconception in modern times, from my perspective.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Elomin Sha » 14 Nov 2014, 02:32

It is not a great movie but I'd recommend 'Rules of Engagement'.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Arclight_Dynamo » 14 Nov 2014, 08:52

Shandi wrote:So, the idea of a soldier's job being to shoot people is in itself a misconception in modern times, from my perspective.


Well, it depends.

Yes, you're right, in no circumstance would a CF member just be able to shoot someone, no questions asked. But the circumstances under which he or she would be allowed to do so are dependent on the specific mission parameters and rules of engagement in any given situation.

If, say, a CF force were deployed on a Chapter VI UN peacekeeping operation, they would only be able to fire if fired upon.

But if they were deployed on a Chapter VII UN peacekeeping operation, that's the Korean War.

Then the ROE get into even more detail and specificity.

So those aid convoys being stripped and CF members not being able to do anything? That's because of the mission mandate and ROE that were in effect at the time. It's just as possible that, had those been different for that particular mission, they could have fired upon the raiders.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby My pseudonym is Ix » 14 Nov 2014, 09:06

It's worth noting the rules of engagement in war changed in the middle of the last decade; in light of numerous cases (brought to light most sharply by US soldiers, but undoubtedly by people of all nationalities) of soldiers firing on civilians, journalists or other non-militants (including, in one video-recorded case, children) the rules of 'when you can fire on another guy' changed from 'whenever the soldier feels threatened' to 'whenever the other guy poses an immediate threat to the life [and possibly resources too] of innocent or allied forces', or something along those lines. The example I was given when I tried to join the RAF was that if a guy is running towards you holding a grenade, you could shoot him; you're preventing that grenade blowing up and killing either you or your mates. Once he throws the grenade and starts to run away, however, you can't shoot- he is unarmed and therefore no longer an immediate threat, and your priority in that case is simply to get away from wherever that grenade is going to land.

But as Arclight says, ROEs are all about context and fiddly details- they were, after all, written by lawyers and behave more like case law than rules of warfare. And of course those close to soldiers often hear the best version of these things (speaking as someone who has one housemate and a best friend both in the military and, as stated, nearly joined himself).

My view on soldiers in general? To borrow a phrase from a terrible X-Men film, they are the sin-eaters of our world, the sewage workers of western society. They do a dirty, unpleasant, horrible job that nobody in their right mind should enjoy, and their work is equal parts necessary (to extend the sewage workers analogy, human beings will always shit somewhere) to simply unpleasant and stupid, in many cases. The key difference between soldiers and sewage workers is that the military is a well-funded organisation that comes with a lot of benefits that gets you described as a 'hero' by some, which I rather take the 'Use of Weapons' view towards- soldiers are brave and the ugliness of their task lends their role some nobility, but the idea that soldiering is heroic is one I have increasingly deep issues with.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Timelady » 15 Nov 2014, 12:16

You know, nothing against sewer workers, who have about the shittiest job out there--pun intended--but, okay. I've had to clean some awful nasty toilets for work. I've had to deal with septic backups that flood the entire cellar. I don't like it, I wouldn't want to do it full-time, and my sympathies go out to anyone who does...but I think I probably could do it. But, to use your example, if someone ran up to me and threw a grenade at me? I would definitely, and probably the people around me, be dead right now. Difference in scale.

I think a lot of the hero vibe is from the 'protector' definition. That if soldiers hadn't done what they've been doing for the last...well, actually millennia, I and everyone here might not be here right now. Or, at least not recognizable. And for whatever you might think of the fight itself, it's a strange and profound thing that there's a lot of blood between those fights and our doorsteps. A lot of people are dead or wounded permanently for a thousand different reasons, many of which include thinking keeping their country (whatever it may be), way of life, and people they know safe from harm, and I personally think that's something worth remembering. (And just as many if not more people from various wars were conscripted--can you imagine somebody showing up with a telegram that you have to be a sewer worker or get thrown in jail?) So, it's not the job, necessarily, but the people doing it.

And...I can't say about anyplace else but the US, where I live, but veterans aren't so much well treated. So, now you've been forced into being a sewer worker, you've lost your leg in a really bad sewer incident, and now the people supposed to pay you and make sure you get medical treatment are sidestepping and looking really sheepish--wouldn't you think the least you can get is someone shaking your hand and saying how much they appreciate what you've done for them?
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Timelady » 15 Nov 2014, 12:17

Oh, and as far as soldiers in pop culture go--how about Stargate: SG1? Most of the humans there were from the US Air Force and were awesome.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby My pseudonym is Ix » 15 Nov 2014, 12:25

Timelady wrote:You know, nothing against sewer workers, who have about the shittiest job out there--pun intended--but, okay. I've had to clean some awful nasty toilets for work. I've had to deal with septic backups that flood the entire cellar. I don't like it, I wouldn't want to do it full-time, and my sympathies go out to anyone who does...but I think I probably could do it. But, to use your example, if someone ran up to me and threw a grenade at me? I would definitely, and probably the people around me, be dead right now. Difference in scale.

I think a lot of the hero vibe is from the 'protector' definition. That if soldiers hadn't done what they've been doing for the last...well, actually millennia, I and everyone here might not be here right now. Or, at least not recognizable. And for whatever you might think of the fight itself, it's a strange and profound thing that there's a lot of blood between those fights and our doorsteps. A lot of people are dead or wounded permanently for a thousand different reasons, many of which include thinking keeping their country (whatever it may be), way of life, and people they know safe from harm, and I personally think that's something worth remembering. (And just as many if not more people from various wars were conscripted--can you imagine somebody showing up with a telegram that you have to be a sewer worker or get thrown in jail?) So, it's not the job, necessarily, but the people doing it.

And...I can't say about anyplace else but the US, where I live, but veterans aren't so much well treated. So, now you've been forced into being a sewer worker, you've lost your leg in a really bad sewer incident, and now the people supposed to pay you and make sure you get medical treatment are sidestepping and looking really sheepish--wouldn't you think the least you can get is someone shaking your hand and saying how much they appreciate what you've done for them?


Agreed in many ways; though I disagree with the term heroic, I won't deny that being willing to serve in such dangerous and extreme conditions is certainly noble. I also agree that the very least these people deserve is proper aftercare, and think that to simply abandon veterans, PARTICULARLY injured ones is 1) incredibly rude and frankly wrong on so many levels, and 2) an utterly terrible idea, as that kind of behaviour precipitated both the French Revolution and the Golden Age of Piracy in times gone by. Thankfully, living in Britain means that (for now at least) the healthcare question is somewhat easier.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Timelady » 15 Nov 2014, 12:35

Fair enough. :) It's an interesting question--and I also have a feeling we might personally differ on the term 'heroic' because we're defining the word heroic differently.

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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby Shandi » 16 Nov 2014, 12:18

My pseudonym is Ix wrote:a lot of benefits that gets you described as a 'hero' by some, which I rather take the 'Use of Weapons' view towards


Personally, if someone keeps sewage out of my home, that pretty much makes them my hero right there. But besides that, your post has put greater emphasis on the point I previously tried to raise, which is that so many people erroneously see soldiers only in light of the part of their job that may involve shooting people. They are people with skilled day jobs, 9-5, most of the time. My husband is a computer nerd who runs servers and makes sure people can access info and talk to each other. I just kinda figure their willingness to make it their job, on top of that 9-5, to defend at risk to life and limb, or to slog through snow and mud to rescue those in danger, and stack sandbags around people's flooding homes, should elevate them in people's esteem as opposed to reduce them to expendable.
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Re: Soldiers in Games and Pop Culture

Postby My pseudonym is Ix » 16 Nov 2014, 23:58

Shandi wrote:
My pseudonym is Ix wrote:a lot of benefits that gets you described as a 'hero' by some, which I rather take the 'Use of Weapons' view towards


Personally, if someone keeps sewage out of my home, that pretty much makes them my hero right there. But besides that, your post has put greater emphasis on the point I previously tried to raise, which is that so many people erroneously see soldiers only in light of the part of their job that may involve shooting people. They are people with skilled day jobs, 9-5, most of the time. My husband is a computer nerd who runs servers and makes sure people can access info and talk to each other. I just kinda figure their willingness to make it their job, on top of that 9-5, to defend at risk to life and limb, or to slog through snow and mud to rescue those in danger, and stack sandbags around people's flooding homes, should elevate them in people's esteem as opposed to reduce them to expendable.


Ah, but that's the crucial difference- people don't regularly think of sewage workers when they think of heroes. Sure, if we think of them we are very grateful, but nobody's writing sappy Facebook posts about the sacrifice sewage workers make (although admittedly the danger of death when working in sewage is somewhat less than in the field, so the comparison isn't entirely accurate.) This, I think, is the issue I have with much of the heroic portrayal of soldiers- it portrays what they do as some stoic, great service in excess of any of the other services that keep us alive and comfortable.

Regarding the other point... when I tried to join the armed forces, it would have been as an engineer. I'd have spent my days most of the time working a regular job organising techies to do their job repairing machinery and organising admin to make sure we had the parts we need. I would not have been a front line shooty person. But, after I was rejected first time around (I chose to apply just as the government cut the armed forces budget so all the DTUS applications got dropped from there onwards) and was advised to try again next year since I'd done well enough to make it to interview, I got to thinking about it and realised that no matter what I did, my ultimate purpose would be servicing devices to kill people. I spent a long time rationalising with myself, going back to how I knew this was what I was going into when I first applied and how I believed in the necessity of what the forces do. And then what swung it for me was the thought that, whilst the job might be purposeful and meaningful, by servicing those machines I did not believe I was doing as much good for the human race as I could do otherwise. I would have been happy to be a forces man, but I would not have done as much good there.

Please don't take from anything I say that I believe soldiers are all filthy murderers or anything hyper-silly like that- as I say, I do believe in the necessity and purpose of what these men and women do, and I ABSOLUTELY agree that viewing soldiers as faceless and expendable is disrespectful to them and harmful to the way we treat them and think about warfare. I suppose I'm essentially just playing Devil's Advocate, and attempting to moderate the idealising of a soldier's task, because that, I feel, can be just as dangerous as going too far the other way.
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