June 19, 2009 4:00 PM |
['Chewing Pixels' is a semi-regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by British games journalist and Flash game producer, Simon Parkin. Today, a wargame producer doesn't quite find the perspective he was looking for from a consulting veteran.]
“So I’d just like to start by thanking you for agreeing to help us out on this project. It’s very much appreciated by the team.”
“Well, that’s absolutely fine Mr… Mr? I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name”
“Caldwell. John Caldwell. I’m senior producer here at Eternity Games. It really is a privilege to have you here. We’re confident that the unique and personal insight you can provide us into this moment of history will prove quite invaluable to our product.”
The older man shifted a little in his seat, causing his walking stick to slide to the floor from its leaning position on the chair’s armrest with a resounding clack. “Well, I’m not sure about that Sir, but I’m quite happy to help out in any way I can. Your game is about… it’s about the war, yes? Are the kids really interested in that sort of thing these days?”
“Absolutely. And we think that by consulting some veterans we can add greatly to the verisimilitude of the experience we're creating. This kind of thing makes for an excellent back-of-the-box selling point, you know. Young people are keen to learn what it was like to serve on the frontline and games like ours offer them a unique and realistic chance to witness both the horror and the glory of the battlefield."
“Well I can’t say I especially approve of that Mr Caldwell, but anything that might help prevent a young person from going to war and having to see the things that I see is just fine by me.”
America’s Army, Full Spectrum Warrior and all the other military recruitment games flashed across Caldwell's mind for a moment. But just as he started to wonder just how many young men had been drawn to real war by way of virtual battlefields, he tore himself off that thought trail and back to the matter at hand.
"That's great, just real great. So, what can you tell me about that time? How did it feel to be a soldier in active service?"
"We were children and we should have been doing other things.
I mean that literally: we should have been elsewhere. The history books record the tactics of the distant generals, the broad brushtrokes of a war's story as it heaves and builds... and the movies, well, they wring sentimentality from the mortars and the sod, all slow motions vainglorious deaths and weeping French horns. But there in the trench, in the dust and the detail of the moment, we were children and we should have been doing other things.
“I had a stammer then, and a hairline on the cusp of retreat. The other boys would joke that my moustache looked like a sooty thumbprint. Heh, at least it did till the officers made me shave it off. My uniform hung two sizes too large from - and don’t laugh now - the clothes-horse of a body I had back then. The very model of a modern soldier I was not. Few of us were. You get the army you pay for and, as conscripts we were a sort of factory-worker class, our inexpert labour fueling war’s insatiable factories."
The veteran leaned forward in his chair and, from behind heavy eyelids, looked Caldwell straight in the eye.
“Our days were defined by constant unease. We would sit without stillness, lie without resting, sleep without recuperating. Our adrenal glands were shriveled from overuse, ears weary from the staccato rattatattat of the skies overhead, eyes salty from the dust of excavation. I was a tunneler, you see, digging under no man's land, extending the reach of our allied warren. By day I'd dig, the men behind me shoring up each new length of cavity with sweat and timber. It was dark and hard work, not really like the sort of thing they show in Hollywood or write about in the Reader's Digest. But it was important work, or so they'd tell me. During that time I lost my fingernails. Come to think of it, during that time, I lost my best friend."
At this, Caldwell straightened slightly, as if scenting something of use for the first time. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "How did he die?"
"He was taken into the woods 200 yards behind our lines and shot by my commanding officers."
"He was shot by our side? What for?"
"They found him sleeping while on patrol. That was a crime that carried the death penalty. We were children. We should have been doing other things."
The veteran paused to take a sip of water. His hand and demeanour remained steady. Caldwell set down his pencil and took a deep but silent breath.
After a moment the producer said: “Thank-you for the background, that’s really super. So, can you tell me a little bit about the fighting? What sort of guns did you use? Did you ever kill a man?”
"I never faced the enemy, or, at least never saw the whites of his eyes. Those who did never lived to tell the tale. You went over the top, you never came back. Obviously the war ended before it was my turn. Or perhaps I was just too useful digging to send off to die. Still, I certainly had my chance to look full into the face of death. That day the weather was without drama: there were no stormclouds or sheets of rain to backdrop my horror. The sun shone and the breeze carried with it birdsong. Nature is joyfully indifferent to man's endless altercations, you know.
"We'd been hit by mortar fire before, of course, but I'd never been so close to the aftermath. His body was flung from the crater. Though he was beyond saving when I reached him, his chest still heaved, saliva bubbling crimson at his lips with each shallow breath. In that moment I didn’t see a soldier or a hero or even a man, though he was just barely all of these. No, I saw an infant, suckling his mother's breast, he lost in her eyes, she lost in his, both oblivious to this moment towards which his life would inexorably creep. By the time an officer arrived he was staring without seeing, lost and, in a sense, I with him.
"A week later we received word the war was ended. We trudged back from our frontline, each step the waking from a dark dream. We were no longer children and we were off to do other things…
Well, Sir, I think that's about all I have for you for now."
Caldwell said nothing, instead offering a weak smile.
"So, you really think you can get some of that into your videogame?," asked the veteran, in a low and mournful voice. "Do you?"
Categories: Column: Chewing Pixels