I grew up playing games, as did most young men my age. I’d bet that more than 90% of people who joined the military during the GWOT were some form of gamer. Heck, if I’m just going off barracks troops, it’s 100%. Video games certainly played a role in the recruitment of young men and women; I know this because they played a role in recruiting me. GWOT video games, in particular, captured my attention.
In the early and mid-2000s, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were raging on. Video games are a reflection of culture. I think a lot of people forget how unpopular these wars were back then. As such, most companies who made modern shooters set them in the near future and didn’t involve Iraq or Afghanistan. When I say GWOT video games, I’m not necessarily saying these games are about the Global War on Terror.
At the time, any theme featuring the actual GWOT would have been extremely controversial. However, the veiled cover of setting the game in the near future didn’t remove the game from the settings, weaponry, soldiers, and situations of the GWOT. With that in mind, I picked my five favorite GWOT video games, even though many may not involve Iraq or Afghanistan.
“SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs”
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“SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs” came out in 2002 and could be considered one of the first GWOT Video games. It came to be at the right time and was certainly part of the initial crazy increase in popularity for the Navy SEALs. As a country, we had been at war with terror for less than a year when the game hit stores.
It takes place in the near future for the time, which was 2006 and 2007. Obviously, the game was optimistic because there wasn’t a single Afghanistan level. You do lead a four-man Navy SEAL team through several missions and can use the at-the-time-revolutionary USB headset to give voice commands to your A.I. teammates. I used this feature often, and it worked extremely well.
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SOCOM allowed you to choose from a variety of realistic weapons and utilized some awesome tactics for the time. You had to be stealthy and smart. Run and gun tactics got you schwacked real quick. The game certainly made you feel like an elite commando and tasked you with hostage rescue, killing bad guys, and retrieving intel.
“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”
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If there was a game that defined the late 2000s, it was “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” Prior to this game, “Call of Duty” was all about the World War II experience. “Modern Warfare” brought the game to 2011 and placed you in the shoes of SAS commandos and Force Recon Marines. The game has you fighting Middle Eastern and Russian bad guys across several different countries.
It was an absolute blast that gave people time behind modern guns covered in modern tech. Who remembers the night vision mission where you gotta fire up a PEQ and use a laser to take down bad guy after bad guy. I played this in 2007 and enlisted in 2008; little did I know I’d be firing up a PEQ and doing something similar in the School of Infantry.
It was a game that shaped a year for me and also made me want to enlist even more. Playing as a Force Recon Marine gave me that rah rah feeling and pumped me up. You know, until that one part. This was the most prolific of the GWOT video games of the era, and while it was entirely fictional, the street-to-street battles were clearly influenced by real-world events.
“Spec Ops: The Line”
I remember buying “Spec Ops: The Line” and assuming it would be another generic third-person over-the-shoulder shooter, and I was fine with that. The game turned out to be so much more than that. Instead of just being another generic shooter full of rah-rah-rah and heroism, this game takes a dark look at war and what it does to men.
It approaches the same themes of “Apocalypse Now” but in video game form. Instead of just watching things concur, you participated in them. The story is gripping and features three Delta Force commandos after a Rogue Army commander and the Infantry unit he leads. Along the way, the game touches on PTSD, mental illness, and even war crimes.
A lot of GWOT video games don’t touch on some of the more brutal aspects of war. “Spec Ops: The Line” does things a fair bit differently. This is a game where the story grips you more than the gameplay. It makes the violence meaningful, in a way. The story isn’t necessarily about the Global War on Terror, but it’s certainly one a GWOT vet can feel a kinship to.
“Close Combat: First to Fight”
This game carries a special place in my heart. First, because it helped me make my decision to join the Marine Corps. It sounds silly, but games like this are often used as recruitment tools. “Close Combat: First to Fight” was one such game. In fact, Marines from 3/1 consulted on the game right after their participation in Operation Phantom Fury. One of those Marines would later be my squad leader in Afghanistan, so it came full circle eventually.
“Close Combat: First to Fight” puts you in the boots of a fireteam leading Lance Corporal during a fictional war in Beirut. The game puts you in charge of three other Marines, and you could issue basic commands directing your riflemen and SAW gunner to lay down the pain. Weapons were realistic, and you wielded the M16A4 with an M203 and an ACOG, which was the go-to for Marine team leaders at the time.
It wasn’t a balls-to-wall crazy game and was relatively slow-paced for the time. It wasn’t necessarily realistic, but it tried to be intense and required you to make commands and decisions on the fly. Video games are rarely realistic, even today, so we have to be especially fair looking back to 2005. However, “First to Fight” tried and it obviously helped recruit one teenager. As far as GWOT video games go, this one is the closest to the equipment being realistic for the time.
“Medal Of Honor”
“Medal Of Honor” started life as a World War 2 shooter but in 2010 rebooted into a modern setting, as was the rage at the time. The game famously used images of real operators, real events and utilized actual locations to form the basis of the game.
It takes place in Afghanistan, and you find yourself slaying Taliban and Al Queada and taking Bagram Airport, fighting alongside the Northern Alliance, and even deals with incompetent officers. You play as several ‘Tier 1’ operators from Delta Force, SEAL Team 6, and the Army Rangers in several different battles and events.
Weaponry was quite realistic for the time, and optics, suppressors, lights, and lasers made a debut in-game. The multiplayer erupted in controversy by allowing human players to play as Taliban fighters. Medal Of Honor wasn’t subtle but was one of the few GWO video games brave enough to portray the actual GWOT instead of a fictional war elsewhere.
Video Games and The Military
GWOT video games are still rather rare. Near-future wars are often the hot ticket, or wars from the past. Personally, I’d love to see a video game set you up as a lance corporal in Helmand province circa 2009-2010, or in Syria as an EOD guy try to make the world a little safer every day. We have documentaries, movies, and TV Shows, and I hope the gaming industry won’t shy away from the GWOT for long.
There are lots of stories that deserve to be told, and video games could do them justice.
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Feature image: Danger Close Games/ Electronic Arts
Also to this in your article:
“Personally, I’d love to see a video game set you up as a lance corporal in Helmand province circa 2009-2010, or in Syria as an EOD guy try to make the world a little safer every day. We have documentaries, movies, and TV Shows, and I hope the gaming industry won’t shy away from the GWOT for long.”
A BF2 mod, known as “Project Reality”, which has since spun off using the ARMA III engine, known as “SQUAD”, would fill this. Not from the role playing scenario, but the regions, armament, and environment are all modeled. More of a FPS, mil-sim, tactical team oriented shooter.
SOCOM was my first one of that genre, my brother and I played it endlessly. MoH also, could never really get into CoD.
Was more of a Doom, Hexen, and Quake nerd. Not relevant to your article, but shooters are pretty deep with settings, themes, environments and varying levels of immersion.
Travis Pike says
I remember messing with my sensitivity settings to get the drop on dudes in Unreal with the flak cannons !
Ha!!! my brother was a master at bunny hopping, and using the rocket launcher (Doom). When we played against each other he would own me every time. Gawd I hated him with the stupid rocket launcher!