I have been playing ARMA II recently and thought I would relate one experience which summarizes how open ended and strange this game can be. I was playing on a warfare map, in which two sides compete for control of various strategic hamlets across a vast Bohemian landscape. Each side has a commander, and the players are officers, capable of ordering other units under their command. As I was waiting for our commander to get things squared away, I was looking through the list of vehicles you can buy as a player. BRDM… T-72… UAZ… mountain bike! Hrmm I thought, lets take a mountain bike and try to solo capture one of the surrounding towns.
Then I realized, in this photorealistic world, this is what it must be like to bike in an environment where you don’t have to constantly be mad dogged by drug dealers, smell toxic fumes or constantly be preoccupied with dodging cars and a myriad of other filthy objects. Instead of my depressing suburban (and more urban everyday) sprawl, this was the Czech countryside, and it was beautiful. It was as if I could smell the flora and feel the wind on my face. If I knew biking could be like that, I probably wouldn’t be playing ARMA II in the first place. Herein lies one of the values, or if indulged too often, one of the dangers, of playing a well made video game: experiencing something when it would otherwise be impossible. As long as it does not become a form of escapism, I believe this can only be experienced with such a great degree of verisimilitude through games. Driving around in full tactical gear, with an assault rifle and a rocket launcher strapped to my character’s back, I no longer really thought about combat, I just wanted to ride around aimlessly through the countryside and check stuff out. The developers added a Pee Wee Herman style horn to the bike which produced a pleasant jingle whenever it was used, creating an absurd scene to behold; a man fully clad in weapons, in a paramilitary uniform, tooting on his horn.
I approached the hamlet to be captured after passing through some beautiful fields adjacent to it and zipped through town, it was eerily quiet, and looked abandoned. Then I heard the not so distant thud of an automatic canon and read in the game log that a player on my team had been killed. Obviously, there was some sort of armored vehicle in the hay fields to the north. I rode north and spotted it, a BMP, an armored vehicle with an autocannon, firing with abandon onto a group of allies across the field, every few minutes firing a rocket across my field of view. Luckily, the BMP’s radar only picks up heat signatures of engines, so I quickly sped to a thicket of trees just fifty feet or so from it and dismounted, diving headfirst into the underbrush and brandishing my RPG. The BMP had not visually identified me, too busy firing on my friends, so I inserted a rocket into its rear, and from the massive plume of smoke and debris, several men stumbled out of the vehicle and died on the ground, right before me. I barely made out the fourth and final crewman, running at full speed away from the burning vehicle and out of view. After a tense game of cat and mouse, in which I slowly and carefully found him hiding in a nearby forest, he was dispatched.
I returned to my huffy, which had gotten itself stuck in some bushes and returned to the town toward the commander’s base, as he informed us that the hamlet had been captured and that he was now producing tanks for us to play around with. I heard a vehicle speeding down the road in the middle of town, and expecting it to be comrades also returning to base, I stopped to greet them. Yet what was coming was not friendly. As I waited in the middle of the road, a white 1970s camaro (no doubt commandeered from the local village) charged me, and as I expected it to stop, accelerated and knocked me ten feet off my bike, breaking both of my legs. I laughed so hard, I almost died. The car stopped, and the ENEMY COMMANDER jumped out and hid behind a little house. He poked his head around and popped off a few rounds at me, and as my legs were broken and I could not walk, I decided that the only way this was going to end up was with me dead. Accordingly, I threw a grenade at him, and it detonated mid air just as he came around the corner to finish me off. Not killed by the concussion, I finished him off with a few rounds of rifle fire. I was now stranded approximately 3 kilometers from base, I could not pedal my bike even if i wanted to (the tires were busted), and the car, which was intact when it stopped, had finally exploded after I threw the grenade. I began to crawl on my face back to the road heading to base, hoping to link up with some friends, when I realized that I might as well check the man who tried to kill me.
His gear was the standard US kit. An m-16, an AT-4, but something else caught my eye: green smoke grenade. Perhaps I could persuade the commander to airlift my ass to the MASH I thought, and I could mark my spot with the smoke. The plan was hatched, but as it stood, the commander only could speak broken English, and didn’t understand what I was saying. He was obviously German. After minimizing and translating I NEED A HELICOPTER TO SAVE ME, WILL USE SMOKE in altavista translator, the chap finally got the message, and commanded a player extraction team to get in a transport chopper and extract my feeble ass. 5 minutes later, I was crawling toward a clearing a few hundred feet from the street I was on and pulling myself up into the medivac.
The scope of this game is absurd.