Thursday, April 01, 2010

Method Acting

As someone who has written a lot about military videogames, about their scripts and their branching narratives, I am also interested in role playing in wargames with live actors and the attributes that are given to indigenous people in these mock skirmishes. What's interesting about such wargames isn't the grand narrative, which is generally lacking, but the series of reasons for action supplied to large casts of seemingly minor actors. Invariably there are no freedom fighters among the insurgents, no nationalistic patriots, no true believers in great causes among the native characters in the game; they are all tribal, venal, petty warriors who sow chaos on their land. Supposedly in the interest of psychological realism, the inferiority of the Other is often dramatized.

A story on National Public Radio, "Army Preps For Next Afghan Target: Kandahar," seems to perpetuate many of these myths among play-acting soldiers that I have seen in state-sanctioned videogames:

"We're not as high-speed, like the American forces," Hines explains, standing next to a gate with another American — Aaron Shay of Columbia Falls, Mont., dressed as an Afghan.

"We try to act like, 'Hey, what's going on? We don't know. You all need to train us,' " Hines says.

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan say some Afghan troops fight, but many just don't. They wait around to get orders from their American counterparts.

Pfc. Christopher Mosely, who is also playing an Afghan soldier, says the Afghans are "just not qualified just yet," though he adds they are "getting there."

So how do the American soldiers play Afghan soldiers?

"You do it, but not to the best of your ability. I wouldn't say halfway, 75 percent, you know," Mosely says.

Perhaps these Afghan soldiers know something that their American commanders don't or perhaps they are afraid of accidentally targeting civilians or perhaps they resent the sham of civil society perpetuated from their government in a country in which a recent UN report says corruption is rife. Just giving a character an arbitrary seventy-five percent energy rating doesn't do much to ask how he got that way.

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