Nathan Hansen's column: Time again to answer the call
The latest edition of the video game Call of Duty came out earlier this month. There’s a part of me that feels like I shouldn’t know that, considering I’m old enough now to have played Super Mario Bros. when it first came out on the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1983. But if grown adults can dedicate hours to pretending they’re football coaches, then I guess I can play video-game war every once in a while.
For the unaware, Call of Duty is a shooting game played from a first-person perspective. Staring out over the barrel of your gun, you take aim at enemy soldiers who, are controlled either by artificial intelligence or by some other human somewhere who, in something like six out of 10 cases definitely has Doritos residue on his fingers.
Perhaps in your mind they have wronged you in some pixellated way. They must pay.
The genre has come a long way since its early days with games like Wolfenstein 3-D. In that game, players shot down robots, Nazis and robot Nazis in front of flat, low-resolution backdrops. Now, everything is more advanced. Graphics are pinprick sharp. I’m led to believe that the versions available on the new-generation of high-tech consoles released this month are so realistic you can see other players regretting their past decisions as your grenades rain down on them.
There have been other advances, too. The latest version of the game, for example, adds something called field orders. From time to time an enemy soldier will, when he dies, will drop a glowing blue briefcase. These games put a lot of stock in realism, so I can only assume translucent attaches are how all of our military information is carried these days.
That’s not really the point, though. The point is that if you pick up this neon-hued luggage you are given a special objective. Maybe your job will be to kill an enemy with an explosive. Maybe you’ll be asked to take out someone with a knife. Or while jumping. Or while humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic. It’s enough to make me believe the person who is issuing these particular orders does not take war very seriously.
Maybe the most significant addition to the genre, though, has been the microphone headset. In theory, the headsets allow teammates to share information about what is happening in the game. In practice, though, they’re mostly a tool that lets middle schoolers say rude things about your mother, even though they’ve probably never met her and would probably like her if they did. At least until she tried to fist bump them.
If you’re not quick enough on the mute button, the headsets also serve to remind you you’re getting your butt kicked by a pre-teen.
These games get more intricate every year, and it might be time to admit they’re passing me by. I don’t have the patience to sit hidden in a corner and wait for someone to walk into my sights. I’m more likely to run blindly around the map, looking for action. I react to distant gunfire the same way a golden retriever reacts to a thrown tennis ball. “THERE’S SOMETHING HAPPENING OVER THERE! I’MA GO GET IT!”
For the golden retriever, of course, this results in scratches behind the ear. For me in the game, it mostly results in me getting shot in the face. Well, pretend-shot.
Another advance in the most recent version of Call of Duty is chatter from your teammates that lets you know what’s going on in your multiplayer games. “There’s someone in the corner building!” they might warn.
If they were really advanced, though, my virtual teammates might yell something like, “No! Don’t run out …” followed by the sound of a palm slapping a helmeted forehead.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s time to go back to Super Mario.