Stephen Irvine, 01 February 2013
With freezing temperatures, floods, brutal winds and Thatcher’s brave fight against illness testing the spirit of our great island of late, your humble scribe has been holed up a ’la Layne Staley in his final days; a weary recluse no longer able to fake any interest in the world around him. But, as some of your friends might well be inclined to post in a faux-philosophical, thinly-veiled scream for help on Facebook, after the rain comes sun, and as the snow recedes I am managing what the tragic Staley was never able to, ponying up and carrying on – finding joy in the ridiculousness of the week’s news: Sour Times is back.
A great solace throughout this winter of discontent have been my daily forays into bloody and terrifying battlefields, slaying French teenagers and American jocks alike in the virtual world of Call of Duty: Black Ops Two. It seems that this has been a particularly popular pursuit, with the BBC this week reporting that the British Army has just conducted a 220-man virtual battle, comprised of soldiers on computers completing missions in a fictional French town called Lovelle.
“The aim is to understand how various changes have an impact on the speed at which command can respond,” said Col Tim Law, assistant head of army force development. “We’re trying to determine exactly what we need to fight and win the wars of tomorrow.” Bear in mind that in the £1m Urban Warrior 5 project, soldiers in the game are able to regenerate when killed – much like in games such as COD. Please excuse my naivety here, but does this not render any findings from the mass shoot-em-up ‘unreliable’ at best?
“This is not about killing people,” explains Col Law, “It’s about winning the battle.” Er, right. But surely if we have an army made up of immortal soldiers, able to simply wipe themselves down and carry on like cheats at paintball, we’re guaranteed to win any battle that might come our way…? Also, and far be it from me to sound like a gaming snob, but a battle in a French village just sounds so 1940s, especially for a project designed to help define the Army’s future, as Col Law explains: “We are noting that current events show how unpredictable the future direction of the Army will be. It’s a bit like nailing jelly to the wall.” You’re starting to sound like Major Major from Catch 22 now Tim, and it’s scaring me.
So, as fun as the £1m jelly-nailing exercise must have been for the lads involved, did top brass really make important discoveries about the future of warfare and the British Army’s role in it by observing our boys in action? It seems to me that they could have learned much more simply by looking at the BBC’s ‘related stories’, one of which carries the chilling headline ‘US Army unveils helicopter drone.’ That is the future of warfare, as nuclear capabilities make a scrap between developed nations less and less likely, and ever more efficient un-manned murder drones are able to fly in to the poorest countries and eliminate potential troublemakers – along with anyone else who happens to be in the way – without any soldiers needing to break sweat.
In the poignant Vietnam war-themed song Rooster, the late, great Staley sang “Got my pills against mosquito death / My Buddy’s breathing his dying breath” – it’s a shame he wasn’t around in the days of Urban Warrior 5, his buddy could have just regenerated and carried on, or even requested a transfer to the drone control department before things got too hairy out on the battlefield…