Spielberg, Leone, the USSR, and ballistic accuracy
The first Medal of Honor was released for the PS1 in 1999, the year after Saving Private Ryan was released in theaters. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault came to the PC a few years later in 2002, just after Jude Law’s romanticizing of snipers in Enemy at the Gates. Later in 2002, Battlefield 1942 was released, and not long after that, Infinity Ward introduced Call of Duty. It seems the film industry ran just ahead of the games industry. Huh…
Steven Spielberg, of course, directed Saving Private Ryan, but he’s also the proud owner of a creator credit on Medal of Honor. Spielberg, you trend setter! He is, perhaps, the progenitor of the game industry’s World War II fever, which only just transitioned into modern warfare fever.
Of course, Saving Private Ryan wasn’t specifically about snipers, but that doesn’t matter – film heroes are always crack shots, be them WWII soldiers or one of Sergio Leone’s lonely western warriors.
Take The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: not only can Clint Eastwood casually strike down his opponents with a shot from his hip, he can then shoot them again in such a way that they fall into an open grave, and then shoot their hat into the grave to join them.
Above: Show a kid enough of this and how can he not dream of being a badass sharpshooter?
Pop culture aside, it doesn’t help militaries themselves have promoted romantic notions of snipers, as the USSR did with Zaitsev. Take Lyudmila Pavlichenko, another Soviet sniper, and possibly the most successful female sniper in history. She’s on a stamp (right). That's big time. Or US Army Staff Sergeant Adelbert F. Waldron, who accrued 109 confirmed kills in Vietnam - Lieutenant General Julian J. Ewell, who headed the Army’s Vietnam snipers, wrote of him:
"One afternoon he was riding along the Mekong River on a Tango boat when an enemy sniper on shore pecked away at the boat. While everyone else on board strained to find the antagonist, who was firing from the shoreline over 900 meters away, Sergeant Waldron took up his sniper rifle and picked off the Vietcong out of the top of a coconut tree with one shot (this from a moving platform). Such was the capability of our best sniper."
That may or may not have actually happened, but it’s fascinating anyway. Highly accurate shooting seems to be intrinsically interesting - why is that? I don’t know, but it’s possible that we’re simply genetically programmed to be partial to long-range projectiles.
From archery to darts to bowling, we love hitting things with things, especially from greater and greater distances. It’s a naturally advantageous skill to have – the greater the distance one can kill a target from, be it for food or defense, the safer the kill.
Snipers have many purposes, including demoralization, elimination of officers, counter-sniping, defense, and reconnaissance, but their existence can be generally attributed to the simple fact that shooting a target from a mile away is less risky than walking up behind it. That’s why, in 1915, the Germans didn’t hop out of their trenches and charge toward the Allied lines (as previous military strategies may have dictated). Instead, they laid low and picked off targets.
Above: Snipers of the France's 2nd Foreign Infantry Regiment using a PGM Hécate and a FR-F2 in Afghanistan in 2005 (Darvic)
Hate all you want, snipers have fun
I don’t like to be sniped in games either, but I love doing it. I used to release balloons into the air, let the wind take them some distance, and then try to hit them with my BB gun (not easy, considering the significant arc of a slow-moving pellet). If a carnival had a target shooting game, I was there. I dominated the Silent Scope machine in arcades. I’m not a gun nut - I've never even fired a real gun - but I do love hitting targets with things (my dad really shouldn’t have let me buy that composite bow from a garage sale when I was a kid, lest he didn’t want his sprinkler system destroyed by a stray arrow).
So you can be sure that when Medal of Honor releases next week, I’ll be there with a bolt asshole gun, hitting tiny running men from as far away as I can.
My only complaint about modern shooters is that sniping is too easy. To maintain balance and offer a fun experience for every player, sniping is generally difficult, but not as difficult as would make me satisfied. Adding a “hold breath” button just doesn’t cut it. I would rather be required to account for gravity (which is the case in Bad Company 2, to a small extent) and wind resistance, as it makes every kill more impressive.
Though with current shooter mechanics, which encourage most players to stay on the run, scoring a kill with more realistic sniping physics may be near-impossible. Either way, I find hitting hard-to-hit targets from concealment oodles more fun than charging into battle. And if you hate being sniped, consider that the best sniper defense is counter-sniping. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? Actually… don’t. I’d rather have more unconcealed targets to aim at as I pretend to be Jude Law. I mean Vassily Zaitsev.
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