How Videogames Have Shaped The Gun Culture
January 10, 2018
The world changes, the world continues to change. This is true for all things.
The American public's attitude toward firearms today is drastically different than it was just a short time ago. Back in the 1980s, concealed carry was legal in only a handful of places. Now not only is it the prevailing norm, there is an effort in Congress to pass national CCW reciprocity.
The view toward military-style "black" rifles, what the media likes to incorrectly label "assault rifles," has changed even more so.
Back just 30 years ago, private citizens who owned or wanted to own AR-15s and AKs were viewed as little better than incipient pedophiles, not just by the national media and the public, but by many gun owners.
Hunters drove the gun culture back then and they had no interest in them. More than one hunting-centric gunwriter publicly questioned whether people should even be allowed to own black rifles. Even the NRA shied away from black rifles, as supporting them seemed like a no-win scenario. Politically gun control was in, gun rights were not.
As you might have noticed, things have changed. Drastically.
There are several reasons for this, but I believe one of the largest reasons for this change in attitudes in American culture has been completely overlooked by everyone, and that reason is video games.
A generation or two past, kids' first exposure to guns was...exposure to guns. But the current generation's first serious exposure to guns, at least for most of them, isn't movies or TV, but rather video games.
Even before 2007's iconic Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, those guns have been technically accurate modern weapons, including optics and accessories, held and used correctly, and I think this has informed and formed the next generation of gun owners to like and want and be interested in military-style rifles from around the world.
If this seems unrealistic to you, I'm guessing you don't have teenage boys or just don't know how huge the video gaming industry is. Let me toss out a few numbers. In 2013 the worldwide box office for the film industry was $35.9 billion. In that same year, worldwide revenue for the video game industry was $70.4 billion.
If I had to wager, I'd guess most of you had no idea video games brought in twice the money that Hollywood does at the box office. They are so big major Hollywood actors are taking roles in video games. Kevin Spacey, Josh Duhamel, and Michael Rooker have all acted in various Call of Duty games, their performances captured and recreated digitally.
Not only do I personally like playing these kinds of video games, I am the father of two boys (now ages 15 and 19) who have grown up playing those games, so I have a lot of personal experience with this, and am not surprised at the numbers.
Video game releases, depending on how big or anticipated the title is, are marketed as hotly as Hollywood blockbusters, and are widely cross-promoted- such as the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
Firearm-intensive videogames are hugely popular worldwide, and considered normal and mainstream in this country. And that matters. Let's dig into the details.
The Big Dog
Since I've already mentioned the franchise thrice, let's talk about Activision's Call of Duty, as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare turned the industry on its ear. This was far from the first FPS (first person shooter) video game to feature modern weapons, but this game was so well done, so head-and-shoulders above all those that had come before it, and so wildly successful around the world, that it set the modern standard for these kinds of games.
The original Call of Duty game came out in 2003. It and its two sequels were set during World War II, and you (as the main character) used weapons from that era. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, however, was vastly different. COD4, as it is commonly known, was released in 2007 and set in the modern era, and the player is fighting terrorists both as a U.S. Marine and as a British SAS trooper.
Missions take place around the world, and many of the locations are real, and haunting, such as the sniper mission in Pripyat, Ukraine, the abandoned town just outside Chernobyl. The game developers did their best to accurately recreate this ghost town, down to the rusting Ferris wheel.
COD4 was unlike a lot of previous first-person-shooter games in that all the weapons used were not just real guns (as opposed to fantastical inventions), but labeled correctly.
The Marine Corps' Benelli shotgun, for example was listed as the M1014. And the Marines' standard rifle was not the "M16" but rather correctly noted as the M16A4. The guns all looked right because the developers of the game used 3D imaging/modeling on all the weapons, optics, and accessories.
When fired, empty cases ejected from the virtual rifles and pistols. The guns recoiled. When guns were empty, the movements the player's hands on screen took to reload the weapon were accurate. The soldiers and their gear looked accurate, and the characters moved in a realistic, tactical manner.
To achieve this hyperrealism, the developers of the game attended a live-fire exercise at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twenty-Nine Palms. The team also talked with U.S. Marines who'd recently been in combat to get an idea of how they felt and talked.
As for the realistic movements of the characters onscreen, extensive use of motion capture was done- and veterans supervised many of the motion capture sessions to make sure they were technically accurate.
Still sound like a kids' game?
During gameplay, players can either point shoot their weapons, at the expense of accuracy, or ADS- Aim Down Sights. The iron sight profiles for all the guns are completely technically accurate, down to the drum rear sight (with marked apertures) of the HK G3 and MP5.
When looking through optics, the reticles are accurate. This was the first game I ever played where I used the Trijicon ACOG, and the illuminated reticle seen when looking through the scope is accurately represented.
Personally, I always preferred playing COD4 on Hardcore setting, as the damage inflicted by the weapons was more realistic. To my mind, I shouldn't have to shoot an enemy soldier in the head three times just to get his attention.
Subsequent additions to the Modern Warfare series (MW2, MW3) added new guns (ACR, Vector, and the TAR-21 among many others), optics (EOTech HWS) and camo patterns. Players could assemble different classes for multiplayer, picking different weapons and attachments such as suppressors.
FYI there are several other COD titles set soon, and the weapons there are well-thought-out evolutions of current arms, in addition to neat tech like armed drones.
Some of the guns players can use in COD are not available commercially in any form (such as the M60E4). However, many of the long guns available to players in campaign and multiplayer mode are for sale commercially in the U.S. in semi-auto configuration, such as the ACR, TAR-21 (Tavor), HK G3, M16A4, MP5, and Benelli M1014 (M4). And, of course, all the pistols- Beretta M9, HK USP .45, M1911, and the ubiquitous "Deagle", the Desert Eagle, all just in the original COD4.
Was the game totally realistic? No. The Desert Eagle is not a good tactical choice for anyone. The M21 sniper rifle should not have the same knockdown power as the Barrett M82A1. The M1014 shotgun has more than a four-round magazine capacity. But what Modern Warfare brought players was so good it was easy to ignore the few inaccuracies.
I call Call of Duty the big dog because, in sales, it sets the high-water mark for these kinds of games. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had sold 16 million copies by 2013, and with this year's release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered, I'm sure that number is closer to 20 million. Those numbers, however, are nothing.
All combined, the 13 titles in the Call of Duty series had, by November 2016, sold 250 million copies, with sales more than $15 billion. While just thinking about all those zeroes might make your head spin, consider this- they belong to just one franchise.
The Tom Clancy-branded video games (and there are more than 30 of them) are known for their firearms-heavy technical realism as well. Which is as it should be; after all, Clancy invented the technothriller with his novel The Hunt for Red October.
Clancy's most successful video game title, 2016's The Division, set in a modern-day New York City ravaged by a plague, is currently being made into a Hollywood movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
Remember that the average player spends tens if not hundreds of hours playing each one of those titles, first completing the campaign and then usually going online for multiplayer games against other players around the country and around the world.
The Hot Potato
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is the fourth installment in the Counter-Strike series, and CS:GO (as it is known), when it was introduced in 2012, became an instant success. This is a PC (personal computer) as opposed to console (Xbox, PS4, etc.) game. Through October 2016, it had sold 25 million copies, which makes it the best-selling FPS video game for PCs, and maybe the best-selling (non-free) video game of any kind for PCs, ever.
In Counter-Strike, all game play is online with other players. You choose a team, either Terrorists or Counter-Terrorists. The terrorists have to plant bombs and defend them, and the counter-terrorists have to defuse the bombs and/or kill the terrorists before they plant any explosives.
Weapons used by the players are all real small arms. Pistols include the Smith & Wesson TR8 revolver, the SIG P250, Glock 18, and seven others. Players have their choice of four different shotguns including the Benelli Nova.
There are six different SMGs, including the HK UMP (.45), FN P90, and PP-Bizon. The 11 rifle choices range from sniper rifles like the Accuracy International AWP (which kids call the "awp") and Steyr SSG 08 to military select-fire rifles like the Galil, M4A4, and FAMAS. Or, if you're feeling sporty, you can try to stab the other players with a Rambo-style knife.
The graphics aren't that great, but it is the gameplay that drags people in. This game is huge. How huge? Syd Mead just recently helped design a custom pattern for the Steyr AUG in this game. Syd Mead is an artist and visual futurist who helped influence the look for many iconic sci-fi movies including Blade Runner, Aliens, and TRON.
CS:GO ELEAGUE championship tournaments are broadcast on cable networks such as TBS. CS:GO has been the No. 1 played game on Steam for quite some time, with the most concurrent players (usually well over 200,000 at any one time). Think about that. No company- firearms, optics, or otherwise- could afford that much advertising.
If you've never heard of Steam before, it is an online gaming platform, available worldwide, and it is massive. People buy games online through Steam, or register them with Steam, and the games are then hosted by Steam servers.
I just checked, and at 3 p.m. Eastern on a weekday there are 12.4 million people logged into their Steam accounts, and 3.4 million of those people are currently playing games.
While I have watched my youngest son play CS:GO for years, I do not like to play it at all because neither the game play nor the weapon performance is realistic. I shouldn't have to dump half a belt from an Israeli Negev to drop two opposing players.
However, this game exposes every player, young and old, to all sorts of weapons which, although they are not programmed to perform realistically, are depicted correctly. And many of them are legal for purchase in this country, albeit in semi-auto.
The New Standard
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (known around the web as PUBG) is brand-new, but it is fast becoming the biggest thing on the internet.
First, PUBG hasn't even officially been released. So far, the game is only available from Steam as an "early access" product. "Early access" means that the game can be played, but it isn't quite in finished form. Every Thursday, the game developers send out updates that fix bugs or glitches, add guns, or nerf existing weapons (see the Glossary sidebar for an explanation of that).
So, this game is not even complete. Then why am I mentioning it? Because in four months, even before it has officially been released as a finished product, more than 5 million copies of PUBG have been sold- at $30 apiece. And for very good reason, as it is redefining the genre.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is a "Battle Royale" style game, named after the Japanese cult movie of the same name where students were put in an arena and forced to kill each other. It is online only play, with large groups of players battling to be the last man (or woman) standing. And the way the developers designed the game play is ingenious.
First, game play occurs over the country of "Erangel", which is one large land mass with an island to the south connected by two bridges. The entire map is 8km x 8km, including the surrounding sea and several rivers. Roughly 30 sq. km of that (11 square miles) is playable land mass.
Up to 100 players begin the game in a military cargo plane, which crosses the map in a random direction. Players parachute out of the plane anywhere along the route they choose and can either freefall or pull their chute early to travel further distances across the map before landing.
At the start of the game, the players have nothing but the clothes on their back, and they must loot the buildings in Erangel to find body armor and helmets, first aid supplies, accessories, optics, ammo, and, of course, weapons.
The loot is scattered randomly, with the specific distribution different for every game. There are also lots of working vehicles scattered about for quicker travel than by foot- passenger cars, dune buggies, SUVs, motorcycles, and boats.
Players can play either in first-or third person, either on solo, duo, or four-man squad servers. The game isn't over until the last man or team is standing and everyone else is dead, and to keep the action moving, game play is continually restricted by a shimmering blue force field that contracts to random spots on the map, forcing players together.
If you wander outside the force field it continually damages your health, and the later in the game, the faster the force field can kill you. If you manage to stay alive all the way to the end and win, each game still only lasts about 30 minutes.
The weapons found around the map are all 3D modeled from real weapons, but range from nearly historical relics to modern military pieces. Quick and efficient looting is the key if you don't fancy going up against a player in Level 3 armor, armed with a select-fire HK UMP and SCAR-L, when you only have an M1895 Nagant revolver, which (realistically) takes forever to reload. But, still, any gun is better than no gun, both in the game and in real life.
The architecture of the buildings, and the graffiti, seems vaguely Russian. The developers of PUBG also seem to have an affinity for Soviet/Russian weapons. While our own in-house expert Dave Fortier could probably rattle off the specs to you, when encountering the VSS (topped with the authentic PSO-1 scope) and the Groza bullpup in-game I had to look them up to learn that yes, they are real rifles, just not ones available to anyone other than Russian Special Forces.
It takes about twice as many hits to kill opposing players as is realistic, but I believe the developers did that to make the gameplay a little more fun.
The weapon mechanics are good, as is the motion capture- when reloading the AKM, you can see your character rock in the magazine, then reach under the rifle to the right side to work the bolt.
Weapon suppressors work better on SMGs than they do rifles, but still no weapon equipped with one is truly silent. Often when being shot at from distance with a suppressed weapon you hear the sonic crack or the bullet impact in the dirt nearby, but not the sound of the gun firing.
While some of the ammo specs are deliberately off for simplicity's sake during looting (7.62 ammo is 7.62 ammo, and in the game works with the AKM, SKS, KAR98, M24, and the M1895 Nagant), it is the game play that really makes this game shine.
PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is the first game I've played, and the first game I'm aware of outside of dedi cated sniper video games, where bullet flight time, drop, and lead on a moving target are all part of the game.
Most of the external ballistic details seem darn close to realistic. 5.56 flight time? Not very long. On the other hand, the subsonic 9x39mm round fired by the VSS takes at least "one Mississippi" to hit past 300 meters.
When aiming at a player 200 meters away in a full-out run, good players learn to aim slightly above and a shoulder-width in front of the target, although that varies from rifle to rifle. You learn very quickly to zig-zag randomly when you're in the open and start taking fire, as it is much harder to hit a moving target.
With a true open world to fight in, players can both battle house-to-house using shotguns, pistols, grenades, and SMGs, as well as snipe players so far out they're not more than a wiggling pixel on the screen.
There is a 100-meter square grid overlaid on the HUD map to help ranging. The game keeps track of your stats and my 15-year-old son Barrett, who is really good, once got a kill at 377 meters.
The longest kill I'm aware of in the game was a 900-meter headshot, captured in a YouTube video. The player was using an 8X scope from atop one of the small mountains on the map, and through the scope the opposing player wasn't much more than a dot.
I wonder how many kids (and adults for that matter) are going to get interested in long range shooting because of this and other similar games. More than zero, that's for sure. Watching 20-something YouTubers like Edberg and StoneMountain64 rattle off bullet drop and lead for various weapons off the top of their head for their interested viewers just makes me smile.
In addition to wondering how many people have enlisted in the military because of playing these games, a more pertinent question for this article would how many guns (and optics and other accessories) have been sold to people because of their experience using them in-game. While the exact number will never be known, my guess is it is not small.
Most of the weapons and optics in Call of Duty, CS:GO, and PUBG, just like most of the other video games set in contemporary times, are available for purchase commercially. It is specifically because of using it in PUBG that I now have a burning desire to buy a KRISS Vector- specifically a 9mm pistol with arm brace, although the one in the game is a .45 ACP SMG. I am sure similar gun lust has afflicted thousands of players.
These military-style firearms are no longer a mystery to anyone who has played a first-person shooter video game in the last 15 years. And looking at photos on the page in a gun magazine is not the same immersive experience as "using" these guns to "save your life" as so many millions of both kids and adults have years.
Two years ago, I chronicled in an article a conversation I had with my son Barrett. I brought home a Century Arms Zastava M85 NPAP pistol (AK chambered in .223, fed by AR magazines) for a review. Barrett (then 13) looked at it and said, "Cool! Is that an AKS-74u?"
I am not kidding, those are the exact words out of his mouth, and he'd learned the correct name of that firearm by playing Call of Duty. He didn't learn it from me, his gunwriter father, as I still (incorrectly) call AKs of this type Krinkovs.
Without specifically studying the specs of a firearm, through hours and hours of "use" these game players learn the shape, function and/or cyclic rate, caliber, magazine capacity, sight picture, safety controls, mag change techniques, and other information about these guns (and quite often optics) at a near subconscious level.
Just think how times have changed. For the clear majority of people in this country, both kids and adults, the first time they "use" a gun is in a video game. Where they're having fun.
This "use" in a fun, positive, safe environment means that the great majority of video game players no longer have an instinctively negative view of these guns, unlike previous generations of kids raised on anti-gun mainstream media propaganda.
And many of them, when they get older, want to own those same guns. The truth is modern video games are marketed as much toward adults as they are kids. Adults are already old enough to buy guns...and kids get older.
Video games touch every part of the culture, tens of millions of people in this country alone, including those people who have no interest in or awareness of politics and gun rights. But their opinions are being shaped nevertheless.
It's basic psychology- if you have spent a lot of hours using something which has given you joy, saved your virtual life, and steered you to victory, it is only natural that you would have positive feelings toward that object, no matter what it is.