This one is an M4. I know this one, have held it many times, in many different worlds. A Colt M4 Carbine, gas-operated, with selective fire options and a telescoping stock. Widely used by the U.S. Military. Very popular.
I turn over the one now in my hands, inspect its contours, its engineered curves, the hard, metallic faces. Carbines are shorter than typical rifles, trading accuracy at long-range for increased flexibility and manoeuvrability.
This one is so real. I wonder how much the developers have paid Colt for the privilege of replicating their designs, their brand name. There’ll be the monetary costs, fees for licensing the model and its official designation — and then there’ll be those other, hidden charges as well. Stipulations set down by Colt, not to show the weapon underperforming, not to allow it to be held by enemies of the free and the brave. The developers have, ultimately, relinquished creative control of their work to corporations whose motives are ulterior to the purity of that work.
But it’s worth it, right? For the increase in verisimilitude, to ensure a truer depiction of reality in all its authenticity, all its naked honesty. That’s what the boys in their bedrooms are craving. Right?
A bullet richochets from the wall beside me, and I remember myself. My sergeant is shouting for me to hold this position. I am in a desert town in … Well, does it matter? Somewhere that harbours enemies of the free and the brave. There is a small square. There are fruit stalls in the square. Earthenware pots, upended, disgorge their contents onto the cobbled ground. An abandoned car sits in an alley to the north, light glinting from a bent wing mirror. Our squad has found cover to the south. The sun is high. The sky is brilliantly blue.
We are under fire.
The shots come intermittently. We hear a crack, then the pop of a bullet lodging in a crumbling wall, or else a puff as a small cloud shoots up from a hit skidding across the ground.
I glance out. The rest of my squad are defending their positions, kneeling behind walls and makeshift barricades, occasionally firing forwards loosely to the north. They are not helping much.
I search for the source of the enemy fire. I hear the crack of the shot, look for the flash but don’t see it — and a geyser of fruit pulp and splintered wood explodes out from the stall inches from my face. I duck back and pull my legs in close to me.
There is the stall in front, a stretch of emptiness to the right, then the next stall. The stretch is maybe three metres. I gather myself onto the balls of my feet, my head low, gripping my weapon tightly, and I wait.
The crack comes, then barely a moment, then the thud of the bullet. I push myself out from cover, springing off my toes, and dash across the empty space. There are dates scattered over the ground, they squash as I run but I do not slip. I charge low while looking up — I see the flash, hear the crack, I try to dive, everything is very slow, there is a shattering, and then I am behind the stall on my belly and my face is pressed into the cobblestones which are warm from the sun.
There is a ringing in my ears. I open my eyes. My legs feel wet, there is heaviness on the back of one knee. I lie for a moment and listen to the ringing and wait for the pain to come. There is no pain yet only the heaviness and the wet sensation. This is what it is like then, I think.
I turn onto my back slowly and the heaviness rolls away. I look down. A basket is lying upside down beside my legs. Apricots are strewn around the basket. Some are squashed beneath me and the juice is soaking into my legs.
I find my weapon, hoist myself up, lean against the stall.
I saw the flash. I peer just over the top of the stall, then back down. Yes. A figure in the ground floor window, the house by the alley, next to the abandoned car.
I take an M67 grenade from a pouch in my gear. I hold the grenade into my abdomen, grip the body and the safety in my right hand, use the index finger of my left hand to hook into the pin, then, with force, I wrench the grenade from the pin. I arc the grenade high and hard over the stall, ensuring a bounce and roll to decrease the chance of it being thrown back. I drop and hold my hands over my helmet and listen to the roll of the grenade over the cobblestones. The roll lasts a long time.
The explosion when it finally comes is dull and fast. A patter of dirt falls, and already I am up, between stalls, racing forwards. I grasp my M4 in both hands. There is a tangle of metal on the ground, a bicycle frame, and I leap it. Halfway across the square I see movement in the ground floor window. I pump with all my energy. Forwards, forwards; I clear the square, I reach the window; there is movement; I vault the windowsill and I am inside, there is a rug, there is a television set, there are pictures in cracked frames and there is the shooter. He is retrieving his AK-47, he tries to raise the rifle but it is unwieldy, I turn my carbine on him and squeezing the trigger in burst-fire mode I drive three bullets in quick succession into the man’s chest.
He sits down. He isn’t blasted by an awesome force, he just sits down. He sits down bodily. He makes a noise. It is a gasp. It might be a gasp or it might be air escaping a punctured lung.
I look at the man. He has a soft face and smooth skin. He has a mole on one cheek. His face is that of a boy I was in middle school with, though this man wears the long beard that is traditional in Islamic countries. There is sweat and dirt on his face. His eyes are brown, they look surprised. He is wearing shalwar kameez and the shalwar are torn on one knee. The kameez is white but there are three circles of red blossoming where the bullets have entered, and underneath the kameez his chest is ragged and open.
The man lies down. He makes the small movements of an animal in pain. I look at him. He is lying in dust. There is much dust and debris scattered from the battle. The man is going to get dust inside his chest. Doesn’t he see all the dust? He is going to get dust in his wounds and then it will be harder for the surgeons to operate.
I keep looking at him. There is some blood. It is underneath him. He has smudged some under his legs where he is squirming gently. I look at the smudged blood and I feel very much that I am here. I am here and the man is here and so is the blood and the dust and all of this. The cracked pictures, the faded rug. Existence is very much here. I think about asking the man if he knows this but I notice he is not moving any more so I go over and bending down I see that he is dead so I stand up and go outside.
The sun is still shining. The day is calm. I walk to a broken wall and sit on the rubble. I adjust my helmet, it has slipped to one side and I set it back on top of my head. The strap of the helmet is itchy under my chin.
I just killed that guy, I think. That guy is dead.
There is none of the horror. Everything is ordinary. Except the sunlight is very bright. The brickwork of the wall is very real. And there is a vibration coming from somewhere, from inside me; it builds and builds, everything inside is vibrating and there is nothing in the middle to hold it, there is an emptiness between my skin, everything is coming out. The sunlight is very bright. I breathe and breathe and I am alive like I have never known it, my fingers, my intestines, even my bones are reverberating with life; I take deep breaths and suck life down into me.
I look at the red of a car door and it curves magnificently.
My squad mates arrive and we continue on and complete the level. I earn a gold medal and many points and there are upgrades I can buy but I can’t concentrate on them because there is this thought that fills me up and I cannot get past it and the thought is that I just killed that guy, that guy is dead.
Later on I still don’t know if I want to add an M203A1 grenade launcher or an M26 under-barrel shotgun to my M4, but I’m glad the money has been spent to include all these real-world weapons. It’s the little details like this that help make the game so true, don’t you think?
[This work of fiction was partly inspired by an excellent piece of investigative journalism by Simon Parkin, which explored the links between arms manufacturers and the games industry.]