Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Blades & Booms – How Games Can Spark Real-World Interests

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 20, 2012

Most of my knowledge of historical weaponry originally came from games. Not that game stats are the primary source of my knowledge anymore, but the games are what set me on the road. I don’t know why I get intrigued by the subject, but I do. Maybe it started with an article in Dragon Magazine — “Or With a … Weird One” (the second of a pair of articles, the first one on new rules for unarmed combat entitled, “Without Any Weapons”).  The article described a variety of unusual weapons used throughout history – complete with in-game stats. Many of the weapons were “unusual” merely because they came from non-European cultures. The atlatl, chakram (later made famous by the Xena TV show),  katar, manriki-gusari, bullwhip, and other weapons made their way into my campaign directly from this article. But while the stats were handy when running the game, it was the description of their usage in the article that really piqued my interest.

Maybe this was the stepping-off point… one more way in which D&D warped my brain from childhood… but from then on weapons and military history have been a source of curiosity for me. Whether it’s ancient stone or bronze-age weaponry, or the most modern jet fighters and laser-guided munitions, I eat that stuff up.

It’s usually the games that get me started. Combat flight sims drove me to study up on the real aircraft used in various eras – their capabilities, limitations, history of their construction, war stories, etc. I became interested in modern firearms directly as a result of playing Twilight: 2000 (and many other games since then). Twilight: 2000 had some excellent write-ups on modern firearms in one of their supplements, and that’s always how it started. I start out with a mild curiosity about whatever equipment my character is using in a game. The next thing you know, I’m reading books and watching the history channel, collecting weapons at Renaissance Festivals, taking archery or fencing classes, or visiting the firing range!

As a side note, I finally got to have my first weekend in a while this week, as the worst of crunch-mode at the day job is finally over and I didn’t have to work through the weekend. To celebrate I went with some friends to a local gun range, and took turns shooting each other’s handguns. While there, we also rented a Barrett .50 sniper rifle and put a couple of rounds through this giant weapon, and a fully-automatic H&K MP5. This was my first time firing a automatic weapon. I managed to keep my groups pretty tight, so I was very proud of myself, though I think the stability of the MP5 had a lot to do with it. These weapons have been favorites of mine in games from the Twilight:2000 and Rainbow Six days, so it was a lot of fun to finally try them out in the real world. Unfortunately, it’s too expensive to do something like that very often!

Games have also caused me to research (for fun!) U.S. Civil War and World War II history, robotics, medieval history, castle architecture, and areas of folklore. I will say that I was fascinated by Greek Mythology before I’d even heard about D&D, so it’s not that I wasn’t already predisposed to fascination in these areas, but it was D&D that made me expand my interest into other areas. As another example, while our interest in visiting New Orleans last year came from many sources, for me part of it was because of its excellent as the setting in Jane Jenson’s adventure game Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.

While games are and should be a creative endeavor, this isn’t to say the worlds shouldn’t be well-researched. Weapons, world geography, folklore, and military history are natural areas of real-world knowledge that can infuse many kinds of games with a sense of realism, but it shouldn’t be restricted to that. One of the oldest computer games – the Colossal Cave Adventure, had its origin as an interactive means for Will Crowther to express his fascination with caving. While I’d be hard-pressed to try a game that was explicitly about bird-watching, I could probably catch a spark of a designer’s enthusiasm in a game that included a bit of it in its design. At the very least, its inclusion might increase the verisimilitude – and my own immersion – in the game.

I’m not saying that good game design must include well-researched real-world elements. But from my own experience, I can say those that do have the possibility of having an impact that goes far beyond the few hours spent playing them. Considering what I’ve done with my career, how I met my wife (okay, it was at a dance, but we kept talking because I was annoying and she’d admitted to playing D&D), and my (far too many) hobbies and interests, it’s really no stretch to say that games made me what I am today. And I’m pretty happy ’bout that.

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 2 Comments to Read

  • delve said,

    One could draw parallels between bird/nature watching and the hidden item genre of games with only a marginal amount of suspension of disbelief. Whether they’re actually related is beyond my knowledge.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    It’s always a good idea to learn a bit about weapons. Too many people think modern firearms are small and light, while medieval swords were huge and heavy. 😛

    More generally, it’s important to know real life. Things like the importance of preparation, or patience, or the simple fact that in real life doing stuff takes effort can’t be internalized by simply reading about them. Or, to tackle a sensitive topic (which is nevertheless relevant for combat-oriented RPGs), the reality of getting into a fist fight: namely, that you will get hit, and it will hurt.

    But that’s a big topic, worthy of its own blog post.