Saturday, 25 December 2010

A Coward Does His Duty

There comes a time when even the most stalwart FPS aficionado gets tired of charging into the fray with all guns blazing. For me, the appointed hour arrived one afternoon a few years ago. I was playing the level ‘War Pig’ from Call of Duty 4, in which you have to escort a tank through a hostile city. Having spent half an hour experimenting with variations of the kamikaze assault, I decided that it was time to try something new. Why not, I thought, play through the level as a coward? Not all soldiers are heroes, after all; even duty can call a wrong number.

To begin with, my new approach worked well. Having restarted the game, I immediately took cover behind a wall, far from the enemy’s front line. Bullets rattled against the brickwork, but the effect was strangely comforting, like the pattering of rain on a sturdy roof. My comrades exhorted me to advance, but I stayed where I was. Let them do the work for a change, I thought. What does a tank need a human shield for, anyway?

It wasn’t long before my resolution began to falter. Lying in the dirt is fun for a while, but once you’ve run out of pixelated blades of grass to count, there’s very little left to do. More importantly, from a military perspective, my squadron wasn’t making much progress: the tank was still parked right where it had started, bullets pinging impotently from its armoured frame. The crew appeared to be asleep. This state of affairs was unacceptable: a coward I may be, but that doesn’t make me a good loser.

I crawled out of cover and took up a new position behind the tank. For a moment I fretted that this behaviour—situating myself next to the enemy’s primary target—was insufficiently spineless, but it soon became clear that I was in no more danger than I had been before. However, neither did my relocation appear to have effected a tactical improvement: the tank was still motionless, and no amount of pushing was going to help. Reluctantly, I decided that it was time to enter the fray, or at least to knock quietly on the door of the fray, in the hope that the fray wouldn’t be able to hear me over the sound of itself.

I crept out from behind the tank and made my way slowly along the periphery of the battlefield. A distant adversary fired a couple of rounds in my direction, but they missed by a comfortable margin. All the same, I couldn’t help but feel that I was failing to respect my true nature: a coward must have the courage of his convictions, or he might just end up brave and dead.

Happily, I soon found myself back in cover. Not only that, but my expedition appeared to have roused the occupants of the tank from their slumber. The vehicle began to inch forward, following the trail that I had blazed just moments before. Could it be? Had I instigated a victory without firing a shot?

As it turned out, no. The tank came to a halt just short of my position, its driver seemingly unwilling to advance in his armoured vehicle to the point that I was occupying with my fleshy body. The enemy had abruptly vanished, and my comrades were rallying around me, but it appeared that we would make no further progress until I had personally evicted from the road ahead every one of the 500 Kalashnikov-wielding insurgents who had taken up residence there. This honour I declined. I have my principles, after all, and chief among them is the conscientious objection to the prospect of my own demise. With this in mind, I made a swift battlefield resignation. As the saying goes, you should always quit while you’re not dead.

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