I’ve always had a tumultuous relationship with first-person shooters. In the ’90s, FPS games dominated my burgeoning gaming repertoire. I fell out of step with the genre after Halo wore me out for the last time, citing slowed reflexes and apathy. It wasn’t until Destiny came into my life that I gave FPS games another look. But, I’m particular about my FPS escapism.
Over the years that I’ve been playing games, I’ve discovered that I have sore spots when it comes to setting. I’m not easily shocked. But, I am sensitive. And one of my sore spots is around modern warfare in FPS games. Playing a modern soldier is not escapism, at least not for me. Whereas jumping into a Nightfall Strike with randoms is full of eustress (the good stress, where I’m still having fun), dropping me into a suburban neighbourhood to rescue a kidnapped mother from terrorists is full of distress (the bad stress, where I want to hide under my desk and cry). Rainbow Six Siege was a step too close to reality for me. The closer FPS games get to scenarios where it feels too real, the more distressing it becomes.
When the FPS’ reality accurately portrays the recent past, it’s more of a simulator than a source of escapism.
There’s a reason why I look to science fiction to fuel my FPS escapism: there’s a sense of grandeur that engenders the kind of escape I’m looking for. In Destiny, I traverse the stars and help other guardians stave off evil in the system. In Titanfall, I jump around in my giant mech, with its badass armaments, to take down a cyberpunk-esque megacorp and its mercenary cronies. With DOOM, I’m fighting off a host of nasty demons in a variety of violent, creative ways. And then there’s Overwatch: wherein I move the damn payload as a petite Korean girl in a pink mech. (I have a thing for mechs.)
However, an FPS that tackles the reality of war is still an experience worth having.
In spite of my reservations toward modern warfare, I do have a soft spot for historical FPS, even if they’re not all that historically accurate. The first two Call of Duty games scratched that itch for me, way back in the early 2000s. Battlefield One, lauded for a solid single-player campaign that challenges a good number of military-shooter conceits, has me scrambling to finish Titanfall 2 so that I can get into that campaign as soon as possible.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the hero, the saviour. But for me, the flavour of heroism is what matters. I can melt into a historical FPS with ease, given the firm delineation between the two sides of the wars. It’s almost impossible for me to escape into any style of modern warfare, because it isn’t far enough removed from reality. But give me a mech, give me a pulse rifle, give me a shotgun and a host of demons, and I’m grinning like a Cheshire from start to finish. Let me be the hero, but let me escape reality, first.