Pep Pills

I’ve been playing Homefront: The Revolution a bit, enjoying the heck out of the open-world gaming. As is typical of 2010-era shooters, there are a variety of common foes. There’s the common KPA soldier, the suited chemical technician, the sniper, the armored heavy trooper. And then there’s the rusher.

Rushers in video game shooters are something like rushers in gridiron football, in that they rush their targets. Often they’re extra tough. Some have a shield that needs to be shot around.* And rushers are armed with a close-quarters weapon, a machete, a club or a shotgun. Video game rushers often battle cry as they charge as a bark (that is, an audible indicator to players that this guy is going to rush). In Dead Island there were rushing zombies who’d bellow to the sky upon seeing a target before sprinting in a frenzied attack (and who contrasted to ordinary shamblers who might only muster a modest jog).

KPA rushers (that is rusher-type soldiers in the fictional Korean People’s Army in Homefront: TR, not in the actual KPA) are of the shotgun variety, and while the regular units don’t seem extra tough, the hazmat version is in a fireproof suit and isn’t affected by incendiary attacks (like Molotov cocktails). KPA rushers suffer from drawbacks common to rushers in other video games. Sometimes they rush when they don’t have a direct path to their target, and sometimes they rush into obvious certain death, say into a kill-zone. Given the distinct battle cry of KPA rushers, it’s allowed me make some inferences of the KPA hierarchy.

Specifically, KPA officers can, with a button (or more likely, a double-click) automatically inject rushers with adrenaline, to give them that extra bit of spring in their step. That way the troopers really feel like charging in there and kicking ass, even if that means charging into a solid barricade, or charging into the fire of a machine gun nest.

To be fair, my supposition might be influenced by StarCraft. The Terrans can upgrade their Marines (infantry units) so they can be Stimpacked, which makes them happier and more eager to fight (and makes them faster, tougher and shoot better) all at the cost of a small amount of health. Stimpacks are doubly useful once Marines have Medics on their side who can quickly heal them back to full during a breather after a well-earned victory. Used effectively, stimpacks makes marine units super good. Used poorly and it gets them killed.

This is to say, yes, the KPA officers likely assess the situation much like a top-down RTS, where data from cameras, particularly surveillance drone scans, is interpreted by a central computer and interpreted for them as a situation awareness map. And when KPA troopers are moving too slow for an officer’s patience, or not shooting the targets adjacent to them on their map, it becomes very easy to habitually disregard the interests of the troopers on the ground and use the auto-injector as a prod.

I may also be inspired because our militaries do it in real life. In WWII, the United States GIs called them pep-pills which were doses of amphetimine. The Wehrmacht also used amphetamine supplements to improve unit fighting enthusiasm. Drugging our armies for battle turns out to be a long standing tradition.

The US still uses amphetamine to this day (maybe discontinued in 2017) as part of fatigue control for pilots on long-range flights, under a medical officer’s close supervision. US infantry experimented with cocaine for infantry use, and currently are looking at modafinil to combat fatigue for circumstances that don’t allow for sleep or relief. Our armed services still use something to improve pep. Exactly what is classified, but I hope it is something safer than amphetamine or cocaine.

One difference, though, is in real life militaries, our soldiers willfully pop the pills. The problem of getting dosed by an automated system activated by an unsympathetic remote officer or a situation-assessment computer is thankfully an experience still confined to the realm of dystopian speculative fiction.

So far.

* Handheld bulletproof shields are commonplace in games, and many mooks can carry them and serve as a considerable menace to their foes. In real life, handheld shields can sometimes stop handgun bullets, but are too light to protect against rifle rounds. Police and military have some anti-rifle shields that can be rolled around, but are too heavy for lugging by a single officer. In modern combat, bullets graduate upwards a lot faster than armor does.

Similarly, infantry armor can stop penetration of assault rifle rounds, but the shock from the impact will still typically lay a soldier out. Common police and infantry vests are sometimes called second chance armor because they do greatly increase the chance of surviving a direct hit to fight another day. They don’t allow the infantryman to keep fighting the same day. Still, game armor often bounces bullets. Even in Homefront: TR, KPA heavies are able to ignore most enemy fire and keep walking, though they still topple with a sniper shot to the face.

This is not to say infantry armor is not useful, though. War involves a lot of bullet fragmenting and shrapnel, and humans are still very susceptible to getting deaded by stray bits of flying metal. Most of these can be handily stopped with good personal armor, which is why Imperial Stormtroopers wear full body armor even though they can still be downed with a single blaster shot.

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Cat: Thresholds

My sweetheart and I (and the crew, Miss Taz, Ren and Stimpy) have moved again. This time it was only a four mile difference, from Vacaville to another part of Vacaville. Interestingly it feels like moving from Strangetown to Pleasantview. The previous place was more in the outskirts of civilization, with fewer trees and undeveloped surrounding lots. The new place is older. The trees are taller. The buildings have the staggered architecture that was popular in the 90s and pleases me. And we’re right next door to some major shopping plazas. Before, it was a mile to the nearest business (a hospital), now, I could actually go get some groceries, more or less. It’s possible that the nearest Safeway is as close to my place here as it was in San Francisco.

When you’re a vampire it can be the smallest details that make a big difference. In this case, the doorways in our house have nice, wide threshold dividers. In The Sims 2, I believe they were called divicrats. They were little lines, available in the fence-and-gate category, and sims can walk over them. On public lots, I used them to guide lines to the espresso kiosk, and to reduce fights between rival sims, also to reduce general reactions to fights and to nudity. It also prevented Mrs. Crumplebottom from getting outraged at decency at the far side of the lot.

On private lots, divicrats also blocked stench and allowed two family members to use bathroom stations without privacy concerns (e.g. showering and peeing), depending on how relaxed I wanted my family to be about such matters.

Vampires (and fairies and their ilk) tend to be a bit exacting about matters of consent and hospitality, and as such one might expect clearly delineated thresholds to keep us away (or in our place) much like crucifixes in movies. Rather, they’re comforting, as they remove question if we’re in or out of the threshold of someone else’s domain. Similarly crucifixes and other religious holy symbols serve as warnings that people can be offended by profanity or blasphemy or heresy. If we reveal too much of our nature, that usually counts as blasphemy or infidelity.

Though this raises a point of propriety regarding vampires (goblins, malignant spirits or other untoward creatures) in sacred space: Is the depravity in being such a creature, or knowingly letting such a creature into sacred space? If it is the former, then there is no actual status change once in the forbidden zone, and it is up to the supernatural elements of the place to defend it from beasts like me. If it’s the latter, then there’s argument that I serve the custodians of the space by not informing them I am profane.

As an old person, I prefer to avoid situations where such offenses can manifest. Yet as a young person it excited me to see how I could infiltrate places due to vague thresholds and ambiguous policy.

Especially if I had mischief to manage.

Good Guys With Guns

Check In: So, I’m moving. Again.

I’m only moving across town, what’s a difference of about four miles. But I like it here. And the new place is going to take an adjustment period much like this place did. Different adjustments, but adjustments. It’s going to be another adventure and I’m not big on adventures right now.

Still, it is going to be better for everyone involved in general. The boo (that is, my grandson) will be around more often. The teen will be closer to high school. We won’t have just one person that can fetch emergency groceries. We won’t be as distant from shopping or schooling or transit-to-San-Francisco. If everyone else is happier, I’ll feel happier as well. Much more so if my own lifestyle is more-or-less unchanged.

For now, that feels like a lot of ifs.

For now, I’m facing the process of moving. I’m facing the tedium, the toil, the exertion. For now it looks all overwhelming and scary.

So far it’s involved a lot of bureaucratic hoop-jumping and getting ducks in a row. So far, I’ve been angsting about the flaming hoops and errant ducks, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without my sweetheart. And I bet the boo is going to struggle with it when he’s older.

And so I’ve had a hard time focusing on matters like Korea, or the dissolution of civilization as we know it, the stuff I write about.

In Jon Snow’s early adventures*, he encounters Samwell Tarley on his way north to become one of the Night’s Watch. Sam is a self-proclaimed coward, and it is because of this cowardice, a tendency to be paralyzed in the face of danger, that he is rejected by his family and forced at swordpoint to join the Watch. In his adventures with Jon, Sam proves bright and resourceful and loyal. He’s not much good in combat but otherwise an okay guy and pretty useful to have around. Sam even becomes a POV character in the later books.

Right now, in the real world, another man is being disgraced of cowardice, School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

During the Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting, within the few minutes that Nikolas Cruz was gunning down students and teachers in the school halls, Deputy Peterson stayed outside in a defensive position and did not move in to attack. And for doing so, a lot of public figures hate him and find him a shameful coward.

Generally, it is considered tactically unsound to rush a gunman without knowing exactly where he is. It’s accepted that in the circumstances, Cruz outgunned Peterson: Cruz’ rifle was higher powered and longer ranged than Peterson’s handgun. (Peterson is not a trained CQC specialist) And then modern police culture conditions our officers to Get Home Safely. Our law enforcement culture is catastrophically afraid of civilians with guns, and news stories are many in which police draw first and shoot early. Sometimes they shoot at shadows. Sometimes they brandish when there’s no clear and present danger (like at an unarmed driver in a moving car on a freeway).**

And yet, Peterson has been shamed widely by state officials, by elected representatives and by mainstream media for failing to rush into a dangerous situation which presented a high risk of resulting in his own death. Deputy Peterson was immediately suspended without pay for his cowardice, and he has since retired.

Maybe School Resource Deputy Scot Peterson deserves a bit of slack.

War historians might argue whether it is ten percent or fifteen percent or even twenty-five percent of the soldiers on a battlefield that cause ninety percent of enemy casualties, but we know it’s a small portion. (These days artillery and air strikes do most of the killing.) Our rigorous training for the US armed forces, particularly the United States Marine Corps (who are typically the front-line infantry in any conflict involving US units) does everything it can to prepare soldiers for front-line engagement with the enemy, to encourage our recruits to become relentless, unwavering killers. But to this day, we have no means to test a soldier for the willingness to move into open danger, and we have no means to test a soldier to be willing to kill another human being, even a thoroughly dehumanized enemy.

It wounds us to actually kill. Some say we have to kill our own spirit in order to take the lives of others.

And so a lot of our soldiers fail at that moment of reckoning, more than those who succeed, according to our records. So many of our green units are cowards on the field that we have long since excised from military law the crime of cowardice and pardoned those who were convicted of cowardice in WWI (posthumously. Most cowards were executed by firing squad.) In modern armies, we commonly just transfer non-killers to less-direct positions, such as artillery, or into the massive supply and communications infrastructure, where there’s room for plenty of non-killers and even some conscientious objectors.

This is to say Deputy Scot Peterson is not particularly unique as a someone who actually fears for his life and might hesitate to kill, even duty calls to shoot someone who direly needs to be shot, such as a rampaging gunman. The character for which he has been impugned is commonplace among all of us, and I dare say among our law enforcement officers.

It is a common thing for a human being to refuse to take the life of another. Generally, this is a good thing, as most human beings get along way better by not killing each other. It’s a good thing that taking life is a line hard to cross, that killing is a big deal.

It goes the other way, too. Those of us who are brave killers sometimes have difficulty not being too eager to kill in more peaceful times. Our generals have watched for what they call natural soldiers which is to say they fantasize about creating a clone-army of Audie Murphy, people who function calmly in combat conditions and kill the enemy without even an instant of empathy or consideration. These days we call Murphy’s condition the thousand yard stare, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It’s an embarrassment of the good-guy-with-a-gun notion: When circumstances call for a good guy with a gun, most good guys are going to be less than eager to enter a kill-or-be-killed confrontation. And those who are eager might find killing too attractive a recourse outside such dire circumstances.

Good soldiers in wartime are often not good soldiers for peacetime, and while I can’t speak from experience or data, I suspect police officers good in a firefight may have difficulty with the day-to-day monotony outside of one and the non-lethal yet humbling misbehavior of high-school adolescents.

* Referring to George R. R. Martin’s magnum opus and great epic A Song of Ice and Fire, popularly known for the HBO series based on the books, Game of Thrones

** This is a development since the 1960s, before which police were known to serve lifetime careers having never brandished their firearm once outside the gun range. Federal agents (such as the FBI) didn’t even carry more than a service revolver, relying on local precincts for back-up until the latter half of the 20th century. The pretense was well known: shooting a fed would unleash a manhunt that could not be evaded, and would only end in The Chair or a bone-shredding ambush.

This all changed during the drug wars, what started as a war against cannabis and opium growers and distributors, and is now a larger industry than the drug trade itself. Between the corruption of the police and the ruthlessness of the drug industry, it created a change in attitude from To Protect And Serve in the 1950s to Get Home Safely in the 1990s, even though for most officers in most precincts the job is still not very dangerous at all. Still, as recently as the 2010s, high-profile investigators, prosecutors and police captains who might successfully collar a major drug lord can count on paranoid sleepless nights for the rest of their lives, considering how likely it is they will be cut very short.

Homefront: Norks

The Epic of Modern Korea: An Introduction and TL;DR

I’ve been playing and enjoying Homefront: The Revolution, a game about being a partisan in an occupied country. Curiously, the premise of the story is that North Korea successfully invades the United States. It’s an improbable scenario dipping into the threshold of absurd. It’s the sort of thing that begs exposition of how things came to happen this way in contrast to the history we know and love.

Last time I talked about the United States, and the difficulty of invading and occupying such a huge country with a huge, armed population. The other issue that runs against the grain of history is the notion that Korea could invade anyone (Beyond itself.) or even become an economic superpower, especially during or following Korea’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad (20th) Century.

My original intent was to write a single piece about Korea, and how awful the 1900s have been to it. But to understand Korea’s sorry state (The fall of the Joseon Dynasty and collapse of the Korean Empire, Occupation by Japan and Korea, divided now stuck in a perpetual and uneasy armistice), I delved into the 19th century, and found yet another tragic epic featuring the the westernization of the far east, the sunset of the Joseon Dynasty and the epic of Queen Min. It’s actually a pretty amazing tale featuring court intrigue, the finer points of royal protocol, gunboat diplomacy and even an actual assassination by a gang of ninjas.

That is to say this is going to take more than one post.

So Why the Heck North Korea?

Mostly so that the enemy can be called Norks in game, leading to the temptation to name in-game weapons Norkrist and Namdring. (Humor credit to Problem Machine. It’s his fault.)

Homefront TR is a reboot of Homefront 2011, and it was during development of the earlier title (and parallel media) that it was decided that North Korea was to become expansionist and invade the United States. Following the ideas (and the money) points to screenwriter John Milius (screenwriter of Apocalypse Now and director of Red Dawn). It was the Red Dawn remake of 2012 (in production as early as 2008) that presented the idea of a North Korea invasion of the US, on the pretense that it developed a strong open alliance with Putin’s Russia who provided the DPRK strong support. (China was considered and preferred as a more likely belligerent, but Hollywood didn’t want to get censored by Chinese officials. Really.) Milius wrote a novel Homefront: The Voice Of Freedom connected to his direction of Homefront 2011, so the DPRK Attacks! plot point likely began with Milius’ trying to demonstrate how he’d do a North Korean invasion.

Homefront 2011 positioned the change of history when Kim Jong-un took office as Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea who was able to shut down the electrical grid (and most electrical devices) in the US.* In Homefront, DPRK’s nuclear program is more advanced than it currently is. And its (sizeable) military is in enough of a state of readiness that Kim Jong-un could consider his expansionist ambitions. Evidently, Kaos Studios got some experts including an ex-CIA (alleged, but I’ll assume it’s true) to affirm that the invasion scenario is plausible. And since the game’s release in 2011, the blogosphere has been alight with numerous articles about how it totally isn’t.

Homefront: The Revolution rebooted the whole Invasion America story, moving the schism from the historical timeline further back in time, but probably not far enough. A perfect storm of natural disasters drive Kim Il-sung to a moment of humility and reason to resign, and instate the far more moderate Lee Dong-won (not this or this Lee Dong-won).** That same disaster storm also affected matters in the United States, when Eisenhower freaked out over the successful launch and orbit of Sputnik 1. Ike passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958 but could not successfully get a grant extended to Fairchild Semiconductor to further its development on the transistor. Instead, transistors were developed in North Korea by hobbyists, starting the digital revolution along the Ryesong River rather than in the fecund economy of California.

The fiction only continues to get stranger and more preposterous from here.

Beyond Killing Hitler

At this point, driven by a sense of fairness, I pondered how far back one would have to go in time to change the destiny of Korea. If I had a time machine and wanted to tweak a small intervention so that Korea could become an economic superpower, what would I change?

Well…

Some regions end up becoming the borderlands, the butt monkey for stronger empires around it. Despite our predispositions to think otherwise, it’s rarely about bad governance or unruly people, but just where resources ended up, where the defensible landmarks are. Places like Ukraine and Poland end up becoming the battlegrounds for everyone else, caught in strife and conflict between belligerent kings and proud emperors and haughty cæsars and the occasional führer.

And so it is with Korea, caught between Russia, China and Japan, all who all lusted after Korea’s diggity-dank harbors, each of them ever seeking to make the little peninsula territory its own pet satellite. And this pressure, fueled by enough rancor, fury and spite to make for a sweet RTS franchise, has defined the history of Korea.

So the tl;dr answer is that it was a trick question: we’d need more than one tweak, possibly more than a dozen to set Korea up. Or give them a Ring of Doom or something. Either way, the time-police are certainly going to get suspicious.

To illustrate why a single tweak isn’t enough, a dive into Korean history will soon follow, a saga taking place over about a century and a half, featuring drama and intrigue worthy of a multi-volume period epic and HBO series featuring vast amounts of nudity and large-scale battles. It even features an undead immortal despotic tyrant who controls his dominion from beyond the veil of death itself.

* A nuclear bomb detonated at high altitude would radiate a powerful electromagnetic pulse that would disrupt most electrical systems used in human society. The electromagnetic pulse was a property of nuclear explosions discovered in testing though never used in warfare. But both the US and USSR had to account for their rivals using high-altitude bursts in a nuclear exchange to disrupt the systems of their rivals. As a result most of our military electrical systems and a lot of our civilian systems are shielded (hence the giant metal cases that enclose our desktop computers). Such a burst would take out phones. It’d affect some motor vehicles, and might even cause some power outages. Still, a lot of our stuff is protected, at least enough to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike.

In Homefront: The Revolution the EMP was replaced with a software kill switch which is quite plausible in our current era, though it can be argued that the US military has been paranoid of remote-shutdown capabilities on their software driven systems and units since the fifties (we suspected the Soviets to be supremely clever and use all sorts of magitech to disable our defenses, electronic or otherwise). It’s because of this that we were slow to switch to digital communications (over radio and wired analog telephony), fly-by-wire (that’s power-steering for jet planes) and drones. Outside of the military, US agencies vacillate between OMG Haxxorz B Crashing R Planez! and thinking that their classified data is safe protected by decades old computer security. I’ll probably write another rant about all this sometime.

What’s telling in Homefront: TR is that the American terrorists (the resistance) have electronic chirpsticks that will temporarily take over enemy war bots (computer-driven vehicles with automated guns) and open electronic locks. The implication of this is that Korean app-driven devices aren’t particularly secure either, and terrorists of all walks are supremely clever.

** Kim Il-sung was neither a humble nor reasonable man, and it is rather uncharacteristic that he’d yield the regency of North Korea to anyone, let alone someone who wasn’t as staunch a communist as he was. I assume that his decision making was assisted by unspoken circumstances, say a blow to the head, a midnight reckoning involving spirits of empires past (and present and future). Or perhaps a secret society intervention involving a gun to his head and a knife to his testicles. Maybe Kim was dispatched and Mystique took his place long enough to affect a resignation and transfer of power. In 2018, if you can imagine the circumstances in which Donald J. Trump would resign from the presidency and willingly yield it to Hillary Clinton, it would take that degree of meddling and miracle-work.

Haunted By A Million Screams

Check In: Where last I left off, I was talking about the problematic alternative history of Homefront: The Revolution. I already talked about the difficulty of invading and occupying the United States, and since then I’ve been researching the history of Korea, and the unlikely notion that it might become an economic superpower, in lieu of California. And so it turns out that Korea has a rich, tempestuous history featuring spies and assassins and meddling by competing, neighboring powers that all want the Korean peninsula as their own. Things got turned up-to-eleven when nations from the west started bring in their own trade and religion, and lots of gunboats. Anyway, I’d been working on that at length. It’s still a work in progress when, well, when the Douglas High School shooting happened.

I will get back to the Korea thing.

Yesterday, Nikolas Cruz (still only a suspect), alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to his Alma-mater with an assault rifle (currently listed as an AR15-style) and killed seventeen victims. I can’t find any reports of wounded at the moment, and I hope that means there are no other casualties. Curiously, it’s been acknowledged as the anniversary of the Northern Illinois University shooting but not of Valentines Day, proper, nor the infamous Saint Valentines Day Massacre. Though were I to guess, only Valentines Day is likely to be of significance.

If it bleeds, it leads, the old saying goes. My morning scan of the Washington Post frontpage found the Douglas High School incident leading with a banner headline about a lack of new developments. Early in the articles are how this shooting compares with other shootings. It is the worst high-school shooting ever and the second-worst school shooting. Our press discusses it like it’s a sports event, new data on a leaderboard to inspire the ambitions of future rampage killers.

The headline of the hour is that we don’t yet know why Cruz decided to commit a shooting rampage, as if we can expect there to be a singular, clear reason a man goes amuck. His past behavior suggests he was already a prime candidate for suicide / rampage, waiting for a terrorist recruiter, say with an agenda such as making a white-supremacist statement, or an anti-abortion statement or maybe even an Islamist* one. But I’ve observed before ideological crusades are invariably incidental to what drives rampage killers (or suicide bombers, or lone-wolf assassins), and we really don’t need to give time-of-day to the specifics of the assailant’s battle cry, often spoon-fed to the guy by a skilled handler.

Generally, rampage killers are like suicides: They’ve led a sucky life and have hit a seemingly irrecoverable low and just want their own suffering to stop. Ours is a society in which we give few fucks about other peoples’ suffering and call such people cucks and snowflakes and crybabies. So why not take out a dozen or so unsympathetic bastards? This is the world we live in. These are the names we’re given. (Thanks, Genesis.)

Typically, those interested in the motives behind our killers are, rather, looking to affirm their own agendas. Once a monster is revealed, and people are desperate once again to understand and prevent such horror, it’s easy to find some aspect of the assailant’s life and fixate on that, whether it’s violent video games, or Satanic rock-&-roll or hobbyist interest in guns or whatever. We amplify it large, until someone is saying Dance Dance Revolution is turning our kids into killers.

And personally, I’m annoyed that it never comes down to any of the concerns I believe might push someone (e.g. might push me) over the edge: The cruelty with which we treat our employees kids neighbors fellow netizens everyone; The profound inequality in our society and the obstinance with which we deny it or only recognize part of the equation; The massacres quietly executed by the state in the name of national security; The antagonism our government, its departments and its agents express toward the public; the pronounced suffering of others we justify as necessary for our own well being. Heck, the daily embarrassing antics of Our Dear President that have made the US a joke on the world stage, and has embossed large the absurdity of our species.

The US has become the no fucks given state, and the occasional rampage killer gone amuck is one of the natural byproducts of our embrace of such a culture. There are plenty of things we could do towards reducing the incidents. I’ve recommended before we could take mental health seriously. We can give these raging suicides actual alternatives. But that involves actually caring, and for now we appear to be super committed to not doing any of that.

Look upon our works, ye mighty and dispair.

Addendum: Reported on February 20th and 21st, At least eighty Syrians were killed including 19 children in a series of attacks on the Eastern Ghouta region of rebel-held Syria, due to a run of attacks including air strikes and heavy bombardment by Syrian government, backed by Russian forces, which has been worth a single article on WaPo and is not covered at all by other mainstream news agencies. Meanwhile the Douglas High School shooting and its political aftermath continues to lead the news. Syrians are the people we thought of in terms of Skittles during the election. Our disinterest in the loss of Syrian lives, and our unwillingness to help (which we could by increasing the rate at which we welcome Syrian refugees into our nation) demonstrates brutally we don’t actually care about murder at all, only when it happens in our own backyard.

I am outraged and ashamed.

* Islamism (as best as I can grok it) is the goal of creating and expanding an Islamic state, something that frightens the crap out of us westerners, even when we can simultaneously believe spreading our own culture is a good thing. Here in the states we have American Exceptionalism, what is standard indoctrination fodder in US education systems. And yet it looks scary and pretentious to non-Americans or, really, to anyone who thinks about it for too long.

Most Islamists (by far) seek to expand the reach of Islam by seeking to serve their respective communities and serve as exemplary neighbors. We westerners may identify this tactic most with the Great Commission: Be a cool dude and when someone thinks you’re awesome, tell them it’s only because Jesus is your co-pilot. Here in the United States we associate American patriotism with gung-ho attitude and bringing extra meat for the barbecue. Islamists are typically looking to be good people, serve the community, and then blaming Islam for why they’re so nice.

But then there are the violent ones. Violent Islamists are uncommon and regarded as radical and extremist by ordinary Muslims. But since the 9/11 attacks (which was, according to their architect, a strike of retribution rather than an effort to extol the virtues of Islam) the people of the United States have been commonly wary of Muslims in general, and have presumed all Islamists to be radical and extremist.

Homefront: Invading America

When Homefront: The Revolution first came out, I wasn’t particularly interested in it because of the big dragon in the room. It’s time to talk about that.

When the original Homefront came out in 2011, it looked like an interesting game with a curious premise: The US had been successfully invaded by North Korea.

Wait, what?

This is not just extreme alternative history, but absurd alternative history.

Deer Of Teal Prancing Afield

Why such a premise is crazy takes a bit to explain, and granted not everyone wants to concern themselves with all the nitty. So here are the general points.

The United States of America is really hard to invade, and harder still to occupy. That’s what I talk about below.

Korea, presently divided into the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has had a really bad 20th century. It’s unlikely that it’s going to reunite back into a single sovereign state. It’s unlikely that it’s going to become a major economic power anytime soon, and it’s unlikely that it’s going to wrest itself free of the political tensions between China, Russia and the United States. North Korea’s only military ambition at this point is to stay noticed by the global community in order to get humanitarian relief. Let alone invade someone. Let alone invade the United States.

Neither of these issues necessarily make Homefront: Revolution a bad game (nor the original 2011 Homefront, though I haven’t played it). To the contrary, play of Homefront: HR sells well the notion of a resistance campaign. The silliness of the invasion itself notwithstanding, the invading forces in the game are serious and formidable, and fighting them with guerilla tactics (id est, terrorism!) is interesting and fun.

Why we have this game (as opposed to what I think might be better choices) has most likely to do with a AAA game design best practice. Specifically, games have to be about America, about Americans, even about white guys. Games that don’t do this (so AAA development decision-makers believe) risk selling less well. This is why we sometimes get speculative games about invasions of the US and resistance against an improbable occupation, rather than stories of real places that had been invaded in which resistances actually formed. One such place being Korea. Twice!

A Dove House Filled With Doves and Pigeons

(Shudders Hell through all its regions.)

The US is big. Really big. It’s got a lot of people, and a lot of them have guns. This was a defining factor in both World War I and World War II, hence efforts by the Germans to dissuade the US from entering the European campaign in both conflicts. Before WWI, Germany incited Mexico to attack the US, and before WWII Germany encouraged Japan to do the same thing (though preferably not by surprise attack, thanks). Once the United States war machine started stamping out GIs and Tanks and shipping them to England, the European Axis was doomed.

I should clarify: By doomed I mean Germany was fated ultimately to surrender to the Allies. Hitler couldn’t understand this. He was an ideologue with Parkinson’s and not only believed in racial supremacy of the German people but believed it was a force multiplier that could compensate for vastly smaller numbers and shorter supply in contrast to the US and USSR. (This is to say, Hitler was bad at math.) But his generals knew it. Their best hope was to put up enough of a fight to secure a conditional surrender from the allies, maybe to keep some of their conquered gains, and at worst, not get hanged in the aftermath. They were even willing to stage a coup and overthrow Hitler (thereby shortening the war), but only if they could negotiate terms with the Allies. The Allies were having none of it. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin agreed to only accept unconditional surrender from Germany, even if it meant prolonging the war and expending additional troops.

This is to say the US and USSR both had additional troops to expend. And how.

All of our Red Dawn scenarios involve the enemy securing a massive army by which to occupy the states. That’s hard to do. In the twenty-first century we have concerns because China could create such an army, and given they have a lot of disposable males. An excess of guys is often an excess of angry guys, so China might send them off to some war. Still, attacking the United States would involve a massive troop-transportation logistical nightmare. (Though a spectacular, glorious one, if successfully accomplished.)

North Korea, unlikely. Though a bizarre scenario in which China supplied North Korea an army as some sort of proxy attack would be… conjecturable.

A Dog starved at his Master’s Gate

(Predicts the ruin of the state.)

This is not to say the US is not impossible to invade, but the conditions need to be right. As Vizzini advised never get involved in a land war in Asia. Napoleon and Hitler both failed in their attempts to take Russia. And yet it can be done (and has been). It’s just a good idea to invade when Russia is facing its own political upheaval, which it often does. (Also, it’s a good idea to avoid winter and the mud season.)

So it is with the United States.

United we stand, but to differ from our pledge of allegiance, we are not indivisible. All states have radical secessionist extremists, but we differ more commonly among larger regional clusters. New England doesn’t like the Dixie states much. The feeling is mutual. And neither of them like West coast. And then the Midwest and Mountain states are even more fractured regarding culture, ideologies and priority interests. All these sectors have widely diverse politics, none of which are represented well by the two primary political parties that dominate elections. The seams where we are weakest are clear and evident. It is how the public has become so susceptible to foreign social-media propaganda campaigns. If current trends continue within the US, as wealth disparity increase, as we lean towards tribalism and our parties disregard their constituencies for corporate interests, the people will continue to become more open to desperate measures. This includes secession from the greater federal union.

Once the US fractures, the people will be distrustful and all the more ready to misbehave against the the new / revised administrations. The US people and armed forces might be too disorganized to put up much resistance from a foreign invader coming in in the guise of delivering humanitarian aid. It would be an expensive gamble, but hardly a futile one.

Probably not by North Korea, though. I’ll get to that.

Homefront: Bad Mother Brady

Brady from Homefront: The Revolution is not a very nice guy. He’s something like Animal Mother in Full Metal Jacket, a general dick all around, but we’re glad he’s on our side because he’s willing to lug the M60 around and only use it on the enemy. Brady is like a bull, the kind of guy who gets nicknamed Bull. He not only carries two full-sized primary weapons (and a crapload of ammo and field mods) but he also lugs around the big bolt-cutters for obstinate locks.

But Brady will knock you over if he’s going somewhere, and not even apologize. And not once has he acknowledged the nice safehouse watchman who greets him. Not once.

Problem Machine in his playthrough of Alpha Protocol noted the short-fuse timed-dialogue system, also the convention when he ran out of time that the game would choose a dialogue option for him. His interpretation of this system was to suggest Secret Agent Michael Thornton is impulsive and belligerent sometimes to the point of idiocy or absurdity. Problem Machine pondered to what degree this was an intentional design choice by the developers. But regardless of intent, the design choice informs how Agent Thornton plays out.

In Firewatch there’s a similar effect — this time undoubtedly intentional — with Henry’s short, stubby fingers and heavy build. For those used to playing third-person games (or first person games that include the hands and body — many don’t) Henry’s awkward build contrasts to the proportionate vetruvian build we see in other games. Henry is not merely an everyman that people can identify with, but a specific unexceptional guy, and the story is a personal one, exemplified also by the substantial prelude.

Brady is a silent Freeman, a blank personae in which players can position themselves. And in that light Brady’s badassery (his athletic prowess, his exceptional carrying capacity and ability to absorb damage) can be argued to just be power fantasy material. But there are other effects in the game, some perhaps derivative of old gaming conventions, that inform who he is. For instance, Looting is fun, or addictive at least. And it’s a common convention to pepper a level with lootable containers. But that informs the character of Brady: He is the sort of guy who will assume an invitation to hang out means he can raid your refrigerator, then your garage, then your box of electronics and take what he wants without asking.

Brady also has resting murder face. People keep expecting a fight from him. I’m not going to fuck you and I’m not going to fight you. So get lost. a resistance bomb-builder tells Brady.** Meanwhile I am simply trying to remember which safe house Brady’s woken up in, and where the exits are. Other resistance tell Brady he looks like he hasn’t slept. Others tell him to calm down: he’s safe here. And passersby in the streets keep suggesting something’s wrong with Brady, that is if they don’t infer from Brady’s presence that shit is about to go down in their neighborhood. (It usually is.)

Brady is also enthusiastic in his takedowns (that is, knife-kill animations). Very enthusiastic. Often his resistance sense will point out civilians being harassed by KPA peacekeepers, or a house about to be raided. The easiest solution is often to run up to the offending officer and drive Mr. Stabby into his eye. But then Brady gives the knife that extra bit of wiggle to assure the victim’s brains are good and scrambled.

Brady likes Mr. Stabby. He likes up close and personal. He’s glad for this occupation as it gives him cause to stab people without his buddies going all not cool, man!. If this were another time, if Philadelphia wasn’t full of oppressive soldiers that needed killing, if society was kinder and gentler, Brady probably wouldn’t fit in very well.

But as it is, Philadelphia is occupied by a cruel military by a callous, unsympathetic foreign interest. And as such, it is Brady’s day, today.

* The last time I noted that Brady was informed (online, not in game) to be Ethan Brady, and his / her shadow is overwhelmingly obfuscated by a blocky parka. It’s still possible to assume Brady is a woman for the most part, though I’ve now seen his facial hair through the camera lens of one of the remote-control cars used for sabotage. But if I want to pretend Brady is other than a white guy, it’s still easy to do. I’d have to work at it to break the illusion. (Oh yeah. There are RC cars with cameras and bombs. They’re pretty great.)

** Some Resistance express their gratitude that Brady’s here and in their zone. Others cheer him on for past exploits (taking a stronghold or singlehandedly taking out a tank). In contrast to all the get lost!, chill out and you got a problem? comments, I wonder if the gratefuls are hitting on Brady.