You Need To Play Arma 3: Laws of War Given (Insert Conflict Here)

November 3, 2023


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Not to get too political, but I don’t think that civilians dying from bombs and landmines in war is very cool. I get that most people are mindlessly supporting their side of choice in one of 32 ongoing international conflicts, but fact is that when cluster munitions, rockets, airstrikes and booby traps are used in those conflicts, noncombatants die, regardless of which side is using weapons that should and very often are outlawed by treaties. 432,093 civilians have died violent deaths as a direct result of the U.S. post-9/11 wars, another 40,000-ish have become casualties in Ukraine since 2014, and more than 3,000 have died since Hamas attacked Israel two weeks ago. Cluster munitions, which the United States supplied to Ukraine earlier this year despite them being banned by the majority of the countries on Earth, caused 1,172 people to lose their lives or limbs in 2022. When two states, or non-state actors, fight one another, people who have nothing to do with that war die. And Arma 3’s Laws of War DLC, unlike the blatantly biased media or propaganda-spewing politicians, show what that actually means in an interactive experience. So, before you call for the death of all Ukrainians/Russians/Palestinians/Israelis/your least favourite demographic, you need to play it. 

Before I explain why, I just want to make one thing abundantly clear: Jump Dash Roll, and its foremost fancier of first-person shooters, does not support any conflict. We publish video game reviews, news and features, and not commentary about recent world events. But the idea that not spouting one side’s propaganda and advocating for the safety of noncombatants is somehow a partisan issue is bloody moronic, and you cannot change our minds. M*A*S*H, the 1970s American TV show that was written to be an allegory for every war in human history, said it better than I could, so I’ll just copy my favourite quote from it before going any further.

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is war, and Hell is Hell. And of the two, war is a lot worse.
Father Mulcahy: How do you figure that, Hawkeye?
Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?
Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.
Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them — little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.
If you haven’t seen it, please go watch M*A*S*H Season 1 Episode 17

With all that said, then, let me tell you the reason I think Arma 3: Laws of War should be mandatory playing for anyone and everyone on Earth. The expansion harnesses the power of interactive entertainment to showcase why war is worse than Hell, and that’s simply something that not many pieces of media do. While South of the Circle and Torn Away, my second and third favourite anti-war video games respectively, are wonderful in their own right, they both lack the whole interactivity thing that makes Arma 3’s expansion so endearing. See, Bohemia Interactive’s last actually good release is, at risk of stating the obvious, a war game; it’s a hyper-realistic shooter wherein you play as a soldier tasked with fighting a war that’s eerily similar to Operation Iraqi Freedom/Enduring Freedom/whatever Israeli’s current invasion of Gaza is called, and are rarely asked to do more killing as many baddies as you can, consequences be damned. 

There’s some nuance to that statement in the game’s campaign, but less so during its player-created multiplayer missions. Arma 3 currently has 9,000 active players a decade after launch, which is in large part because of its clans. In “units”, you almost always go on missions ripped straight from real world wars. During these, you rarely have to stop to consider collateral damage, and instead use the latest and greatest military technology to pound AI into dust without a care in the world. If that weird piece of games journalism I did a couple of years ago is anything to go by, these missions are damn near as close to actual combat as us peaceniks will ever experience, because you can expect to fire thousands of rounds just to kill a single enemy, or as is somewhat often the case, blow up a building that just so happens to contain some hostages.

But Laws of War is about doing the opposite of the last part of that sentence. The DLC keeps Arma 3’s gritty realism, slow pace and monotonous gameplay, but uses them to let you play as a humanitarian aid worker who is tasked with cleaning up unexploded ordnance after the events of the main game’s campaign. This makes for a superbly unenjoyable way to spend a few hours, with nothing about it being actually fun or stimulating. And, not to ruin the surprise you may see when you buy and play it for yourself, but that’s the point. Laws of War replaces its base game’s “war is all about camaraderie and adrenaline” narrative with something that’s anti-climatic and depressing. If it wasn’t for the content pack’s interesting overarching narrative, which heavily emphasises the human aspect of conflict, it would easily be one of the least entertaining ways to spend an afternoon outside of reading an academic text about post colonialism (seriously, Noxolo et al, your paper sucks). War, regardless of what you’ve seen on r/combatfootage, isn’t enjoyable; it’s a trauma-fuelled fuckfest of death and suffering wherein good people die for no good reason, and seeing what that’s actually like matters. 

Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity

In the age of social media, it’s easy to forget that every time you read about a bomb getting dropped in some second-world country, actual humans are on the receiving end of that strike. Although those humans may be different from you, they still have the same biologically and (somewhat) similar life events to yours. If the bomb doesn’t go off, as is often the case with say, the landmines that are still a serious issue in Israel, some kid will no doubt stumble into it in the future and at absolute best lose one of their limbs. Laws of War doesn’t put a face on that child, or that person, but it does force you to reconcile with what happens once a ceasefire agreement is reached. It’s all well and good not to think about that idea, and if you don’t I will almost certainly consider you a dumbass while shaking my one semester of Masters of Sustainable Peacebuilding credits at you, but…actually, wait, that’s not all well and good. You, as someone I can only presume are a human, need to realise that war is bad for everyone, and the easiest way to do that is by playing Laws of War (or looking at AP’s photo gallery about the war in Israel, but that’s neither here nor there).

Not to state the obvious, but what sets video games apart from books and films is that you get to interact with the world and experience it through the lens of someone you’re not. Perspectives: Paradise is easily the most powerful piece of anti-nuclear weapon media ever created because you get to witness the effects of an a-bomb first-hand by way of watching a glorified cutscene with a virtual reality headset. If you’ve been hoping NATO and Russia will start some shit before you play it, that’s normal if incredibly shortsighted and stupid. If you do after, though, then there is something wrong with you. The same is true for Laws of War; most people are gung-ho about their conflict of choice, but after seeing what it’s like to interact with noncombatants whose limbs/lives/lodgings have been lost because of actions perpetrated by the United States and China, you won’t be. Or maybe you will, but in that case, what the hell are you doing reading this anti-war article written by a man who very proudly sports a peace sign tattoo on his right bicep?

If you’ve ever seen M*A*S*H, one of the most prolifically peace-loving sitcoms that has very little in the way of comedy but a lot in the way of depressing situations, you’ll know it’s one thing to watch a fictional character get killed in a faraway war and think you understand what that means, but it’s another to actually sit down for a few hours and actually contemplate that scene. Laws of War forces you to contemplate that, though, which makes it almost as good as my favourite television show of all time. The reality of war is that, regardless of what propaganda you may or may not read, cluster munitions and bombs and landmines do hurt innocent people. Of course they also turn soldiers into red mist, but when considering that lot of those people are conscripts…well, point is that before you go onto Reddit and type “Slava Ukrainii” in the comments of some video of a 17-year-old getting torn to shreds for reasons you almost certainly don’t understand, play Arma 3: Laws of War. 

I know it sounds stupid, but remember that in the context of the video game, this man had a family and friends and whatnot.

In this humble games journalist’s opinion, who has in fact spent many nights shaking my fists hopelessly at people while ranting about the nature of conflict, there should be exactly three things that all teens are required to watch/read/play before graduating primary school: All Quiet on the Western Front, because it showcases that war is good for nothing even if you’re packing a neat rifle, Threads because it’s about what a nuclear exchange with Russia will actually look like and how bloody miserable it will be, and Arma 3: Laws of War because it lets you experience what it’s like to clean up after a war that achieved nothing. If you haven’t taken the time to sit through all three of those, do, because you will be a better person afterwards. But, as my editor pointed out as I was pitching this article, you should give special consideration to Laws of War, as this is a video gaming website that isn’t about politics and we endorse video games as being a really neat medium. But advocating for the cessation of the conflicts in Ukraine/Palestine/Myanmar/a large portion of Africa isn’t political, it’s just bloody common sense. And anyone who thinks otherwise should message me on Twitter so I can question the whole “common” part of that phrase.  

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.