Serious Fun: Video Gamer Group Simulates Military Engagements
Check out this recent Polygon article by Charlie Hall entitled “Why We Fight: Inside Shack Tactical, The Elite Military Simulation Group” about an online clan of gamers that by the name of Shack Tactical and play ARMA III. One of the players, “Gluck” is a real life veteran who has 116,00 youtube followers that have watched his simulated military engagements more than 18,000,000 times.
Excerpt from the Polygon Article:
Flying low above a pine forest, the two U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopters suddenly broke formation. From my seat at the open door, the view tipped straight down for a moment before we leveled off. In the distance, backlit by a sky purpling with the dawn, I could see Alpha squad beginning to descend, their rotors kicking up a huge cloud of dust.
Our pilot pulled us into a shallow valley and I lost sight of both the other chopper and the sunrise. In the darkness I began to notice that my palms were sweating.
I’d played Arma, the complex military simulation series, before. I had plenty of experience in how to use the various small arms in the game, how to aim and reload and adjust them for range. I’d spent hundreds of hours learning to navigate across its environments on foot; through jungles with a map, over deserts by compass and once, while at sea, by using only the stars. Over the years I’d struggled with, and mastered, its bizarre user interface.
I was in Shack Tactical now, an elite Arma gaming group, embedded with them as a new recruit. To keep the experience pure I withheld my true identity as a writer. I was there to document a kind of role playing experience that can’t be found anywhere else, and I didn’t need someone showing off or holding back because I was there to observe them.
The way ShackTac plays is different from the military. Those differences have a lot to do with the weapons they choose to fight with (usually Cold War era, analogue weapons), but also the missions they create and play (like traditional meeting engagements, but also highly thematic scenarios like hostage rescues that require acting skills). There are rules and hierarchies; all of the players in ShackTac have a rank — from pFNG (pre-Fucking New Guy) to NCO (Non Commissioned Officer). But unlike the military, ShackTac doesn’t have fixed units — players can fight alongside whoever they like from night to night. Certain roles, however, are off limits to all but senior members. Pilot slots are reserved for only the most skilled players in the group.
But what makes ShackTac truly unique are the length of their games. Whether fighting against computer-controlled opponents or other members of the group, games are grueling, hours-long affairs. Sessions can last five hours or more, and each individual mission often ends only when the last member of ShackTac has died.
McFarlin fulfills an intangible role at ShackTac, and not just because he’s an officer in the U.S. Army. While he once had a dangerous firefight in Iraq, he’s had hundreds in Arma over the years. And because of that he’s a great in-game leader. He’s the the kind of player you want in your foxhole late on a Saturday night.
The group’s popularity is a big reason why Gluck now works with the company that makes Arma, Bohemia Interactive, as a consultant and video designer. He’s the author of an extensive series of freely available written and video tutorials for Arma products, all of which grew out of his experiences leading ShackTac. Called the Tips, Tactics and Procedures Manual, much of that content was bundled together to create the authoritative guidebook sold alongside Arma 3.