A military recruitment ad bizarrely masquerading as reality television, “War Games” packages clips of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine training exercises into a contrived but easily digestible format. By pumping up the contest element of these supposed “games,” the pseudo-documentary makes military life appear a lot like a “Real World vs. Road Rules” challenge show, absent the confessionals and seething sexual tensions. Perhaps if the military branches formed competing boy bands, sent them on fantasy dates and then voted them into combat, TBS would have something. A final irony: The show will air on the same night Fox debuts its newest reality program, “Boot Camp.”
What to make of all this synthetic warfare? Perhaps this is a sign of things to come on cable should the much-anticipated strikes occur. It certainly seems cheap enough to produce. Other than the interstitials hosted by football jock Howie Long, some quick commentary by supposed “correspondents” and a few interviews with carefully selected participants, the actual footage here comes from the military itself, specifically from the Defense Visual Information Center. According to the credits, this is for reasons of “safety and security,” with no mention of budget.
After Long lectures us on how the military prepares for life-and-death situations with fabricated contests, we’re taken to the JRTC, or Joint Readiness Training Center, in Louisiana. In this urban combat training exercise, Army soldiers have 18 hours to drop in and rescue a group of civilian hostages being held by OPFOR, or Opposing Forces. Like the television commentator he is in real life, Long uses graphics to help us identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys.”
Each man is equipped with a laser-shooting weapon and a vest that lets him know when he’s been shot. If someone’s down, an “Observer Controller,” a highfalutin title thankfully translated for us as a “referee,” steps forward and reads a card that lets the soldier know the extent of his injury. At one point, a sergeant “dies.” Composer Michael Carey throws in the appropriate music for a death scene, while narrator Gregory Jbara eulogizes the fallen hero.
The Navy exercise, “Wolfhunt,” is actually a contest among three teams of good guys, each trying to take out a couple of enemy submarines. The three efforts are spread out through the course of the show, as audiences wait with baited breath to see whether the Alpha, Bravo or Charlie team will “score” the most and take home a victory. The Charlie team is led by a female pilot, who charmingly declares the importance of having a “girl day” every once in a while, “to remember that you are a girl.”
In the Air Force exercise, “Red Flag,” we’re introduced to a male-female team and told, as if this were a promo for a local news show, “He flies the plane, she drops the bombs.” Their mission involves evading enemy fire while taking out a command-and-control center and an enemy runway.
The Marines, not to be outdone, throw in a twist by using real firepower during their CAX, or “combined arms exercise,” in which they fake driving out an enemy force in the California desert.
Everything here is edited together with breakneck speed, so no single shot lasts more than three seconds. It gets tiring pretty fast, but younger auds used to the quick-cut style of musicvideos will recognize this is geared toward getting them to suit up.
On the one hand, this is a show that can make us all sleep more soundly at night, knowing our military is being well prepared for all eventualities. On the other, “War Games” represents more glorification of gunfire, with preparation for war presented as a form of entertainment.