The Guns Of Our ForefathersS

When you think of guns in video games, you think of assault rifles, plasma rifles, rocket launchers or machine guns. Why is it you never think of, say, a musket?

When you consider that the concept of the firearm has been around for over 800 years, and that guns have undergone such a long and fascinating transformation over this time, it's a shame that so many games focus solely on those weapons engineered in the last 100; namely, everything from the First World War onwards.

Of course, there are very good reasons for this. The sheer volume of games set in the Second World War tip the scales heavily in favour of titles set in the modern era, but even without them, most games involving guns are set either after the Second World War or even beyond our own time and space, into the fantastical future (or, in Star Wars' case, past) of science fiction.

The guns of the present day resonate with people. They're the ones you see on the street in a police officer's holster, or see a soldier cradling in his arms on the nightly news. The guns of the future are a license for a games developer to get creative, and apply unrealised theories and prototypes to a game where they can be used to increase the player's enjoyment.

But the guns of the past have their own appeal! Sure, they were slow, and unwieldy, and inaccurate, and dangerous, but can't those deficiencies - surely a big reason they never feature accurately in action titles - be turned into interesting game mechanics? And why are so many centuries of the history of warfare so conspicuously absent from today's video game landscape?

I've always wanted, for example, to play a first-person "shooter" set in the 19th century, either during the Napoleonic Wars or the US Civil War, where rather than simply sprinting around a level wasting nine out of every ten bullets, the use of ammunition became a strategic option.

Do you conserve precious time and ammunition and close for a melee kill? Or do you pull up and use a musket round? It's a long-distance shot, and almost a guaranteed kill, but it could take 20-30 seconds to reload, leaving you vulnerable to return fire. The intricate act of loading a musket could even become a minigame, like that found in Gears of War.

Some games - and I'm not counting strategy titles, where older weapons are usually represented properly - have attempted this, with varying degrees of success. World of Warcraft has muskets, but since its combat takes place in a role-playing setting, it doesn't really count. Activision's Gun had a few muskets, but fudged their reload times, as do Samurai Warriors and Sengoku Basara. Wacky time-travelling shooter Darkest Days let you use muskets, but it was, sadly, terrible. And of course numerous games, from Half-Life to Deus Ex, feature crossbows, but since they don't use gunpowder they're not strictly firearms, so they don't count.

Those few games that are set prior to the First World War have usually shied away from the challenges/restrictions of implementing "antique" firearms. Most Western games, for example, will only provide the player with more modern weapons like repeater rifles and revolvers, despite the fact that during the US Civil War (a time during which many Westerns are set) breach-loading muskets were still very common in the US. And even then, the accuracy and performance of these guns are tweaked to make them comparable to those you'd pick up and use today.

But hey, at least we've had a few Western games! Other periods and places from the history of firearms, from China to Renaissance Europe to the age of Pirates to the American frontier are barely represented in video games (if at all), particularly in terms of games where you actively shoot at things. If the market is sick of games set in the Second World War, and so many titles dealing with contemporary - or even modern - warfare end up looking the same, couldn't a game stand out from the crowd by donning a tricorn hat and a colourful jacket instead of army greens and an M-4?

So developers, please, next time you sit down and start to make a game where you shoot things - and really, that's what most of you do for a living - consider giving us a game where the use of firearms becomes something more than a homage to an action movie or comic book. Try giving us one where the weapons of war are both a unique game mechanic and a history lesson, and who knows, the market may just reward you for your bravery.