Video games, like movies, are more about entertainment than realism. Yet game developers spend an inordinate amount of time modeling weapons, recording the sound from actual weapon systems and calculating how much damage a bullet should do. Since firearms are such a big part of first person shooters, we wanted to get the low down on the current state of firearms in video games and how they rate in real life.
What's wrong with this picture? If you guessed, where's my rear sight, you guessed right. In real life, not having a rear sight would greatly diminish your ability to hit anything beyond 30 feet. There's no one to blame though, this Marine probably just hasn't unlocked his sights or bullets yet.
To get the view of an expert, Maximum PC magazine spoke with Craig “Sawman” Sawyer. Sawyer started his tactical life with the Marine Corp before moving to the Navy SEALS with SEAL Team One and DEVGRU. Sawyer has fired everything from pistols, to belt-fed weapons and rockets. He regularly appears on the History Channel show, Top Shot, as an expert to advise the contestants and is consulted by the news media to comment on operations by the Navy SEALs.
MPC: First, how did you get the handle Sawman?
Sawman: I first got the nickname, "SAWMAN" from my football buddies growing up back in Texas. It was just a play on my last name, Sawyer. The handle stuck and was solidified in the tactical world where I tend to prefer a "SAW" (Squad Automatic Weapon) over other options when applicable.
MPC: Modern games have shifted to highly customized loadouts for equipment and weapons. In reality, how much flexibility do individuals or units really have when selecting their own weapons and how many “pieces of flair” they can put on them? Does this change as you get to smaller specialized units such as the Navy SEALS versus a more regimented organization as the Marine Corp?
Craig "Sawman" Sawyer has served with the Marine Corp. and the elite Navy SEALS.
Sawman: In the ranks of the conventional military, a soldier carries what he's told. In the smaller, more specialized units, there's much more individual choice. A SEAL Operator can pretty much carry what he wants to for a particular mission, but the needs of the team or squad play heavily in that decision. It's the working of the different weapons in concert that really makes a small squad effective. If a small team is well-coordinated, they can have the effect of a much larger unit. So, each Operator carries the weapon system that is ultimately the most help to the team as a unit in order to accomplish the mission.
MPC: Speaking of pieces of flair, what’s an actual realistic amount of accessories that you would consider putting on a rail system and what’s actually vital?
Sawman: Every item an Operator places on his weapon system is a calculated decision. Each item adds more weight, which is a negative when it comes to weapons handling. However, certain items are needed enough to justify their added weight and bulk. If an item isn't needed for a particular mission, that item should be removed from the weapon to help streamline the weapon for sleeker and quicker handling.
MPC: Is there any advantage to going without pieces of flair on your weapon?
Sawman: There's absolutely an advantage to eliminating certain accessories that are not immediately needed on the weapon. In the real world, added weight increases fatigue on the Operator. Some of the target sites on real world ops aren't easy to get to. After a long and taxing insertion, a heavy weapon is a major liability to the Operator. If he's using the items on the weapon, then they're worth the added weight. If they're not being used, they're a liability. Competition shooters are stripping their rifles down in attempts to make them lighter and lighter for quicker target transitions. The same applies to an Operator, only the Operator must accept certain setbacks on weight, due to the function of those items, like lasers, illuminators, flashlights, pistol grips, etc.
MPC: Video game weapons often only have one setting: full auto. Is full auto really used that often? What would the proper application for automatic fire be in reality?
Sawman: I only use full auto with small sub-machine guns and heavy belt-fed machine guns. With everything else, I'm running and placing single shots on target as rapidly as necessary to effectively engage each target and eliminate the threats at hand. With a real weapon, especially those with significant recoil, full auto isn't very effective, because the weapon rises so quickly under full-auto fire that only the first couple rounds can be brought to bear on the target. All rounds after that go high and are a waste. That's why when we do use full-auto, we use controlled bursts, with the length of the burst being applicable for the weapon being fired. Some weapons can be fired effectively with long bursts, like the FN P90, and some require much shorter bursts, like the MK 48, to keep the majority of each burst on target.
MPC: Some games let you carry two long arms plus a sidearm and hundreds of rounds of ammunition that would seemingly encumber you so you wouldn’t be able to walk, let alone run. I’ve read that a trooper’s load out can actually be surprisingly heavy, but what would you say is a realistic load out in weight is for equipment and weapons?
Sawman: Well, "realistic" and "real" are actually two different things in this case. I see a "realistic" load out being much lighter than what we really end up carrying. As a SEAL Sniper, my ruck was routinely 120 lbs! Now, if you add to that the 50lbs of web gear, the main weapon system (10-20 lbs) the sidearm, blow out kit and E&E items, you can see why we could barely walk when we started our missions. Swimming, sky diving, and humping this amount of gear to a target is a crusher. You have to really want to be there when you see what all is involved.
One thing's for sure, if you're carrying multiple long weapons, your speed and agility will be negatively affected. You can't just pick up more and more stuff and continue running around with zero consequence. If you ever pick up an enemy weapon during a mission and run it because it provides greater firepower than your primary, it is with calculated thought for a specific application. When it's empty, it's discarded and you're back to your primary.
MPC: So by pickup, you mean you will actually pick up enemy weapons and use them? That is a common practice in video games actually. But, in a game, you would say run around with the lowest issued weapon, come across a blinged-out rifle and swap yours for it. Would you ever actually swap your issued weapon for a pickup? I'm also curious as to whether it is safe to use an enemy weapon because the acoustic signature would drag friendly fire. Is it really allowed?
Sawman: Well, the situation is always going to dictate and there are definitely considerations on safety for picking up an enemy weapon. I can't speak for other units, but yes, SEALs will pick up enemy weapons and make effective use of them until they're dry, then discard them, simply returning to our primary at that point. An example of this would be taking out an enemy who was using a PKM (machine gun), slinging your M4 and running the PKM until it's empty, then tossing it to transition back to your trusty M4 and rage on. If the enemy weapon is suspect of being boobytrapped, we'd likely not bother with it, but if the guy was just fighting with it, it's good to go.
Again, it just depends on the situation, the mission, and what's needed at the time.
MPC: Are there times when you really would carry a carbine or SMG, a rifle, plus a sidearm?
Sawman: Actually, yes. I have on several occasions. As an example, when I was bringing a bolt action .50 cal Sniper Rifle onto a target to bring precision fire on certain pre-designated targets, I also had to bring a weapon I could fight with, in order to be effective during contact on the way in or out. Because we always like to carry pistols as a last-ditch, Evasion & Escape weapon, or backup, I had that on, as well. So, yes, it gets cumbersome. I weighed 325 lbs lifting off for one mission and on that particular mission I didn't even have a ruck!
It's confirmed: in real life, pulling out your knife does not make you run faster. Sawyer also says only in the rarest of circumstances would you ever sling your weapon to run faster and even then only with cover fire being provided.
But for most scenarios, a typical Operator wants one versatile long weapon and a very simple and reliable sidearm as a back up. I specifically say simple and reliable for the sidearm, because some guys have gotten carried away recently with overly-complicated sidearms, which is counter-productive in a serious fight under adverse conditions. When you’re down to your sidearm, it’s usually because something is already wrong, like your primary goes down, or there isn’t time to reload it, due to there being an immediate threat right in front of you at short range. Or maybe your primary shooting hand is shot, so it’s unusable and you’re now trying to draw your pistol with your bloody weak hand.
You’re usually in close range and needing to shut someone down before he shuts you down. In that scenario, you just want your pistol to fire, EVERY time. So, simple and reliable trump all the fancy garbage people want to add to their pistols…at least for combat use.
MPC: Flashbang or stun grenades are pretty popular today in games. What’s it like getting flashbanged and how long are you impaired? Would they ever be used outdoors?
Sawman: Being “crashed” is like being blinded, deafened and punched in the nose all at the same instant. I can’t really recommend it as a past-time activity. It’s very effective when applied correctly. Only those closest to the device when it goes off are completely affected. The others further away experience somewhat less effect, depending on distance. A flashbang, or “crash” is only a tool, just like any other. It is not a miracle worker, but in the hands of trained professionals, they can be applied with deadly effectiveness.
MPC: Weapon lights are the rage in games today but the blinding effects they pose are somewhat controversial. In the game Battlefield 3, for example, the weapon lights are blinding even outside in the daylight. Would you actually count on a weapon mounted light to blind or dazzle your opponent or do does it just create the world’s biggest bullet magnet?
Sawman: When indoors, especially at night, flashlights are very effective at what they’re intended to do, which is illuminate the space the Operator is moving through. They can also be quite effective at disorienting those on the other end, under those particular conditions, but it should never be counted on.
Despite its popularity in video games, the gold, or chromed Desert Eagle AKA Deagle in .50 caliber is not a practical backup weapon in combat.
As for deploying the light outdoors during daylight, I don’t see it being effective unless it’s a specialized strobe frequency scientifically developed to physiologically incapacitate those it’s used against. Even still, I’d be far more inclined to shoot an opponent outdoors than bother with a light. Like any other new technology, I’d have to put it under serious testing before I’d deploy it in a life and death fight on a real-world mission.
MPC: You have extensive experience as a sniper with the USMC and SEALS. This is probably one of the areas that’s seems least likely to even model how a sniper team would operate. In most games, for example, a sniper will fire multiple rounds from the same location and operate on his own. Would a sniper ever fire more than one round from a location or is it really “one shot, one kill?”
Sawman: For traditional infantry Sniper application, one shot from a given location is ideal. However, in today’s dynamic environment, where numerous threats present themselves in rapid succession and the newer Sniper systems are semi-auto, we’re taking as many shots from one location as we need to in order to effectively cover our team.
It’s almost never one Sniper by himself for real world operations. A Sniper is vulnerable when he’s on the weapon system and focused on targets at a distance. So, we cover each other in these situations so we don’t get flanked, or ambushed from the rear. Like the old cowboy prayer I heard in a movie once: “Oh Lord, don’t let someone shoot me in the back while I’m shootin’ somebody else in the front!”
MPC: To balance how miserable a sniper team can make it for the grunts, Battlefield 3 now has “scope glare.” What happens essentially is if the sniper is looking through his scope at a target, a glare from his scope will give away his position. How prevalent is scope glare in real life and would this ever happen to a sniper?
Sawman: Well, at the higher levels, we take certain precautions to ensure we don’t have scope glare, or “flash” to deal with. Other units still might not have the technology to prevent this. It can be eliminated through simple, even crude means if the sniper has the understanding of scope glare and takes the effort to make the needed modifications to his equipment.
A belt-fed weapon such as the M249 SAW isn't ideal for getting close with your enemies but can be used in a pinch.
As for whether or not this can happen and give a sniper’s position away… I’ve seen it many times in different scenarios. It’s just a simple reality of what happens when the sunlight hits the scope’s glass at the right angle.
Some of the techniques of eliminating scope glare are: Specialized chemical coatings for the objective lenses, scope hoods and the honeycomb-shaped glare reduction devices. Even a sniper’s veil will eliminate scope glare if applied properly.
MPC: Guns Akimbo or dual pistols is another favorite video game past time. Would you ever dual wield pistols and why not?
Sawman: No, I would not. The reason is that I can shoot more quickly and more accurately with both hands controlling the recoil of one pistol at a time.
MPC: Interestingly, the most favored pistol in video games is a nickel-plated Desert Eagle, or Deagle, in .50 Action Express. Would such a heavy pistol (or HK’s massive Mk23) ever rate a role in combat?
Sawman: Yes, but not as a backup sidearm. A huge pistol like the SOCOM HK 23 is best utilized as a primary for very specialized applications when a long gun is inappropriate.
MPC: Suppressors are also gaining popularity in many video games. How prevalent are suppressors in actual operations?
Sawman: In conventional units, suppressors still aren’t used as much as I would expect. I mainly see them on certain Sniper systems. In the Special Operations community, however, suppressors are used extensively to cut down on the noise signature, thereby minimizing the likelihood of activating an enemy reaction force, and reducing muzzle flash at night, which reduces your visual signature the amount of return fire you get. Nobody wants to be signaling their position as an aiming point during a night fight. Suppressors help in that regard.
MPC: How quiet do suppressors really make a weapon, and what are the negatives to running a suppressed weapon all of the time?
Sawman: The level of sound reduction is dependent upon several factors, like the type of ammo being used, the size and design of the suppressor, etc. I personally like running a suppressor whenever possible. They do, however, have their drawbacks. The weapons tend to get much dirtier, much more quickly when running a suppressor. The mirage from a hot suppressor can make it look as though you’re under water with the amount of distortion through magnified optics. Suppressors can be heavy and bulky, but are getting lighter and smaller all the time as technology advances.
Suppressors can also alter the trajectory of the ammo being fired, so an Operator needs to know what differences to expect when he runs a suppressor, when that’s the case.
MPC: Video games make a reality compromise by allowing you to make tactical reloads, or swapping a half expended magazine for a full magazine at any time and simply adding the remaining half empty magazines to your total round count. We can accept that, but how often do you think a tactical reload should be performed? Is it better to have a half empty mag in a charged weapon, or be caught mid-reload by an opponent (assuming you have no partner to cover you during a reload).
Sawman: The answer to this question lies in the quality and amount of training an Operator has. On the higher end, we ditch half-loaded mags in a heartbeat before entering a new space with an unknown threat. With the right preparation, magazine changes get to where they’re so quick, they’re almost a non-issue. It’s just a slight pause on the move as we top off our systems out of instinct.
Guns akimbo or dual-wielding guns would decrease your chances of hitting your target but enhance your style by 25 percent.
Even this, though, can depend on the mission. If a target location is remote and support is limited, we’ll tend to run a mag longer before swapping it out.
I still do a lot of tactical instruction for various groups and I notice some are geared more towards conventional units, encouraging them to run magazines completely dry before swapping out in a fierce fight, and even then, they’re putting the empties away in a dump pouch first. This is a slow method and is mandated by large units with small budgets. It’s backwards thinking from an Operator’s perspective whose life is on the line right there, right then. For me, I’m not worried about saving my unit commander some money or paperwork, I’m concerned with solving the task at hand, which is winning this particular fight and living to do it again next mission.
MPC: Let’s settle all of the Internet arguments: AK or AR?
Sawman: AK for absolute reliability and ammo effectiveness, AR for better refinement and accuracy. It’s a preference issue.
I know gunsmiths now who are making some nice AK modifications, causing them to be used as accurately as an AR and with upgraded furniture. In that configuration, you get the best of both worlds.
MPC: Pistol caliber: 9mm or .45?
Sawman: .45! The contest isn’t even close. However, the .40 S&W is performing terminally (when it hits human tissue) as well as the .45 and is much smaller, allowing the same firepower with a much higher mag capacity.
MPC: Pistol: Glock vs. 1911?
Sawman: Glock! It's simpler and more reliable than the 1911 for combat use.
MPC: Rifle caliber: 5.56 or .308?
Sawman: .308! Again, there are new advances that change that, too. The new .300 Blackout round is currently under development and is performing very impressively in the smaller package. Time will tell how that one works out, but it’s looking good so far. Until then, it’s .308 all the way for me.
The reason is that 5.56 was never designed to kill man. It’s a varmint round that made its way into the military system only through a survival weapon for pilots, which eventually became the M16 and was put into service as an infantry weapon. Bad politics there. They’re still trying to fix that mistake almost 50 years later. 5.56 just doesn’t perform on humans like .308.
MPC: Do you think any of the new wildcat rounds; 5.7x28mm, 4.6x30mm; 6.8 SPC, .408 CheyTac have any chance of ever supplanting standard NATO rounds?
Sawman: Yes, some of these rounds look very promising and if allowed, can make a significant contribution.
MPC: Piston-based AR or old school direct impingement system just as Eugene Stoner intended?
Sawman: I think Stoner had a good handle on what worked for that system. I do like the piston-driven concept, but only for larger weapons. The smaller 5.56 just seems to run better and more efficiently with direct gas impingement. The piston-driven 5.56 rifles tend to be over-driven and suffer from increased recoil, weight and metal fatigue.
MPC: Do you have a preferred optic for CQB work? What about up to say, 300-500 meters? Beyond 500 meters?
Sawman: Some of the variable optics now are high quality and reliable enough to use as a primary, allowing an Operator to run CQB with zero magnification and then zoom in on a target at 800 yards and make positive identification and ventilate that target appropriately. My preferences all seem to be coming out of the same shop lately, U.S. Optics. Those guys aren’t playing around.
MPC: What weapon system that is available now would you have like to have had when you were a SEAL?
Sawman: Ya know, I really like the Patriot Ordnance Factory piston-driven .308 assault rifle. It’s got a massive heat sink on the chamber, piston driven reliability, an adjustable gas system so you’re not over-driving the weapon, billet aluminum construction and their bolt carrier groups and receivers are nickel plated for maximum reliability under adverse conditions. With a variable optic, a short barrel and a collapsible stock, this weapon is extremely versatile and reliable, from CQB, all the way out to a good 900 yards, depending on ammo and shooter skill. Hard to beat that combo for all-around effectiveness in my book.
MPC: If you were serving today in a general patrol mission, what would be your ideal weapon selection and loadout?
Sawman: The biggest belt-fed machine gun in the lineup! On the SEAL teams, that would be the MK 48. I just like being able to change the course of a fight by aggressively chewing through barricade material, like walls, vehicles, etc.
In fact, that’s one thing I wish they’d give more credit to in video games. If you’re going to bother picking up a heavy, belt-fed machine gun and endure the weight and heavy handling that comes with that, you should enjoy the benefits, like being able to penetrate barricade material the lesser weapons can’t.
MPC: So using a MK 48 (the 7.62mm version of the M249 SAW) would it mostly be in a suppressive fire role? Or do you feel you can be as effective with it in a CQB situation as with a carbine with it? Can a belt-fed be used as effectively as a carbine up close?
Sawman: No, a belt-fed machine gun is an area weapon and isn't suitable for CQB. You can clear a house with one, but you definitely wouldn't want to try to do a hostage rescue mission with it. One exception is the HK 21, which is pretty accurate, can be fired semi-auto, has a solid rail system on top, because the feed tray opens from the bottom, and it fires from the closed bolt. This weapon is the closest a belt-fed machine gun comes to also serving as a potential sniper rifle, or assault rifle. While useful in those alternate roles, it still wouldn't be suitable for CQB.
MPC: What else would you like to see fixed in video games as it pertains to weapon’s handling and tactics while keeping in mind that it still has to be fun for most people playing?
Sawman: Well, FUN is the main objective with a video game, so anything goes, really.
MPC: Is it preferred to make center mass or headshots due to the amount of body armor in use today? Or is the classic failure drill of two in chest and one in the head actually preferred?
Sawman: I shoot to the body unless I'm at closer ranges. When I can take head shots with relative certainty, that's my preferred choice. Ya just shoot until the guy goes down, but head shots bring that about much more reliably, when you can get them.
MPC: Firing while moving is normal, but, sorry we have to ask, is there any training for firing while jumping? What would actually happen if you started to jump around while firing your weapon?
Sawman: Maybe in the future some super-human Operators will be able to shoot effectively while jumping, but for now, shooting while jumping is a non-issue.
MPC: So, if a team mate started jumping up and down with his knife out, he’d be an idiot right?
Sawman: I can’t think of a reason to jump around with a knife in your hand. Keep in mind, in a real combat loadout, you can hardly jump to begin with. If you pull your knife out, it’s because something need to be cut. Why not just cut the item and return your knife to the sheath and carry on with the mission?
MPC: In many games, slinging your rifle and pulling out your knife lets you run faster. Yes, silly, but is there ever a time where slinging your weapon and running (without the knife) would make you run faster because you are pumping your arms faster or is it not tactically sound not to have your weapon in your hand?
Sawman: If you have a good sling that will allow you to snug the rifle against your torso while you run, I could see doing it in rare instances where there are no threats within visual distance, if absolute speed is essential. Maybe bolting for a waiting helo while other guys cover you, or something like that. As a general rule, though, guys don’t do that, we just run with our primary in our hands at the ready.
MPC: Just what is the color of the boathouse at Hereford? Sorry, I know it’s an SAS joke, but I had to ask.
Sawman: I’ve actually cross-trained with the boys at Hereford and I don’t remember there being a “boathouse” but we were traveling around the country quite a bit from one training site to the next. If there was a “boathouse” there on their home compound, I wasn’t aware of it. That’s the truth. Now, even if there had been, I would not talk about it. That’s the code we keep.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to training. Today’s topic; ambushing someone with a cup of coffee. : )
Want to ask the Sawman a burning question about video games and weapons? Post your question here, we’ll collect the top few and ask the Sawman to respond.