The game, especially multiplayer competitive shooters, drops players into evenly balanced teams with roughly equal resources and similar objectives. Modern NATO military doctrine states that to attack an enemy in a prepared defensive position a minimum force superiority of three-to- one is required. So in reality a section is required to attack a team, a platoon for a section and a company for a platoon.
The physical separation between players, even with headsets and voice communication is another difference. Ranking systems serve to reinforce the separation and the search for individual glory on the virtual battlefield. In a real combat unit, individuality is subordinated to the achieving of the objective. If the team wins then everyone wins. If it loses then no one wins. Then there are differences between the approach taken by serious and casual gamers, players who have spent some time training together, are just killing a few hours or just like being the target of insults against their mothers' character.
Perhaps the most important difference though is the gameplay mechanics. How a game represents combat has had the greatest impact for me on whether tactics worked or not. In some cases, tactics emerge that work well in the particular game but would not translate well into reality. At other times real world tactics just could not be made to work in the game.
So, what can we use and what should we not? For starters, a multiplayer game limited to 64 players effectively puts two platoons against each other. Throw vehicles, snipers, engineers, medics, etc. into the mix and the effective infantry complement drops to a few sections worth. Trying to rigidly apply the structures is not productive. But natural three to four player squads with at least one machine gun could combine effectively into small scale Fire and Manoeuvre elements with a lower level of coordination required.
A last point to touch on here is with regard to the proportion of forces. Carl von Clauswitz highlighted examples of Napoleon and others' ability to concentrate their forces so that while overall they were numerically evenly matched, or more often outnumbered, they enjoyed a local numerical superiority. This is achievable in a game with some coordination. It is conceivable that a group of players could coordinate several four man teams into a Fire and Manoeuvre assault with a flank attack against a locally numerically inferior enemy then hold this against counter attack.
For me, as with my interest in all things military, war and fighting, once I saw how it was really done it changed the way I watched movie and game representations. For my gaming, I tried to apply the real world tactics I learned and ran into the frustrations that I highlighted. But even in reality it doesn�t quite go as they say it should in the field manual. So to preserve everyone's sanity it does well to remember it is only a game and that if it works use it, if it does not then do not.
Kruger was kind enough to answer some of your questions before he disappeared, here are his answers:
I was playing with a clan (claiming to be former military) as machine gunner, and they deployed me on the flank when advancing in line formation. I know that the German WWII/US current tactic is the centre. Have you heard about deploying flanks?
Caveats: I have never played PR. Also not clear from the question whether he was stationary or advancing with the line. In either case, there could be several reasons for the leader to put a machine gun at the flank rather than the centre of a line. The terrain could provide a better position for the machinegun (field of fire or better cover). He may expect to anchor his assault with the machinegun on that flank and then manoeuvre the rest of his team around it. He may just expect that the enemy is likely to make contact with that flank first, then his machinegun is well placed to respond while the rest of his section manoeuvres. He could have been keeping it away from the likely enemy position so that if contact was made the machinegun could cover the rest of the section�s withdrawal. If the section was the manoeuvre element in a platoon sized action then the machinegun would add firepower to it while another section played the role of fire element. The section�s mission could be another factor i.e. cross that field and secure the crossroads facing south is a situation where a line formation with a machine gunner on one flank (southern) makes sense. In the end the section leader places his machinegun where he decides he needs it.
Will you be playing the Traction Wars when it releases?
Yes, I am looking forward to it!
Please can you talk about defensive positions and/or measures and how to stop counter attacks?
This could be an entire post in itself. As a quick and dirty response� defense is not strictly speaking a mission that a section would be given. The defense of an area would normally go to a platoon or company sized unit for reasons of manpower. Having said that, good defense secures the position for 360 degrees. Fortifying the perimeter depends on how long the force is going to be stationary (a stop for a couple of hours versus days or weeks). There is a requirement for good lines of communication between the perimeter guards. A reserve force to respond to attacks should be kept centrally. The area to be secured should be patrolled regularly - both within the secured perimeter and for a short distance outside it. Special attention should be given to access routes that the enemy may use to bring reinforcements, heavy weapons and vehicles. A section would normally be given one sector and one job in this. E.g. a company (four platoons) has a mission to prevent the enemy from advancing through its zone. The zone is broken down into three sectors and a platoon (three to four sections) is assigned to each. The fourth platoon is held in reserve. Each sector is further divided into sub-sectors which a section would cover, usually with a rotating sentry and patrols. This doesn't really translate well into the FPS games I've played, but in RTS it usually plays out this way, though less formally and without the need to rotate sleepy sentinels.
What was the biggest surprise for you between game and theory and real life practice?
I have never been in combat so cannot comment on the reality of it - all my combat experience is theoretical. I knew before joining that it wouldn't be the same. I can't remember having any moments where I thought, �wow, it's not like that at all in games.� What was really cool was seeing the theory play out in the real world, with all the friction and how things go wrong, how we had to adapt and overcome to still reach our objective. The surprise is making it work.
What do military games frequently get wrong in comparison to real world situations?
It�s the feeling, I think. In the game you are the hero, running and gunning or commanding from on high with perfect battlefield visibility and pinpoint micromanagement control. The action depends on you. In reality you are one small part of an activity involving two partially blind giants fumbling for each other in the dark. I don't find this to be a bad difference though - games are recreational and while some degree of realism can add to the experience, too much would make for a boring game. I have friends who have played Arma, battlefield, CoD, etc. and the nature of sandboxes (even large sandboxes) is to funnel players into contact. As a soldier you are sent to complete a mission. As a player you play to frag as many of the other players as you can in a time and virtual space limit.
What has been the single greatest improvement in infantry tactics since WWII?
Hmmm. Hard to think of �the single greatest�. Improvements are the experiments that worked and were copied because they were seen to work. Since the Second World War airborne (helicopter, not parachute) infantry, nuclear weapons, improvements in tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles, man portable anti-armour systems, etc. Also, the scale of warfare has differed - major powers with large modern armies haven't really squared off since WWII. For the infantry a noticeable change is that we are often mounted in armoured vehicles with relatively high powered weapons (the US Striker and British Warrior as examples). Mountain warfare still requires a lot of foot slogging but for the mechanised infantry we ride into battle and then dismount as necessary. This was not generally the case in the Second World War.