I am almost finished with Direct Action—the newest version of the kind of game I have worked on and played since Covert Forces in 2005—and hope to have it available early in May 2022. As much as I enjoy writing about elite military units, I am not blind to the real-world problems and issues with these units.
As military units and tools of national policy for rich nations, elite military units and the operators that staff them have been used in unjust ways, undermining the rule of law and the right to self-determination for many people. They have not and generally are not particularly well-integrated. Their reputation draws to them individuals keen to showcase their physical capabilities and those whose patriotism may lean more to jingoism. Though their initial imagining was as a precise kinetic tool comprised of philosopher-warriors, many have become blunt hammers comprised of shooters. Further, their representation in modern media generally reinforces negative stereotypes of the ethnic and cultural makeup of terrorists and criminals. No matter the truth about the current profile of those who threaten democracy and rule of law, it is always easier to point to the brown and black ‘other.’
To top this all off, during the period that I was working on this, questions regarding adherence to the laws of armed combat surfaced for elite units in Australia, Canada, and the United States. It delayed completion multiple times as I set the game aside.
There are definite problems with these units.
But it is also true that many are drawn to these units because they believe in the rule of law, the right to self-determination, and the requirement for the strong to protect and nurture the weak. Historically, Western society has always lionized bands of elite warriors, no matter the actual truth behind them.
Developing a role-playing game for elite military operators carries many of the same risks as developing games based on the Vikings or Roman legionaries—like Kiss My Axe and Centurion: Legionaries of Rome. Those historical groups did not, in actual history, display the heroism their legends might suggest, and were brutal, violent groups that oppressed those they could safely dominate. However, I would argue that it is possible to play games based on heroism using the tropes of those historical legends, which is why I designed those games.
Understanding that special operations forces can be problematic—as can any military force—this game is intended to allow participants to play heroic characters that have reached the pinnacle of their chosen profession and use their abilities and resources in an attempt to improve the world. That they fail or that they are disillusioned can be included in their stories. The shortcomings of the units need not be ignored, but there is an attraction to ambitious, competent, and driven figures, and that is a good description of most of special warfare operators.
On a personal note, I enjoy playing video games like Ghost Recon and Call of Duty. I have every issue of the comic the Activity. I watched the Unit during its broadcast and have watched both the Six and SEAL Team. I have seen both Acts of Valour and 13 Hours more than once. I am also a middle-aged white guy who has never served but whose career has brought him into contact with various special operations and special operations capable forces. I’ve written a lot of RPG content focused on elite military units. I also believe that black lives matter, that trans rights are human rights, that racism is hard-coded into the structures of most institutions, and that indigenous peoples’ rights and claims must be respected. I am a socialist who believes in strong national security policies and a robust, effective military under complete civilian control.
I want to believe that one can portray heroic characters who have undergone the most rigorous training available in the modern military and now seek to pursue just causes and fight the good fight. That is why I wrote Direct Action and why I think there are those out there interested in playing it.