14 February 2010
It was the late Eighties. My matinee heroes were Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, and Bruce Willis. And there in the arcade stood a cabinet with an Uzi sticking up in place of a joystick. Ah, the lovely sidescrolling action unfolded as a cast of thousands of swarthy, Hispanics from some unnamed Central American country (Val Verde, perhaps?) popped up ready for me to cut down in a hail of simulated gunfire. How could any red-blooded, jingoistic, American boy fail to love Operation Wolf?
Of course, the problem was that arcade games cost quarters. And being something of a cheap bastard, I never liked plugging quarters into those machines. Still, Operation Wolf called to me. My brother saved up his quarters to buy a Nintendo. I remember the box of grey and taupe plastic and the rectangle controllers. The system also came with a gun-shaped controller for Duck Hunt. Point and pull the trigger. Could it be any more simple? I played a few rounds of Duck Hunt in my day, but I was never a big gamer.
Then Operation Wolf came out for Nintendo, and I shelled out the $50 for it. I missed the simulated blowback Uzi, but I was happy. The amazing thing for me was how close to the cabinet game it looked. No longer did I have to plug quarters into the machine. I played for hours until one day, I beat the game. As I recall, the ending had my first-person shooter character rescue some hostages, shepherd them through another round, and then jump onto a transport plane out of that pixilated green hell-hole
I went to college about that time. One Friday night I went down to the rathskellar and saw another cabinet game standing there. It was Operation Thunderbolt: the sequel to Operation Wolf. This was a two player version and had two MAC-10 submachine guns sticking up from the cabinet. I sidled up next to the crewcut fellow freshman playing the game and plunked my quarters in to take control of Player 2. Together, he and I blasted away at the African hostage takers (really, could you make such a politically incorrect game these days?) until these newest hostages were saved. And between us, it didn’t take as many quarters as I feared. All that home practice paid off. My wingman was an ROTC cadet. He and I became fast friends and shared a dorm room the next year as well as assorted other adventures.
After graduation, he got commissioned as an Army infantry officer and – soberly -- shot things for real. Sadly, I haven’t talked to him in far too long. He’s been a little busy these past nine years. I google his name sometimes; you’d be surprised what you can find online. He was part of the Army 1st Infantry Division task force that supported the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He was widely quoted out of context in the media on the use of white phosphorus incendiary rounds during that battle. But knowing him, he’s probably prouder of his efforts to organize his area of operations for the first free election in Iraq in decades. That was also reported – but not as widely.
By John Fitzpatrick