I learned how to be a man in the 75th Ranger Regiment, but I've never held a real gun. I've had fights with my commanding officers; I've sniped my comrades and been shot in the head by Corporal Machi; and I've learned more about life while playing a videogame than I might have in school. I owe it all to the roles I've played in a fake military unit.
"Realism" gameplay rules emphasize authentic weapon choices and real-world combat tactics in a first person shooter. We play using Valve's Day of Defeat: Source, but realism servers exist for many popular games. The match rules which we play under are simple: two teams attack or defend their native side of the map. Each combatant has one life; you aren't allowed to respawn. One life, one objective: Eliminate the other team.
Within the already small community of realism players, there are groups of gamers that take the game a step further. Realism units set themselves apart from other clans playing under a tag; These units bear actual military unit names such as the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 28th Infantry Division, the 9th SS, a German unit, and the 10th Mountain Division.
In most realism units, there is a clear chain of command. A dedicated command staff of officers oversees the day to day operations of servers and websites, and makes the decisions that affect a unit as a whole. Non-Commissioned Officers deal with the lower ranks' concerns, police the servers as administrators, and try to recruit new members. And last but not least, there is the Private, the relatively new member who acts as the recruiter, the student, and sometimes, a pain in the neck.
I started my path in realism gaming in late December 2005. I was just getting over a turbulent clan experience in Counter-Strike Source and long-term relationship trouble with my girlfriend. I was somewhat broken by these events, trying to find a distraction in which to pour my newly acquired free time and effort.
After purchasing DoD, I played a few times on the 5th Ranger Battalion's fairly popular server during the later week of my high school's winter break. The members of the realism unit overseeing the server were very kind, had great senses of humor, and, damn, could they shoot. The unit was the 5th Ranger Battalion (now known as the 75th Ranger Regiment). Late in January of 2006, I was accepted into the unit and started Basic training in the 25th class since the founding of the unit. I was optimistic and believed that after Basic, it'd take me a year to make it to Captain.
Basic training wasn't what you would think it would be from seeing movies like Full Metal Jacket or Jarhead. The instructors taught us recruits small group tactics, such as battle formations like staggered and straight, line and column, covering fire, bounding for cover, etc. The drills were open to the entire unit, not just the new recruits, and sometimes there were no spots available if you logged on too late. There were rare occurrences of public discipline as portrayed in the movies. Officers would not slap or hit a private, but the NCOs would. They would call your name out and tell you to shut up or stop. At times, an unruly private or NCO would be booted and given a talking to by a higher rank. This usually consisted of being sat down like a child and told that you were bad.