Not too long ago, I finally upgraded my computer to make it capable of running Medieval II - Total War, the computer game I blogged about sometime near the Christmas holiday. It was a dangerous thing for a recovering vidiot to do, yet I was certain that I had a hold on my inner nerd and so saw little risk of damaging my life for the sake of computer-generated battle, conquest and intrigue.
Well, after a month or two of playing the game, I can say that its spectacle and intensity have combined to ensure that I might never again know the touch of a woman. Instead of posting lies on Internet dating sites or preying on young women with daddy issues, I spend many of my waking hours mastering the deployment of Byzantine cavalry and Holy Roman Empire spearmen. I have learned that it is a good thing to put a cow carcass in a trebuchet and hurl it at an opposing army, which might be helpful to know if I ever find Seljuks Turks arrayed for battle on my front yard but would bring date conversation to certain doom. I am becoming geekier by the day, and I have no idea how to stop it.
Sadly, I can't say that I have undergone a compensating enlargement of command skills. My record in single-player practice battles is a dismal 5-23, making me the ideal opponent for a hostile realm's homecoming weekend. And my victories have usually been either over armies that would have been cowed by a particularly nasty morning on The View or over the just-north-of-the-Stone-Age Aztecs. (They have no cavalry or artillery, and I was not in the slightest uneasy about subduing an indigenous people. As a matter of fact, I even won a battle commanding the Aztecs, but I was mighty ticked off that I was unable to round up prisoners for human sacrifice, as the real Aztecs did.)
A typical practice battle begins with a general's pep talk in heavily accented English, depending on the realm. (For instance, let's say the general speaks a Romance language. He wants to order his units to advance. He winds up barking a command to something called a "joo-nit." I began to wonder whether Desi Arnaz and his drums would be at the head of my army.) The general usually says such things as "We will make neckties of their entrails!" which makes one cringe thinking about Father's Day. (The Venetian general, however, does not say such a thing. Too much fashion sense.) After that, the battle commences, and in pretty short order my troops are doing what they do best: running headlong for the safety of home. It would not surprise me in the least if I were to zoom in on the routed units and find them stripping off their gear and donning the dress of prep school first-graders. Nor would it surprise me if they were to burst forth from the computer screen and begin hiding themselves among the clutter of my desk.
Of course, much of this failure is because of my pathetic leadership. In my first battle, my forces were tasked with taking a castle. But instead of breaching the walls, my units promenaded back and forth in front of the ramparts as though they hoped to conquer by making their foe envy their uniforms. I was having a little trouble handling the view tools, you see. My favorite gaffe came in a subsequent battle when I sent peasants forward with a battering ram to fell the enemy gates. The ram was doing its thing when for some reason the gates just swung open. My hapless but eager peasants then stormed into the castle ... and the gate just closed behind them. I didn't take a look inside to see what was their fate, but it wasn't hard to imagine. the peasants were probably about as welcome as an ACTUP delegation at a Klan rally. Eventually, when my troops finally did storm the gates I saw the inert forms of the peasants all clustered around the gate. Some had even managed to fall in positions that spelled out U SUK.
But heaven knows I try. I pay strict attention to the advice I get from Sir Robert, my battlefield tutor. He pops up on the screen at the start of battles and then glares at me the way my father did when I would mention that I had gotten a totally unfair speeding ticket during my teenage years. He sometimes takes a patronizing tone with me that is a little annoying, or he just butts in during the height of the conflict. His advice is often woefully at odds with our democratic impulses, which leads me to wonder just how much time he spends at country clubs instead of honing his military knowledge. But at least he is expected to be a little callous; Lady Gwendolyn (the campaign tutor) is more jarring because she seems to take such relish in advising me to send in the assassins whenever possible ("Good show, my liege. Your assassin cut that peacenik diplomat gizzard to gullet. Now the carnage and ruin of war with Denmark are sure to follow. Besides, Copenhagen always has been such a dreary town.")
Yet none of this has stirred military genius within me. So I go into battle certain that at some point I will hear that heavily accented voice saying, "Our foolish general (that would be me) has fallen to the swords of our enemies!" And I take it that calling me foolish means there will be no statue of me built to mark a heroic defeat, just a lot of insults in the history books. But, hey, it could be worse. I could have gotten hooked on a computer game that is based on heart surgery. Just think about the overflowing morgues and angry, distraught family members who would trying to claw through the screen to get to me, the most incompetent heart surgeon in computer game history.
At least in such a case I would know how to retreat.