No Safe Place.

Spitting out machine gun noises from my mouth towards my neighborhood friends, from a catchbasin, is a thrill I remember well. Playing “Guns” when I was a kid was not just a game but an exercise in ambushing. I was always willing to take that extra risk to get the drop on my VC friends as they traveled the Ho Chi Minh Trail, that was our neighborhood sidewalks and alleys. The drainage systems around my neighborhood were my hunting grounds. I was the little boy version of the G.I. Joe character, Tunnel Rat.

Using the outstretched branches of high hanging limbs was always on the menu when it came to serving an ambush lunch to the enemy team but when all tricks were known, I knew I needed to resort to something more underground. The drainage systems of the burbs I lived in as a youth always seemed to have an abundance of entrances or, I was just really good at finding them. That ability to notice good cover and ambush spots has returned to me the more I play Battlefield 3 [BF3]. Battlefield 3, with its Frostbite 2 Engine, brings unparalleled destructible cover to a squad base combat game spread over large battlefields. BF3 also adds wanted anxiety to a FPS [First Person Shooter] by making almost no location safe from heavy artillery. This anxiety I feel in BF3 is similar but admittedly less frightening, than the anxiety that I felt come crashing down on me, while crawling around in drainage tunnels. No safe place.

I would regularly be caught in shorts and a t-shirt, minus an umbrella, as I walked home from school and a storm would roll in during spring or early summer. It was very common for me to go to elementary school in third grade decked out in sweatpants, only to be hating the decision during my 80 degree plus walk home that afternoon. The days I made sure I was abreast of the forecast however, were on days that I knew their would be, non-NATO Sanctioned, all neighborhood war games. I paid attention to the school videos and presentations that tried to convey the dangers of playing in drainage systems. I remember the stories of kids who drowned because a storm caught them off guard and swept them away to their deaths. I always remembered to check the forecast while watching Saturday morning cartoons. I didn’t go into the drainage tunnels unless the forecast was clear, but you can’t always predict the weather. No safe place.

The buildings in BF3 are huge. The majority of them are at least two or three stories in height and many of the buildings in BF3 are totally destructible. They can collapse and kill everyone in them, while you score the points. You can hear the creaking of a building as it teeters on collapse. You make desperate runs towards second floor balconies only to be crushed as you start to parkour over a railing. No safe place.

My childhood home during the time I was in Olathe, KS was near a housing development that included an abundant amount of drainage entrances. A 50 foot hunched over crawl, from the entrance of one of these drainage systems, would bring you to a large drainage junction box. It was large enough to house posters on the walls and even provided convenient concrete seating. It was my rally point for planning my final attack on the VC and a rally point for drug users, based off the paraphernalia discarded around the ground. No safe place.

An unburied, drainage junction box.

From this junction, you could either turn back and head through the four foot pipe, to the sunlight above, or push on. To get the drop on my VC friends’ base, located in a parents driveway and right across from a drainage inlet, would require a bit more effort. Pushing on was really crawling on. The only other pipe leading out of the junction was around two feet in diameter and you had to basically army crawl to get through it. The rest of my child army squad left, to prepare for the attack that would set the VC up for my knife in the back ambush. It was a tight fit, even for a lean 12 year old, but toy gun in hand and with a smile on my face, I crawled into the deep. No safe place.

There are some pretty humorous moments in Battlefield 3. Your squad may retreat into a  hotel room to resupply and heal up, only to be turned into gibs as an attack helicopter spots the scope of the sniper in your squad. Your friend may be providing suppressing fire on an enemy who is deep in cover, so you can flank him and knife him in the chest. Just as you take the virtual dog tag from your knifed victim your squad-mate yells into his mic as he meets the same fate. Realization sets in, both sides were providing suppressing fire so the other could get the knife. No safe place.

Motivated by anticipation, the twenty foot crawl it takes to get to the street inlet, opposite of the driveway base, goes pretty quickly. The combatants are engaged in a firefight with my squad-mates, just as planned. Waiting for a lawl in the machine gun mouth noises, I ready my plastic piper of death. “Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat! Rat-a-tat-tat!” echoes out of my mouth and, to the surprise of the whitest VC ever, out of the drainage inlet. Four verbal machine gun burst leaves four fictionally dead and surprised, neighborhood kids. No safe place.

Getting stuck in a building that is on the verge of collapse is an exciting moment in BF3. You can hear the warning signs of a pending collapse thanks to BF3’s brillant audio and sound effects. It gives you, on rare occasions, enough time to make an escape. Usually, you’ll hear one final shell from a tank or RPG rocket hit the building, the building will creak one more time and then you drown in the rubble. No safe place.

After basking in my victory and talking to my friends through the inlet, I prepare to make my way back to the junction and on, to fresh air. I notice the sky is a bit darker than it was when I first entered my underground hunting lair. A third of my way through my victory crawl, an unmistakable noise echoes down the cramp pipe. The thunder is loud, even from my position underground. Though I couldn’t see them at the time, I knew my eyes where the size of laser disks. I breathed deep and froze. Head back to the inlet or push on to the junction? I try moving back and quickly realize I’ve never done this, nor was I any good at it. I let go of my toy gun. I had to push forward. No safe place.

After dying or causing a building to collapse in BF3, if you look at the upper left hand corner of the screen, you can see the list of people who you killed, or died with you. You can either bask in your killing spree or laugh, respawn and seek your revenge. No safe place.

Halfway through the suffocating pipe I start to feel my t-shirt, my chest and my jeans, getting wet. A mixture of fear and liquid lubrication quicken my tunneling pace. I am a human version of the Caddyshack gopher, scurrying away from Bill Murray’s flood. I’m scared shitless, as images of the warning videos from school flow through my mind. With the great motivator of not wanting to die, I disregarded all pain caused by my scrambling through a pipe covered by jaggedly formed concrete overflow. Now drenched, I could see the junction ahead, filling with water. No safe place.

Taking the high ground in BF3 is always a good strategy. You can almost view the entire battleground from some structures and in-turn, kill almost everything you see. Even at the top of indestructible buildings in BF3 people can still rain down death from attack helicopters and jets. The thunder coming from the canons of tanks below can still strike you down. No safe place.

When I reach the junction the water is at white rapid levels. I could here the thunders intensity echo in the concrete box. I attempt to get my footing and make my way to the light, that is not shadowed in darkness. I wasn’t really running through the tunnel now but sliding, picking myself up and sliding again. I was making it out. I came out of the entrance like I was coming out of a water slide. I splashed down into the stream and scrambled against the current, trying to get to the large filler rocks on the side. No safe place.

Getting to these tall buildings in BF3 is a dangerous game within itself. Some places can be reached via exposed ladders, that people regularly watch to try and get an easy kill. Others buildings require you to successfully parachute from a helicopter or splatter against the roof. You can exploit a Micro Air Vehicle [MAV], by standing on it and using it like an elevator, leaving you defenseless while in midair. No safe place.

Reaching for the rocks with bloodied hands I thankfully see my friends, my squad mates, playing the roles of saviors as they help pull me out. Wet and bloodied was a pretty normal way for me to return from playing outside so I raised no eyebrows when I got home. The next day was typical for summer, hot and humid and perfect for a kid on summer break. I peddled my bike around the neighborhood slower than usual, thanks to the bruises that encompasse my entire body. Passing by the entrance to the drainage system I stop for a bit. I look into the deeper than usual pooled water at the entrance to the pipe, that is now clear and calm in the summer heat, and make out my toy gun. Waterlogged and lifeless, it sets at the bottom. No safe place.

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