Science

Video games headed to soldiers in Afghanistan

Canadian soldiers stuck in lonely outposts in Afghanistan are the lucky recipients of a big stash of video games ordered just months before the military pulls out.

Public tender seeks 500 copies worth up to $25,000

Canadian soldiers stuck in lonely outposts in Afghanistan are the lucky recipients of a big stash of video games ordered just months before the military pulls out.

Defence officials confirm that 500 copies of games such as Gears of War, Call of Duty, Mortal Kombat, and Assassins Creed are destined for Canada's forward operating bases in the war-ravaged country.Take our survey.

An estimated 500 to 600 soldiers are stationed at Ma'sum Ghar and Sperwan Ghar, Canada's main bases outside Kandahar,  which works out to a video game for almost every gamer-in-uniform.

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"It helps in keeping good morale ... to bring some relief to people working long hours," Cmdr. Hubert Genest said in an interview.

The large order, which includes some unwarlike games — such as Guitar Hero 3, The Beatles Rock Band, and Tiger Woods 2011  — was issued by public tender last week. The competition closes early next month.

Genest was not able to provide a dollar value, but at an estimated $50 a title, the order could be worth as much as $25,000.

Canada ends its combat mission in Afghanistan by July 1, and will be turning over infrastructure to U.S. forces and NATO over the coming months, including the forward operating bases. Canadian military officials declined to provide details about the handover, or about the precise numbers of Canadian soldiers deployed at the forward bases, citing operational security.

The Americans have dominated military operations in the Kandahar region as Canada works out logistics for its coming departure from the country. It's unclear how much hard fighting the Canadian Forces face in the months ahead and whether there will be down time to fill with video games.

'Routine' morale booster: commander

Genest said the military has sent video games to Afghanistan in the past — he called it "routine" — as part of a morale and welfare program, and noted that games need to be updated every few years as they are improved.

"(Soldiers) are in location 24/7. They don't take any leave. And so this program exists," he said.

Genest added that even after the July 1 pullout, Canada is keeping 950 soldiers in Afghanistan as military trainers, and they will have access to the existing stash of video games.

The cost of purchasing the games is covered by military's rest-and-recreation allowance of about $60 a month for each soldier in Afghanistan, he said.

93 copies of Gears of War

The detailed list of requirements in the public tender shows that Gears of War, a third-person shooter game first released in 2006, is the most popular title at National Defence, with 93 copies on order.

Also popular are two versions of Call of Duty, with 82 copies on order. Many of the Call of Duty games are set in the Second World War and involve first-person or third-person shooters.

The list includes several versions of the popular Rock Band game, in which players mimic famous musicians singing and playing their songs on different instruments — including two copies of the version featuring music by the peace-loving Beatles.

The musical list also features Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, with 36 copies on order.

Although the tender asks for games for several game-playing consoles, the vast majority are for the Xbox 360, a popular game system first introduced by Microsoft in 2005.

The only sport entry on the list is the Tiger Woods golf game, released this year by Electronic Arts.

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