Fat, 50-something and with the basic fitness of a sponge, you can still join the United States Army.
Well, not the real one, but at least a game for PCs offered for free from the U.S. Army. Called "America's Army: Operations," the game is a very good simulation of what goes on in a soldier's work. The game is available for download at www.americasarmy.com, as well as at some Army recruiting stations and is shipping as a cover disk on PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World and an upcoming Computer Games magazine.
Developed by the real U.S. Army, the software's rated T for teen, because, after all, the Army's mission is to defend freedom with lethal force.
A lot of the simulation is at Fort Benning, Ga., where the first order of business is to qualify with the Army standard M16A2 rifle, by hitting at least 23 of 40 targets. This is a three-dimensional simulation, and the picture offered by the iron sights is real, right down to the sway and shake from breathing you see when you aim a real rifle. If you learn, as a real Army rifleman does, to make your shot at the end of your exhale, when the sights are most steady, you might score 36 of 40 hits, which qualifies you as an Expert.
Experts get to do advanced marksmanship training with the M24 Sniper Weapon System and the M82A1M Semiautomatic Anti-Material Rifle.
Or, you can move on to the Basic Combat Training obstacle course, which you must complete in less than 90 seconds. If successful, you get to become familiar with the M249 machine gun, M203 grenade launcher, M67 fragmentation hand grenade and the M83 smoke grenade.
From there, you can go on a variety of training missions that mirror what we ask our real soldiers to do for us, ranging from guarding oil pipelines to taking back a bunch of Stinger missiles that have fallen into the wrong hands.
You also get to qualify as Airborne, and, for the best of the best, as a U.S. Army Ranger.
While the Army isn't exactly reticent about this being a recruiting tool, it's also a very interesting, top-of-the-line simulation that will provide hours of enjoyment for those interested in things military, but more likely in real life to qualify as chairborne than airborne.
And, yes, it's all about killing the enemy, and in a perfect world, we wouldn't need an Army to do that. For those who haven't been keeping up, this is not a perfect world.
For those with Internet access, there's an online option allowing teamwork with other players.
System requirements reflect the high-performance simulation:
3-D graphics card with 32 megabytes of memory, at least a 766 megahertz Pentium III or equivalent, Windows 98, Me, 2000 or XP, 128 megabytes of RAM, 600 megabytes of uncompressed disk space, DirectX 8.1 and a quad-speed CD-ROM.
Questions and comments are welcome. Send them to Larry Blasko, The Associated Press, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020-1666. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.