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A Digital History of "America's Gun"


The 1911. Ol' Slabsides. The handgun almost everyone knows universally as "The .45", so much so that many don't know any other firearms chambered in .45 ACP. One of the most prolific, iconic firearms in the history of the United States of America. Along with that pedigree comes a lot of homages, imitations, and references in all sorts of media. Today I'm here to talk about why the 1911 was the first firearm I ever purchased, and some of the games I've played over the years that have featured this wondrous piece of American engineering, sometimes portrayed realistically, other times... less so.

I've always more or less been into firearms. I grew up and live in the American southwest, in Arizona. My state has always been defined by firearms and their use to tame the wild and spike the lawless. It's damn near impossible to grow up in the shadow of legends like Wyatt Earp and Tombstone without a healthy respect and more than a little bit of reverence for guns. My granddad was a fan of revolvers, and with the combination of Arizona's historical status as the "wild west" with the wheelgun and my granddad's influence, it should be no surprise that I'm a big revolver fan myself. In fact, nearly all of my trigger time up until I purchased my first handgun was on wheelguns. My 1911 was actually the first semi-automatic handgun I'd ever shot.

Speaking of firsts...

The first shooting game I ever played was Syphon Filter on the Playstation. At that time I didn't possess the skill to get very far; I never got further than the Washington Park without cheating. But I will always remember the sense of intense satisfaction I got from finally getting out of that flaming mess of a subway station and into the hedge rows of the Washington Park level. That's the first time in the game that you can acquire the ".45", and it was amazing.

Up until that point the pistol you are restricted to using is a silenced 9mm, which fires fast, but takes a minimum of 3 hits on unarmored enemies (without factoring in head shots). Once you pick up that .45, the game changes. Suddenly, up close, a single shot with that pistol will drop an unarmored enemy instantly, and that shot comes with a nice big "BLAM" to punctuate how powerful this handcannon is.

That was sort of how I felt when I first went to the range with my 1911. It was an experience I know I will never forget. Thankfully what I'd shot the most was .357 Magnums that my granddad reloaded with meticulous attention to detail and the same level of care he'd have used to tend to an infant. So when I slid the first loaded magazine into my 1911, racked the slide, alligned the sights on my target, and pressed the trigger I was pretty well prepared for the blast that came with it. But it was still my first .45, and my first semi-automatic, so the changes from shooting a revolver were distinct for me and that's probably what stuck with me the most in Syphon Filter and in my own experience. There was a change here, and it was distinct: what I'd shot before was undeniably capable and certainly lethal, but what I held in my hands that day had upped the ante considerably. I emptied the first magazine, slid in the second, and put another seven rounds into my target with a huge smile on my face. I consider the .357 Magnum to be one of the greatest, most capable cartridges ever created, but I couldn't fire 14 rounds of .357 Magnum in a matter of a handful of seconds. As my first semi-automatic, the 1911 opened my eyes to all new levels of capability lacking in my beloved revolver shooting.

Anybody who has played the Metal Gear Solid series knows that there's a love affair between Hideo Kojima and the .45 ACP cartridge. There's been a handgun chambered in .45 ACP in every Metal Gear Solid, and in some cases multiple handguns in that caliber are used. But there is no moment in Metal Gear history where that affection for the .45 is more clear than Big Boss's custom 1911 scene.

When EVA first hands Big Boss his shiny new 1911, he just about loses it, and I know exactly how he feels. (Wanted to find the scene where this happens, but I couldn't get an isolated clip of it, so here's the CODEC on it instead):

The 1911 in Metal Gear Solid 3 isn't the powerhouse of Syphon Filter, however. It's a more realistic portrayal of what a handgun should be in combat: reliable, portable, more effective than nothing, but nevertheless pales in comparrison to shoulder-fired weapons. Metal Gear Solid 3's portrayal of the 1911 is probably the one of the best in gaming, highlighting some of the history and the custom options, without taking its capabilities up to mythical proportions. Inaccurate shots with the 1911 in Metal Gear Solid 3 yield poor incapacitation, making accuracy the key without relying solely on an unrealistic portrayal of stopping power.

The 1911 love in this series continues on into Metal Gear Solid 4, with Old Snake's Springfield Armory Operator, and again it's portrayed with a fair degree of realism, without the silly fanfare of the .45 ACP's mythic capabilities of knocking grown men down with one shot. Snake approaches his own 1911 with less of Big Boss's reverence, though he makes good use of the Operator throughout the campaign.

My 1911 doesn't have a whole lot of bells and whistles on it. I bought something a little more standard, a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec (stock photo at the start of this article), lacking in about 99% of the modifications/changes Big Boss goes on about here (and about 70% of the stuff in Old Snake's Operator). Nonetheless, there's something about a 1911 when you put it up against other handguns. The second handgun I ever bought was a Glock 21 (Glock's pistol for the .45 ACP enthusiast). When I stack the two up side by side, there's just something special about my 1911 I can't quite describe. I love my Glock, and I carry it, but it doesn't quite have what my 1911 does; some inexplicable little sense of identity. Or perhaps it's just my connection to guns and american history that makes the 1911 feel different for me, but it just feels like there's a soul there that more modern designs haven't had the time to develop.

If there's a game out there that has a soul, it's probably Resident Evil 4. This game remains one of the most impressive transformations any longstanding series has ever undergone. It completely reinvented the Resident Evil series and took it somewhere entirely new for that series, with nothing short of spectacular results.

The Resident Evil series trends strongly toward the use of 9mm handguns. Essentially every main Resident Evil game's protagonist has carried a 9mm handgun, perhaps most notably the Samurai Edge custom Beretta M9s used by the STARS members. Leon Kennedy's primary handgun in every Resident Evil he's been featured may have been a 9mm, but he's the only main Resident Evil protagonist I know of that's ever had access to a 1911. And Goddamn, it was a good one.

The Killer7 Magnum in Resident Evil is probably my favorite Magnum in any game of the series. A double-reference to the game Killer7 as well as a bit of an homage to the 1911 wielded by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original Terminator, this gun is just dripping with badass and campy cheese.

The moment Leon picks it up and you equip it for the first time, you know you're in for a good time. Everything about this gun in Resident Evil 4 is gold, from the shooting animations that make Leon look like a weak little pipsqueak of a man to anyone who's ever shot a .45 (my wife manages that cartridge better than he does!), to the crisp and clean reload animations and the utterly indescribabe destructive force it represents. Is it even vaguely realistic in its portrayal? Not even close. But picking it up and firing it reminded me of Syphon Filter and a dozen other games where realism takes the backseat to fun which, in my opinion, it damn well ought to most of the time.

When it comes down to it, that was probably the main factor in my decision to buy a 1911 as my first handgun: fun. I bought it to take it to the range and reconnect with my love of shooting after my granddad passed away. Prior to that purchase, I'd never shot at a range without my granddad or my brother, and after he passed I swore I'd not step onto a range until I'd bought something that belonged to me. It seemed wrong to me to take any of his guns out of storage or shoot his ammo until I'd taken that step for myself, demonstrated my sufficiency and my capability to survive and provide, and add to the family collection. It was a choice I made to show myself that I was still here, and moving on with my life. And furthermore, taking responsibility for that life I intended to live. When I made that choice I knew in my heart that first gun would have to be something special, something precious to me that would be with me for the rest of my life, much like my memories of packing up the lever- and bolt-action rifles, the sixguns, and going to the range with my granddad.

So, with all that said, what are some of your favorite firearms in videogames? Do you prefer realism to cheesy action, or vice-versa? Have videogames ever had impacts on your own firearms choices, or ones you'd like to own?

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About Blindfireone of us since 7:06 AM on 06.09.2009

Howdy, I go by Blindfire. Welcome to my blog on Destructoid.

I was a late bloomer when it comes to videogames. Growing up, my family has never been especially affluent, and we pretty much just didn't have the cash to throw down on Nintendo or Sega.

I didn't really play a lot of games outside of the occasional visits to family friends in Phoenix, where I got acquainted with classics like Sonic, Donkey Kong, and Mortal Kombat. I was awful at them but I didn't care, I knew then and there that I'd fallen in love with videogames. The next time I'd get to play videogames would be on a PC, home-built basically from scratch by my uncle and my mother. It was a piece of crap that housed everything I could cram onto it, from Doom to WarCraft II. It underwent several hardware mods as time went on, but eventually we moved on to pre-built equipment and haven't looked back since. Some of my fondest memories, though, are of starting up DOS and typing in the command string to start up Rise of the Triad. I still have a huge soft spot for RTS games, as WarCraft II was the first game I really understood all the mechanics of.

The PlayStation was my first console. It was a pastime for me more than anything, really. A handful of decent games that I played occasionally when I wasn't doing something else. It wasn't until Metal Gear Solid that I really started to grasp gaming as a kind of physical concept. Metal Gear Solid made gaming a tangible thing for me, and I still have a powerful love for that series to this day.

I didn't become a real gamer until around 2004. That year, my gaming collection grew exponentially for the PS2, and for my newly-acquired Xbox. I made so many discoveries about games and gaming that year that I literally can't quantify it; it was an epiphany that has led me to expanding my horizons and seeking every new game experience I can find.

These days I try to keep an open mind about games, and let anything surprise me.