Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The Karabiner 98 Kurz, or the Kar98k, known to its users as the "Kar98" or the "Kark," is a serious part of Playerunknown's Battlegrounds ( PUBG). As a game that is, on a fundamental level, simply about running around a world and shooting other people, the way that the shooting functions is wholly dependent on the ways that the designers have implemented the guns. The Kar98, my preferred term for the weapon, has a particular impact on that shooting. All other guns are measured against it. It is the meter, the second, the kilo of the shooting mechanics of PUBG.
The reason that the Kar98k is so significant is that it deals a lot of damage. That's it. It's a sniper rifle, the preferred weapon of the skilled player in nearly every game that involves shooting, and that means that it can punch for a lot of hit points over very long distances. The difference between someone who is playing the game for the first time and an incredibly skilled player is not their preference for the Kar98 (they could both love it, after all), but instead it is their ability to hit enemies with the weapon at long distances. Sometimes that is made easier with scopes. Sometimes it's very hard and accomplished with iron sights and pure will. Not everyone can do it, and not everyone knows the moment to switch to the assault rifle after winging an enemy with Kar98. While versatility defines the top tier of the game, certain strategies float to the top. The Kar98 is one of them.
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There are two ways that the gun presses on the game: Through the players who use it against you, and how you use it against those players.
The first is simple. Unlike the rat-tat of the SCAR or the pop-pop of the M16 in single-shot mode, you can hear the clap/roar of the Kar98 as distinct and singular. It's like in Jurassic Park when they hear the roar of the T-Rex and realize that they're trapped on a nightmare island with a murdering machine. That's you when you hear it, up to something like 950 meters away. You know that someone is out there, hunting.
The more terrifying part about it is that the top-tier players are really good with it. The people who have put hundreds of hours into the game know all of the statistical likelihoods with the weapon. They know the reload speed like the back of their hand. They don't have to do a "test shot" with the gun to see what the bullet drop looks like at whatever distance their enemy is at. Through hours of experience, they know those things already, and the worst part is that you don't. Or, more specifically, I don't. I can hear the gun, and I know to immediately scream "serpentine!" as I try to dodge the bullets that are, inevitably, aimed directly at my dome.
When you're playing to win at PUBG, you're playing against the Kar98. You're playing against the possibility that the other players, who are off in the bushes doing their own thing, have a Kar98 with an 8x scope. You are playing against the worst case scenario: That you will be annihilated from orbit by a streamer whose careless wrath might hit you like that of an angry god.
How you use the Kar98 is a different issue. You stumble on it, like you always do, in the foyer of a nice single-family home with a campable attic space and a poorly-made bed. The ammunition is strewn about the ground, and you think "yes, finally, I have it." Then you set about looking for a scope, or a red dot sight, or literally anything that turns this iron tube covered in wood into the death machine that you are acutely aware that it could be. If you have teammates, you start figuring out the best solution. Inevitably, you end up not with that 8x scope that would demolish your enemies. You have the red dot.
The optimal range of the Kar98 is so long that the actual dot of the red dot sight is larger than an enemy would be. That practical knowledge, which becomes apparent to anyone who uses these two items in conjunction with one another, can leave you shaken. Or, rather, it can kill your confidence in your ability. The specters of other players can get in your head; they're got better scopes, better guns, and better skills with those weapons. So no matter what, your use of the Kar98 isn't going to match up to their use. Without the hundreds of hours of sniping experience, you're nothing compared to them.
In your head and out in the world; that's how the Kar98 defines PUBG around itself. It provides the upper tier of technical competency and the lower tier of complete annihilation of a player's self esteem. It holds the game in its hands, across the board. I listen for it, constantly, because it is either my salvation or my damnation. It's a goddamn video game gun.
I'll end with a consideration: the Kar98k is a real gun. Mass produced by the Nazis during the Second World War as an infantry weapon, the gun had a long afterlife beyond that conflict. Captured by the superpowers, notably the USSR, the Kar98k made its way into conflicts all over the latter half of the 20th century. They were fired by North Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War and rebranded by the Israeli IDF as weapons of defense. They appeared in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Libya in the late 2010s. Real-world conflict has been haunted by an 80+ year old gun. Modified yet recognizable, it appears, again and again. And in those instances it is not special. It is merely another thing that kills people, maybe less efficiently than other things, but still in a dependably violent and inhuman way.
Meanwhile, on Twitch, a caster is screaming about how well a player can gun his enemies down with it.
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