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Overview

Electro-Magnetic Pulse, or EMP, is a burst of electromagnetic radiation. Generally, the application is to short out electrical devices. 

General Videogame Uses

EMPs are seen in a variety of games, and have a long history with videogames. They are generally implemented in strategic fashion. For example, EMPs tend to offer the player the option of disabling enemy radar or other electronics. While this does not actually further the player in achieving the goal in itself, it may open new opportunities to use different strategies to reach the ultimate goal. 
 
It is also implemented to provide players with a non-lethal option for accomplishing tasks. There are examples of games in which players have the option of killing the enemy vehicles, or disabling them with EMPs. The disabling option generally is more difficult, but usually results in a better score or rating for the player. 
 
 EMPs in videogames likely trace their origins to real world science, where they are used by military units for disabling electronics, or some police forces for disabling cars driven by fleeing criminals.

Game Specific Examples

EMPs have a long history with videogames. The Terran Science Vessel in Starcraft, for example, has an EMP ability that knocks out other units mana, or the Protoss units' shields. This attack does no damage on its own, but can be very useful for eliminating enemy units quickly. 
 
Most recently, the EMP made an appearance in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as a killstreak: It disables enemy radar and electrical gun attachments, such as holographic sights.

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