&t Phil on Games: August 2010 <$BlogMetaData$;

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kill the infidels!

My contribution to my Uncle’s FaceBook discussion on the following topic:

In October, Electronic Arts will be releasing a first-person shooter video game called "Medal of Honor". In this game one can assume the role of a soldier on either side of the conflict in Afghanistan. Is it wrong to produce a game that allows one to play the role of a Taliban soldier and shoot American soldiers? I would like to say this is just a came, but I'm having a hard time with this one. But then, I have a hard time with ANY first-person shooter game that portrays human-on-human violence. Your thoughts?

I have to weigh in considering the guys who made this game are in the building next to me, and EA pays my paycheck.

@Aaron: You’re pretty much right on, except that the average of the video game consumer (person who makes the purchasing decisions and forks over the cash) is now 35. Word of advice though, at the risk of sounding like a jerk… try not to swear so much in your e-mails defending video game culture. It doesn’t help advance the general public’s opinion on our education and maturity level.

@Uncle: I think it’s a generational thing. As Aaron pointed out, this is nothing new in games. The only major differences I can see from what has already been released is that this is the first time in a scripted story portion of a game (a.k.a. – single player) that that you are in the body of a terrorist affiliated with Al Qaeda, and not a fictional group.

From the context of the story, which is part of the experience in most all forms of entertainment, this is also nothing new. Obviously, there’s the previously mentioned relation to movies. Though passive forms of entertainment, a good movie engages the viewer and sucks them into the cinematic world by growing them attached to the good guy and bad guy… often, the viewer enjoys experiencing the world through the perspective of the enemy. A great example of this would be Christoph Waltz’s character, Col. Hans Landa, in the film ‘Inglorious Basterds’. He’s pure scum, but it’s incredibly difficult for the viewer not to like/sympathize with him. Probably even more so for Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, Bill “The Butcher”, in ‘Gangs of New York’… completely horrid human being, but the viewer sympathizes with his motivations even though they know it’s wrong. Watching either of those two characters in action elicits the same response that Medal of Honor is trying for from their audience; you know what they are doing is wrong, though you understand why you are doing it (their motivations) and how these characters became who they are that enables them to commit such horrible actions.

Interactive stories with portrayals of “good vs bad” are also nothing new. I can’t think of a single generation of that hasn’t acted out this story in play. Someone always plays as a Native American, a Confederate Soldier, a Japanese Soldier, a German Soldier, a Russian Soldier, a Vietnamese Soldier, a Mexican or South American drug lord, an Imperial Storm Trooper, and now Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Most of the time, these “games” are played out during the time of the relative conflict, allowing those to process the meaning of what’s going on in the world around them using play/entertainment as a tool… except for those Civil War reenactment guys; the North won guys! Let it go already.

As with all forms of entertainment that try to convey some sort of message to provoke thought, it’s all about how it’s implemented. For video games, Modern Warfare 2 did something similar by placing you in control of a secret agent undercover as a rogue Russian terrorist for a single level. You assault an airport and are forced to kill dozens of civilians in order not to blow your cover, only in the end to get shot in the head (from a first-person view) as the level ends when it’s revealed the terrorist group knew you were working with the government the entire time. It’s a brutal level, but when taken in context of the entire story, it made the user feel a twinge of “this is very wrong of me to do this”, and further drove home how truly bad the terrorist group was and how important it was to stop them when put in the shoes of the main characters throughout the rest of the game. There are no awarded points, achievements, medals, or anything for completing this one mission… there was no reward whatsoever for the player to perform these terrorist acts.

It’s yet to be determined, but I imagine that the Medal of Honor level(s) where the user plays from Al Qaeda’s perspective are going to be implemented in a similar fashion. The presentation is embellished for entertainment, but it is supposed to be thought provoking at the same time. I’ll agree that it flirts with moral lines, and I’ll reserve my judgment until I play the game and see how they actually address the issue.

With regard to the timing, from a historical societal perspective spanning modern society, conflicts made into main stream entertainment (high profile cinema, and now games as well), usually occur within 3 to 10 years after the start of that conflict. Even the Romans recreated battles, though I’m sure the speed of information at the time slowed down the process a bit. Thankfully we no longer go so far as to kill the gladiators that were “acting” in the recreation.

I think this is a normal pattern of human behavior to help us make sense of tragic events, especially wars. This just happens to be an extremely long war, which is butting up against the societal need for open expression on what has just occurred, and in this case, is still occurring.

• Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) 4 years after battle occurred
• Deer Hunter (1978) 3 years after Vietnam War ended
• Apocalypse Now (1979) 4 years after Vietnam War ended
• Three Kings (1999) 8 years after Persian Gulf War ended
• Black Hawk Down (2001) 8 years after Mogadishu
• The Hurt Locker (2009) 6 years after invasion of Iraq
• Green Zone (2010) 7 years of invasion of Iraq