Talking about videogames is one of my favorite things to do. I've been desperately trying to get back in the mojo of playing games and coming over to this fabulous website to bitch or praise. It isn't as easy as that now. The deployment is so cemented in my mind it's hard to think about much else right now. I got a fat stack of videogames right now that I've barely touched! I decided to trick myself into writing a thing and look into the relationship between war and entertainment.
I was mostly disturbed recently while reading a GameSpot article written by Laura Parker (whom I think is a wonderful journalist) titled, "EA, guns, and the dangers of brand identity". The article mostly goes into how stupid selling real weapons through Medal of Honor: Warfighter is. EA had the intention to donate some of that money from sold weapons to the families of fallen Special Operations troops. I think the intent is great, but who's really buying guns through a link on an EA site? Your opinions on that may vary, but this quote from Parker's article expresses this business adventure is wrong for the wrong reasons:
This is not the first time's EA's definition of authenticity has come into question. At E3 this year, GameSpot editor Tom Mc Shea questioned Warfighter's regenerating health as being in clear contrast with the game's painstaking efforts to be as "authentic" and realistic as possible.
"Military games have turned war into a silly good time, and yet they hide behind their realistic claims as if they're doing justice to the armed forces," Mc Shea argued. "In reality, they're exploiting the people who give their lives for a cause they believe in. By focusing on instant satisfaction and extreme accessibility, they turn real battles into a virtual fantasyland where no harm is lasting and no danger exists."
So is this stuff offensive? Maybe EA is throwing around the word "authentic" too loosely, but that's an individual opinion and reviews will judge the final product. Trust me Mr. Mc Shea, I appreciate the attempted defense but you're being the disrespectful one here, not EA. I thought about articles based around the idea of the above quote during my first firefight...
It was my second day in Afghanistan, my Platoon and I were conducting a dismounted patrol down a known Taliban supply route. I heard a snap of a traveling round and saw one of our Afghan Army allies go down. The awesome power of Taliban mortar fire and sporadic machine gun fire was louder and more intimidating than any range I've been on. A lot was on my mind that day, but the whole world stopped for that moment to happen. In my mind, at that moment, nothing else existed. The whole world was this mountain and the entire population was shooting guns. I immediately jumped into a ditch, for my first time “in the shit” was the most disorienting moment of my life.
“Happy Halloween and welcome to Afghanistan!”, said a soldier next to me. While our medics were working on the fallen Afghan; I returned fire with my SAW to allow the safe evacuation of the wounded. It wasn't something I actually thought about doing, it was reflex. The bad guys were only getting closer, self defense and preservation of my friends took over any rational thought like staying inside that nice comfy ditch. Then I learned that the guy with the machine gun (me) gathers a lot of unwanted attention. There I had a realization that I’m living a cliché moment that I’ve taken in as entertainment since I could walk. I was nearly deaf from the barrage of rockets and my own weapon; branches were snapping above me, there was constant movement everywhere, yelling from friendlies and enemy, it was utter chaos.
I’ve spent my whole life watching war movies, playing guns as a kid, and enjoying shooting games. That evening, some of us gathered around the TV to play a few rounds of Call of Duty. I thought to myself that this should be fucking weird. I mean, I just fired real weapons in a real war. But it wasn’t. Playing Call of Duty that evening felt as natural as any other play session. I'm not really a fan of the game in the first place, but I took advantage of the opportunity to unwind. It reminded me of all the controversy around violent videogames in the mid 90’s. That controversy feels pettier than ever now. What war videogames are today cannot obtain parity with the real world. Therefore, those games have a virtually impossible time correlating with people’s negative or positive feelings involving anything real.
The bulk of shooters are so disconnected from reality, I get really put-off anytime someone claims these titles are glorifying war or that they’re disrespectful to the troops. Does Game Dev Story speak any volume to making games? I just throw a music guy in an office and magic trumpets make real videogame soundtracks better, right? Does that trivialize the hard work and creativity of developers? Clearly, I can’t speak for the entire armed forces community for I would be as guilty as some of these writers on the Internet making these claims. However, every soldier I know plays these games or respects them from a distance. And in my experience, soldiers are the most difficult people to offend to begin with.
Most Blockbuster shooters are so cartoonish, it’s impossible to take them seriously anyhow, and those that claim to be “military simulators” don’t go far enough in presentation to risk freighting anyone. We live in a world in which 1-3 American soldiers come home in boxes everyday. I can see why civilians would cause an uproar about Six Days in Fallujah letting you partake in a conflict that at the time was taking the lives of young American men and women, but you can’t spend your life being shield for a group you aren’t apart of. History will show American GIs are good at defending themselves. Medal Of Honor did a decent job at portraying the early days of the Afghanistan war as explained in history books and that's good enough for me to excuse the "authentic" label. At a certain point, it needs to be a videogame.
When EA bowed to pressure to take the Taliban out of Medal of Honor’s multiplayer in service of “Opposing Force” and Konami scrapping Six Days in Fallujah are examples of cowering from a vocal minority. With EA, advertising real weapons through a game that claims to be a salute to the Special Operations community is kind of weird. But no one in uniform is making a picket sign. I believe most soldiers have more important things to worry about. Art of War teaches that a society needs to acknowledge and (using this term loosely) respect their enemy. Going far enough to make muslim men in robes and AKs in a videogame fighting Americans but ignoring who they actually are is the real crime. EA can continue making weird PR moves with Medal of Honor, but the soldiers I know wouldn’t care to play as Taliban in multiplayer (maybe they’ll lose on purpose). But I know I do get up in arms when civilians with microphones but without service under their belt tell their listeners a videogame is hurting my feelings.
If a developer wants to make a Call of Duty style videogame based on my experiences, I would be flattered. While it would be inaccurate, videogames are for fun. Once I brought a small toy water gun to school in a post Columbine massacre world and paid hard for that mistake. People have a habit with freaking out over dumb stuff. Thinking about the ratio of shooters that have been released since 2001 and those that explicitly say "this is Afghanistan, you're fighting Taliban, GO!" is in the favor of non-descriped middle eastern towns fighting God only knows. Not all takes on war will be Generation Kill but I'm also always down for a silly tale of glorifying war. Remember Act of Valor? It was pretty much a SEAL recrutement video, but that scene with the boat was badass. Remember that sniper level in Call of Duty 4? Badass. Undo your ties and stop looking for controversy.