By Kieran_ES 1 Comments
As one of the most wide ranging, encompassing settings used in the video-game industry, you would have thought that developers would have figured out how to 'do' War by now. When a medium's main focus is instant gratification, violence becomes a central point of discourse. Yet year after year, with almost no exception, in a now forty year old form, that has at times successfully tackled intimidating themes such as death, we are continually presented with the most infantile of gropings at war. The failings come in a number of forms, but each of them holds an essential element; the huge and maintained disconnect between narrative and form. When I refer to narrative I mean the account of experiences, and emotions, that you build through playing a game, the plot of these games is another matter. This disconnect is found in almost every Shooter on the shelves, because the developers go after the lowest common denominator. It's like we're stuck in the 80s all over again, and anything that comes out has to be a ridiculous, over the top action movie. They're fun, for a time, but look closely and they become unsettling in how they deal with war, especially in such a direct medium.
Case in point, the franchise that has dominated the scene for the past three or four years; Call of Duty. Specifically, the Modern Warfare branch, which presents the player with the most detailed, painstakingly realistic world with which to interact, explore and experience. However, that aesthetic they so carefully build is immediately host to a shit ton of killing. Constant, unfettered killing. Fine, violence can be an incredibly effective tool, or just a very fun activity in digital form (so much so that the majority of the art form is based around it). But it is in this hyper-realistic environment that the cartoonish levels of violence disconnect with my personal narrative. Each little digital guy I kill is a trivial matter in here, no emotional impact or shock is present. Even in the infamous level in Modern Warfare 2, one rife with the potential for creating a meaningful impact on the player, and showing a humanity to war, was squandered as it fell flat. In terms of plot, the bombastic events only serve to heighten the disconnect, and distance us from the human core of real warfare. The effect on you as a character, and as a player, is minimal at best. A small splatter of blood, death, slight annoyance, and we start again.
Not every company has gotten it wrong with war. In fact a number have made concerted efforts to address the less than 'black and white' situation. Although heavy handed, Haze took a unique stab at employing a tangible sense of unease over whether there is any traditionally 'good' side to war. It also attempted to explore the psychological and stressful aspects. Some might also point me to ArmA as a simulation leading to the intense fear, and relief not found in Call of Duty. I have always had a personal fondness for the Brothers in Arms series; although not entirely subtle or fluid, BiA is effective in that it places a value on every life. Every squad member you encounter and command becomes important, both mechanically and narratively. Outside of combat we are treated to a closer study of the men that make up the squad, less about melodrama and more relate-able. This serves to further an emotional connection to the men you are carefully instructing, and pushes the stress of command fully onto your shoulders.
There are several, small examples that make attempts but unfortunately the market is not there. Although willing and eager to see a film such as Hurt Locker or Saving Private Ryan, gamers are unwilling it seems to accept that the industry has the potential for the most powerful and effecting takes on war. Games are 'just fun' after all.
A small rant.