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Call of Duty 4: Postmodern Warfare

Time for a little something on the intellectual side:

During my Junior year of highschool, we went through the literary eras of American Literature. The most recent of those eras is what is known as the "Postmodern" Era. Basically, any literature from around after WWII is considered to be postmodern in the postmodern era, but it's not necessarily postmodern. It gets its name from the fact that it comes after the Modernist era. The two are quite similar, really, but there are enough differences to really make them two seperate entities. Some could say that Postmodern literature is really just Modernist literature part 2. Anyway, they're both really quite fascinating eras and reading a collection of Modernist literature before you read a collection of Postmodern literature is also fascinating because you really see a sense of evolution. Not just in the technology you see, but in the characters and how the text is presented to you. Both are equally "good" literature.

A fascinating part about Postmodern literature is that, if you write frequently, you'll find yourself writing with the typical characteristics of Postmodern literature. If you do write frequently, look over your own writing real quick and ask yourself these questions:

1. Do you find yourself using flashbacks and/or shifting perspectives? If yes, then that's a characteristic.

2. Do you use any sorts of irony, playfulness, or black humor? By black humor, I don't mean jokes about negroes, but jokes about things that should be taken seriously. Such as war.

3. Do you find some of the things you write to be more about the experience rather than the story itself?

4. Do you exploit any sorts of paranoia?

5. Do you use technology, even hypothetical non-existent technology?

6. Have you ever taken an actual person and made up something he did?

7. Do you play with any sort of format? This can be anything from leaving out certain punctuation to even packaging your book in a box with no binding so that readers can choose to cover however they want! (The Unfortunates, B.S Johnson)

If you've said "yes" to the majority of those questions, then congratulations, you are a Postmodern author. You are among today's great authors in terms of styIe If you said "no" to most of those questions, then don't worry. The best authors are those with their own styIe. Don't conform your art, let your art conform to you.

As I thought about postmodern literature, I started thinking about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In my mind, I started seeing connections between its storytelling and Postmodern literature. I decided to pick the game up again and relive its single-player campaign in order to confirm my way of thinking. As I played, I was surprised to see just how right I was. I noticed that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare uses almost, if not all, characteristics of a Postmodern work of literature. I'll go through the questions again, this time answering them for Call of Duty 4.

1. Yes. There is the flashback scene with Captain Price in Chernobyl. Also, perspective shifts between a US Marine and SAS operatives.

2. Not frequently and not in great amounts, but side humor and some playfulness are evident.

3. Definitely. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare features a substandard storyline. However, it also forces you to feel what it would be like do die in a nuclear explosion and experience the sudden death of your friends, as would happen in true warfare. The game is all about experiencing modern warfare.

4. Yes. Almost every aspect of the villians are modern paranoias. For instance, we fear the Russians trying to go back to Communism and then nuking the US. And there's always Middle-Eastern paranoia with the Muslims being evil and wanting nothing more than to kill every white person from here to Mars.

5. Yes. Computers, even the Javelin missile are all pieces of modern technology. As for hypothetical, well, having futuristic technology would kill the concept.

6. Not really, but Call of Duty 4 does take a real city and make up something it didn't do. For instance, the sniping in Chernobyl.

7. All video games play with format to a degree. Call of Duty's is mostly in how the story is presented. Instead of cutscenes, we get those loading screen dialogues.

Bearing this in mind, what other games are examples of Postmodern literature? One that comes to mind easily is Bioshock. I'm not going to flood you with a whole lot of examples, instead, I'm going to challenge you to find your own examples. I'm also going to challenge developers to continue making more examples. But I do want them to keep in mind that the best examples aren't intentional. I don't think the men sitting in the boardroom were thinking about how to take Call of Duty and make it Postmodern.

I don't want all games to suddenly become Postmodern masterpieces. The next Mario game should never become a movement of literature. But I think that for games to have the best possible stories, they shouldn't look to be cinematic, but to be more like literature. Films derive themselves from novels or other written things, so why can't games? Games should at least start to be like novels. It's proven to work too. The best stories in games all have the biggest comparisons to something in literature. They don't have to in order to be spectacular, but it's just another way for games to really prove their worth to people like Roger Ebert. It's another way for games to fully emerge themselves as part of our current art culture, which they are.

If you would like to do so more reading on Postmodern literature, here's the Wikipedia article.

Darth Zew

PS: This is a repost from my Gamespot blog. I really, really want to be a more active user here but my AP classes and student council work are really getting in the way. Somebody send me a PM so I feel cared about (you'll get five brownie points).