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Games, I guess.

Quite a few political minded shooters coming out in the near future. Despite the fact that I’m completely sick of shooters after making it all the way through The Darkness and Bioshock (plus Gears of War, and yes I’m still bitter about that damn Mad World ad), deep down there’s still some wretched part of me that’s curious about these games. My lizard brain, or something.

Blacksite: Area 51

Harvey Smith – yay. Lots of talk about fighting on American soil vs. not really clear villians (I recall way back them talking about you fighting other Americans). Yay. Played the demo. Shooting a big bug with some lame squad AI. Either Midway made a horrible mistake releasing a demo that in no way really gave any sense of the story of the real game, or all this time it’s just been a bunch of hooey… The only thing that was remotely impressive about the demo, from a purely technical standpoint, was the number of destructible props in an Unreal engine game (which is not really a reason to play any game, but I respect the technical effort).

Army of Two

My initial decision on this game was going to be based on any friend purchasing it – good co-op is still rare, so I’d play it through with a friend (plus it’s cheaper than dirt at the company store, one of the subtle perils of working for EA – you end up playing a lot of EA games – so far this year it’s been C&C3, Def Jam: Icon, skate. and MOHA – all pretty damn solid). But this Gamasutra interview with Chris Ferriera, lead designer on Army of Two, highlights the political commentary on mercenary use in Iraq, even going so far as to say it’s part of the character arcs for the two main characters. Yeah, sure, it will have the buttery popcorn sheen of a buddy cop action movie blockbuster, but a buddy cop action blockbuster set in Iraq featuring two mercenaries. You pretty much can’t get away from having political commentary on that one, so here’s hoping.


I remember waiting to see the demo movie for this game two E3’s ago. They spent a lot of effort on the presentation, and it was all done up as a training video for soldiers. After getting the initial (non-gameplay) premise (soldiers being given drugs to keep fighting and losing control over themselves because of that), I thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of potential here to explore any number of political issues.” And then the standard FPS gameplay footage came up and I walked out rather depressed that it wasn’t at all going to live up to that potential. They were giving away some nice mints though.

Then I read a Game Informer interview with a team member who basically (I paraphrase since I’ve gotten rid of the mag since then) – but basically the idea was, hey, turns out the FPS market is totally overcrowded and face it, they weren’t going to outsell HALO 3 (I added that bit), so they decided to add more political commentary to make it stand out.

Jurie Horneman describes it in more detail from Leipzig: People’s bodies disappear after you kill them per normal shooters, but not because they actually disappear – it’s the drug the government is shooting you full of to keep fighting (and then people can play dead to fuck with you). Using cheesy video game mechanics to make a point about how we ignore violence and many other aspects of the war while at the same time making fun of those game mechanics? Sign me up! (Even if it means – gah – buying a PS3).

But, in the meanwhile, balance must be restored. Some Viva Pinata, and then I’m thinking Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek (if 4 million teenage girls are wrong, I don’t want to be right).

2 Responses to War. Huh, what *is* it good for?

  • Patrick says:

    It seems like there are much less expensive, less expansive, and more procedurally rhetorical ways to make political statements using interactivity.

  • Borut says:

    Well, yeah, the less expensive part almost goes without saying – lighting huge piles of money of fire is a less expensive way to make a political statement than making a big bidget console action game. (The huge piles of burning money would be a statement of how the war & the administration’s policies have has affected our economic strength I suppose).

    And there’s certainly a lot more room for procedural rhetoric (although, silliness I know, I have a shred of hope for Haze in that regard, we’ll see). But there’s not many more *visceral* ways of exploring those issues interactively – there’s something to be said for that, too.
    Take an example from the seemingly less political Far Cry 2 – when wounded you have to look at & dress the wound in first person (dig out the bullet, pull out a shard of wood, etc.) – surely there’s value in showing the effects of war that our news outlets won’t? Of course, you run a fine line of trivializing that level of violence at the same time. But if exploring rhetoric using games was easy, more people would be doing it.

    What varies between forms is the type of political statement (visceral and emotional vs. more thoughtful & aimed at increasing understanding of systemic factors involved) – each have their usefulness at various times, depending on your goals.

    Plus, aside from some 30-second flash games here and there, there’s not a whole lot of games from the indie scene really pursuing these trains of thought either – I’m just happy to see it explored anywhere in games, in any form.