Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in “Netherworld”

October 28, 2010 -

A ForeignPolicy.com piece on the state of war videogames asks if such titles are bringing the reality of current conflicts into the living rooms of gamers, or simply exploiting them for commercial gain.

A good chunk of the piece centers on the recently released Medal of Honor, in light of the controversy it generated. That controversy, the author writes, “wouldn't have occurred even five or six years ago,” as “video game studios seemed to be reticent about tackling contemporary conflicts, preferring instead to crank out games based in abstracted worlds and full of abstracted enemies.”

Older games such as SOCOM and Full Spectrum Warrior began to depict newer enemies, but “the level of graphical complexity was remedial enough that the game remained, well, a game.” Then, recently the Six Days in Fallujah game popped up, generating negative press, and last year Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 appeared. Suddenly, “Gone was the cartoonish violence of past simulations; ushered in was a world of dizzying alleyway firefights.”
   
The most interesting comments in the article come from Georgia Tech School of Literature, Communications and Culture Associate Professor Ian Bogost, who said that the videogame industry has never had an interest in politics.

Bogost stated:

Studios are stuck in this weird netherworld, between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. And games are stuck in that place, too. They want to be technology, and they also want to be entertainment.

When asked if games might someday “say something meaningful about foreign conflicts,” Bogost responded:

I'm optimistic. Games are great at depicting systems instead of telling stories. ... And then there's role-playing: What is it like to be someone else? That's the missed opportunity in Medal of Honor -- what does it really mean to be the Taliban?

Where are they coming from? What does that feel like? Now that doesn't mean you have to endorse the opinion, but [in a video game] you can explore something from someone else's side.

Bogost said that if Medal of Honor had taken this approach, “it would have been interesting and powerful.”


Comments

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

Call of Duty still remains one of the top war games of all time. Thanks Activision! ttp://www.marketwatch.com/story/video-game-makers-aiming-high-with-new-shooters-2010-06-17

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

Ian Bogost isn't just a professor; he's a respected game designer. Bogost founded Persuasive Games, which develops for newsgames for major media outlets. He was also interviewed by Stephen Colbert several years ago.

 

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

"A ForeignPolicy.com piece on the state of war videogames asks if such titles are bringing the reality of current conflicts into the living rooms of gamers, or simply exploiting them for commercial gain."

The latter and there's nothing wrong with that.

 

Andrew Eisen

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

The Bogost quote is interesting indeed, on many occasions I have tried to explain the potential for video games to explore the complexities of conflict. Many FPS games do not do this, but the potential is there. The Metal Gear series goes some way to doing this, but unfortunately it is buried within an extremely convoluted narrative.

I would also point out that COD4 was much more realistic than MW2, and got there 2 years earlier.

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

And even MORE controversial.

People are already mad at just PLAYING THE ROLE of the Taliban -- imagine if the game had gone to the effort of humanizing them and making them sympathetic in some way.

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

Some would brand the developers traitors and demand their executions.

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

Imagine if a movie featured the Taleban sympathetically! It would have to be banned and all copies would be destroyed.

 

One of the Rambo movies, Charlie Wilson's War... I'm sure there are a lot more out there, even if they were from a different decade.

Re: Professor on War Games: Studios Stuck in ...

Rambo is actually an example of something more subtle and, I would argue, more insidious.

First Blood was a movie that was harshly critical of Vietnam.  It depicted a damaged man, traumatized by the horrors of war and mistreated on his return by an uncaring civilian populace.  It showed him driven, by their abuse, into an autopilot mode where he became an unthinking killing machine.  It's a movie that clearly depicts the horrors of war and the impact they can have on our fighting men and women.

And then the sequel shifts the theme so fast you get whiplash.  All the Rambo sequels are gungho, pro-war action flicks, missing the nuance and the power of the original.  When you mention Rambo, people think about the guy kicking ass in the sequels, not the guy broken by his loss in the original movie.

And in that way, I think they defanged the original movie far more effectively than if it had been banned.

 
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Matthew Wilson@info depends on the sector. for example, have you looked at how powerful unions are in the public sector? I will make the argument they have too much power in that sector.07/07/2015 - 12:39pm
InfophileIt's easy to worry about unions having too much power and causing harm. The odd thing is, why do people seem to worry about that more than the fact that business-owners can have too much power and do harm, particularly at a time when unions have no power?07/07/2015 - 12:31pm
Matthew Wilsonthe thing is unions earned their bad reputation in the US. the way unions oparate the better at your job you are, the likely you want to be in a union.07/07/2015 - 11:33am
InfophilePut that way, "right to work" seems to have BLEEP-all to do with gay rights. Thing is, union-negotiated contracts used to be one of the key ways to prevent employers from firing at will. Without union protection, nothing stops at-will firing.07/07/2015 - 11:06am
Infophilehas an incentive to pay dues if they're represented either way, so the union is starved for funds and dies, unless things are bad enough that people will pay dues anyway.07/07/2015 - 11:02am
InfophileFor those who don't know, "right to work" laws mean that it can't be a condition of an employment contract that you pay union dues. That is, the right to work without having to pay dues. Catch is, unions have to represent non-members as well, so no one...07/07/2015 - 11:01am
MechaCrashUnexpected? Seriously?07/07/2015 - 10:55am
Mattsworknamejob they wanted without the unions getting involved. The problem is, it has some unexpected side effects, like the ones Info mentioned07/07/2015 - 8:49am
MattsworknameThe problem being, right to work states exsist specificly as a counter to Unions, as the last 20 or so years have shown, the unions have been doing this countries economoy NO favors. The right to work states came into being to allow people to work any07/07/2015 - 8:49am
Infophile(cont'd) discriminatory. This can only be done for protected classes which are outlined in law (race, sex, religion, ethnicity everywhere, sexual orientation in some states). So, a gay person could be fired because they're gay and have no recourse there.07/07/2015 - 7:27am
Infophile@Goth: See here: http://www.snopes.com/politics/sexuality/firedforbeinggay.asp for a good discussion on it. Basically, the problem is that in the US, most states allow at will firing, and it's the burden of the fired person to prove the firing was ...07/07/2015 - 7:25am
Goth_SkunkAssuming that's true, then that is a fight worth fighting for.07/07/2015 - 6:58am
Yuuri@ Goth_Skunk, in many states being gay is not a protected status akin to say race or religion. It's also in the "Right to work" states. Those are the states where one can be fired for any reason (provided it isn't a "protected" one.)07/07/2015 - 6:07am
Goth_Skunkregarded as a beacon of liberty and freedom that is the envy of the world, would not have across-the-board Human Rights laws that don't at the very least equal those of my own country.07/07/2015 - 5:47am
Goth_SkunkI find that hard to believe, Infophile. I have difficulty believing employers can *still* fire people for being gay. I would need to see some evidence that this is fact, because as a Canadian, I can't believe that the United States,07/07/2015 - 5:46am
InfophileFor that matter, even women don't yet have full legal equality with men. The US government still places limits on the positions women can serve in the military. And that's just the legal side of things - the "culture wars" are more than just laws.07/07/2015 - 5:43am
InfophileAnd that's just LGB issues. Get ready for an incoming battle on rights for trans* people. And then after that, a battle for poly people.07/07/2015 - 5:41am
InfophileA battle's been won. In many states employers can still fire people for being gay. And in many states, parents can force their children into reparative therapy to try to "fix" being gay. Those battles still need to be fought.07/07/2015 - 5:40am
Goth_Skunkand now they've switched to battles that don't need to be fought.07/07/2015 - 5:37am
Goth_SkunkIn my opinion, it was the final legal hurdle denying homosexual couples final and recognized statuses as eligible spouses. But even though this war's been won, some people are still too keen to keep fighting battles,07/07/2015 - 5:28am
 

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