WMD’S: Words of Mass Destruction

As anyone that grew up playing Sensible Software’s “Cannon Fodder” will tell you, war has never been so much fun.  Although that was back in 1993 and it would seem that may not be the case any more.  A little while back I noticed that modern military shooters, in particular, Medal of Honor Warfighter, seemed to be taking some flak.  The bigger picture was actually the ethical concerns surrounding the portrayal of the combat within this genre of games in general; so how come it was warfighter in peoples sights?

Going back to Cannon Fodder as an example, that is a GAME based on WAR.  It depicts the act of killing people and turns it into a fun computer game, designed for entertainment.  Killing, death and misery as a bases for entertainment.  Yet no one seemed to really care and everyone enjoyed it?  Admittedly this was a while back when games weren’t quite at the forefront of entertainment or in the lime light as they are today.  However, I don’t think this is the reason that people are complaining today.  See Cannon Fodder may have been a game about war, but its moral compass was still relatively intact.  You started with a handful of green recruits and that number could increase, should you successfully complete missions without losing too many men in the process.  Should “Stoo” or one of your other soldiers meet their demise by catching a stray round or getting impaled on a hidden spike trap, they were dead.  At the end of the mission an obituary rolls, listing your fallen comrades and tomb stones are added to the monument hill, featured at the games pre-mission screen.  It manages to balance the act of creating a game that has the goal of being fun to play and yet doesn’t neglect to hit home the more serious aspects of warfare.  All the time, it never sold itself as anything other than a game.

I think this last point is the crux of the reason that these negative articles surrounding combat portrayal in modern games have zero’d in on Medal of Honor warfighter.  If you take a look at how the game sells itself, in the few lines of text listing the products key features, you’ll start to see a pattern;  “Authentic Action”  “real world events” “this years most authentic war experience“.

When you offset those quotes against what you actually see in the game itself, you start to understand the complaint.  This is a game where your AI buddies can only be killed during the scripted sequences when the game wants them to be killed.  During the actual gameplay they can soak up endless rounds and shrapnel as if death holds no meaning for them.  The character you play as may not be afforded quite the same luxury, but still isn’t overly phased by being shot.  You can also soak up rounds with alarming ease, returning fire whilst taking multiple hits, only to regenerate health a few seconds later.  Although taking enough hits will eventually “kill” you, the penalty of death is simply a quick respawn to the last checkpoint.  Does that sound like an “authentic war experience” to you?

When the executive producer was called out on the games lack of realism, the response was “we’re not a realistic game……its authentic , its absolutely authentic”.  If words are weapons, then that response is paramount to bringing a knife to a gun fight!  Holding your hands up and saying “Hey, we never said it was realistic, we said it was authentic” is less than weak, its retarded.  Now my personal opinion is that as games themselves are virtual reality and thus don’t need to conform to realism (more on that here), so you don’t need to defend them when they are not……..unless it happens to be a major part of your sales strategy for said game.  I don’t care if you make a game where you play as flying super soldier that can fire lazer beams from his eyes and rockets out his arse:  just don’t try to tell me its an “authetic war experience”

With Medal of honor warfighter they are clearly pushing the realism and authenticity angle to sell it, but they are selling lies.  They are tugging on the heart strings, telling you the campaign is based on real soldiers stories, asking you to step into that soldiers boots and feel his plight.  They are trying to use it as a platform to differentiate it from other shooters on the market, when the reality is, its just another generic action shooter that intentionally sacrifices realism and authenticity to make it a more commercially viable product.

My point here, in short, is do what you gotta do, but don’t fucking lie about it!

Glass half full?

As I’m sat here staring into my half empty pint, I start to ponder why the clientèle of the Red Lion consists almost exclusively of blokes.  I was in the Crown the other night and that was a sausage-fest as well.  I put the question to my drinking buddy, who replies with the staggeringly profound “Quality not quantity mate”.  Armed with this new enlightened mindset, I browse the room again.  Understanding and realisation hits me like a train.  The girl by the bar is a ten and as for that bird in the corner, well just  looking at her is giving me a funny feeling in my pants.  The pub is looking like a brighter place already, I’m nursing a semi and my pint has suddenly become half full.

Its all a matter of perspective

When you look at the male dominated games industry with this same perspective, you may be surprised to notice that some of the most important characters in its history are actually female.  Lets take a look at some of gaming best females:

Most people were surprised to find out that this badass is actually a girl!

Many people like to accredit girl power to the spice girls, but that’s bollocks, they are clearly forgetting Samus Aran.  For anyone that has never played a metroid game, Samus is a badass power suit wearing solider of fortune who first appeared in 1986, waaaay before the spice girls.  If you “wannabe” a spice girls lover, you gotta get with their friends -yeah, well Samus Aran isn’t looking for a lover.  She’s looking for space pirates and her friends are an arm cannon and rocket pods.  That’s real girl power!  Metroid is widely reguarded as a ground breaking title.  Combining elements of platforming with exploration, it paved the way for other classics such as Castlevania.

Appearances can be deceptive

Since her 1985 “damsel in distress” introduction, its often hard to think  as Princes Peach Toadstool as anything other than a liability. Constantly getting kidnapped by Bowser and always in need of saving by the super Mario bros.  The often overlooked reality  is that not many characters can boast the impressive resume of games under their belt, through such a diverse skill range, as the Princess.  In 1988 Peach made her playable character debut in none other than Super Mario Bros 2, one of the best selling games on the Nintendo Entertainment System.  She went on to be a successful kart racer, tennis player, golfer, footballer, baseball star and probably some others that I’ve forgotten.  She’s even had cameo roles as playable characters in SSX and NBA street.  2006’s Super Princess Peach saw the reversal of the established norm as Peach was tasked with saving the kidnapped Super Mario Bros from Vibe Island, finally putting an end to the old cliche of her 1985 debut role.

The new Bond works for me

As the credits rolled on Goldeneye 64, Rare informed gamers that “James Bond will return”.  It think its fair to say that most of us were more than a  little surprised when he returned as the sleek, smart and sexy Joanna Dark in Rare’s “Perfect Dark” for the N64.  Set in the near future, you play the role of a female secret agent using a combination of guns n gadgets to infiltrate and investigate the “evil” Datadyne corporation.  The game took the solid foundation build by Goldeneye and expanded upon it, creating a game every bit worthy of the critical acclaim that it received.  With a metacritc  score of 97% and some critics claiming it to be the best game on the N64 (bear in mind Ocarina of time was released on N64), its safe to say that Perfect Dark is one of the greatest games in gaming history.

A bit like Indiana Jones…but better

Despite my own fairly negative feelings towards the Sega Saturn console, it was the platform that, in 1996, launched what went on to become a hugely successful media franchise; Tomb raider.  The game is centred around the exploits of English archaeologist Lara Croft as she hunts down ancient artefacts from various Tombs around the world.  The gameplay is a well balanced combination of exploration, shooting, puzzle solving and platforming.  Tomb raider was a integral part of the  3D action adventure genre, serving as a template  that other games would go on to follow.  Many of today’s classic’s, like the uncharted series of games, can be accredited to the fundamentals that were created by Tomb raider.  Lara Croft herself has gone on to become one of gaming most recognised and loved characters.  The story of Lara Croft and Tomb raider has branched out not only to gaming sequels, but also comic books, novels, movies and even theme park rides!  Over the course of its nine game history, Tomb raider has become soo established that its currently in the process of having a reboot with a much awaited 2013 release, simply entitled Tomb Raider.

It takes a special kinda person to survive a zombie apocalypse

You can’t mention “survival horror” without talking about the game that coined the phrase in the first place,  Resident Evil.  Although the game series could be said to be losing its way a little, you can’t begrudge its solid root’s with the original Resident evil game.  One of the games two selectable characters was Jill Valentine, explosives expert and  member of Raccoon cities Special Tactics and Rescue Service (STARS) alpha team.  She finds herself taking refuge in a, thought to be, abandoned mansion after a mission to regain contact with the missing Bravo team goes to shit.  Despite being unprepared and under resourced, Jill is able to use cunning, skill and in my case, lots of running away, to take on the undead inhabitants and escape the mansion.  Since her inception, Jill has played a significant part in the resident evil series and story.  She’s the main protagonist in Resident Evil 3, where she teams up with with a double crossed mercenary and escapes the overrun, zombie infested Raccoon city, despite under constant thread from a bio-organic weapon (monster) called “Nemesis”.  Jill Valentines part in Resident Evil could be said to be more stable and important than the convoluted mess the series has become.