War in Games, Shooting Modern

4 Dec


Ever since the beginning of the medium, war has been a core facet of the gaming experience. Battlegrounds and methods of combat have changed, nowadays we have the likes of Battlefield 3 whereas back in the days of yore Pac-Man battled ghosts in a darkened room while attempting commit genocide upon the luminescent pill race. What we define as combat in games has changed, what began as vanquishing squares has become a realistic glorified slaughter.Does this quest for realism cheapen the whole experience? Modern-shooters will never achieve true realism, that would be counter-inuitive. They instead seek to recreate the thrill of an action film within the context of a warzone. What does this mean for gameplay?

Simplified mechanics, cheap thrills and a strong competitive element, in other words, zero innovation. Where can there be creativity beyond new character models and ever more accurate ballistic models? Sure, we can switch between wars, in 2002 we were inundated with WW2 titles, now we have Afghanistan/Iraq simulations and the new Call of Duty title promises to take us into a future conflict. The shooter market has run into the same problem as the sports market, how does one innovate year on year with a product that is essentially the same and still deliver profits? As for realism, we can only speculate as to what the REAL soldiers think as opposed to the armchair trigger-junkies.

Do they find this all a little disrespectful? It is common knowledge that a large number of casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts have been caused by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). How does this mirror the gaming experience? Men popping out of doorways in a complicated shooting range doesn’t seem to be the norm for most soldiers in the field. Do men and women who have lost companions in this war find it disrespectful that in a game one can recover health merely by crouching behind a doorway? To be honest, it is most likely that they simply do not care, after all children play soldier everyday and no one finds a reason to call that an act of mockery. There is one important factor yet to consider, that is that frequent exposure to gore does indeed desensitise young impressionable minds and fuels concern that these games are merely recruitment machines for military. Do these games go too far in their depictions of violence? Or is it ok for games to push the boundaries of taste in this regard?

It is easy to focus on the negative side of the war-gaming scene, after all the effects are well documented. There is still on important fact to consider however, while this may be the dominant scene in gaming at the moment, things can and will change. These games bring genuine enjoyment to a large number of people, and fund an industry that is growing ever bigger and occasionally struggling. While the publishers may strong arm development studios, this isn’t isolated to the shooter genre. We should recognise that the core of the gaming experience is to deliver “fun”, and for the moment, shooting games are “it” and “fun”.

It is just this that represents the ultimate problem for most. More than any other genre, the shooter embodies the instant thrill culture that has gripped gaming in recent years. Does this mean that the gaming medium as a whole can ever really evolve? Gamers defend their hobby and wish for it to be recognised as art, yet is there a game which deals with the issue of sex in a mature manner? Can there be a realistic depiction of a multi-gender warzone? Does the ever more realistic violence have a purpose other than to attract ever greater hordes of gore junkies? Does the shooter genre exist for any other reason than to exploit the hormones of misguided teenage boys? Can games ever deal with war in a mature, focused and eloquent fashion while innovating and still remain entertaining?

These things are all uncertain, indeed only time will tell. Maybe it will be soon that gamers learn to play something other than soldier.


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