The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting


Posted by Matt on November 10, 2009

The main problem with the GAMES ARE ART movement are the games themselves. It’s really hard for them to be something ‘more’, I guess, as long as they still have to be game, which more or less undermines anything else it might be trying to do. Many of the suggestions to take games to the next level just sound like turning them into choose-your-own-adventure books or the impossible dreams of people who still think the Star Trek holodeck is viable. (Of course, I don’t have this problem because I don’t care if games are considered ‘art’, and if they are considered art it should be for their design as a game, not for any sort of narrative effects).

Take for the example, the new Modern Warfare game that has been in the news a lot lately.

Just to clarify, I have absolutely no interest in it. I have paid attention to the stories about it because it involves quite a few shifty design decisions, mostly on the meta level. Since I have been watching big companies like Activision get lambasted for their idiotic business decisions with morbid curiosity, this game would ultimately come to my attention.

In one level, and I know this is technically a spoiler but look at me give a shit, you play as a terrorist (or an American agent posing as a terrorist, I’m not entirely clear. Keep both possibilities in mind, because while they produce a similar effect, the context is very important) who guns down fleeing, innocent people at an airport until the timer ends the level. Keep in the mind, that something like this wasn’t too much of a surprise, considering that the first Modern Warfare game had a level where your character stumbles around dying in the fallout of a nuclear strike. The developer of the game, Infinity Ward, is intentionally trying to throw in shocking things like that in order to get people to think about the game in some way.

Unfortunately, this time, it doesn’t seem to work. The point was to get home that the bad guys are BAD GUYS and that terrorism is bad m’kay. Of course, putting you in the shoes of the terrorists doesn’t get the point across; it beats you over the head with the point until you are comatose. It’s unnecessary to go to that length to make that kind of statement. It’s not even a particularly compelling idea. They were going for a similar shock factor, but didn’t really think that one through.

And, quite honestly, how many gamers are going to consider that point? Mainstream FPS’ are an especially difficult genre to get a point across in, because they are almost all steeped in the GAME. That’s why they have multiplayer modes. You can’t say that you want to be artistic when the majority of the game is spent playing as an illogical supersoldier shooting at ciphers to get to the next level and eventually the end credits, or as an illogical supersoldier shooting at other illogical supersoldiers for team points. They could say they were trying to be subversive, but any subversiveness is completely drowned out by everything else following the rules of a game.

I’m sure a lot of game developers want to be able to make the salient if overwrought point that (as that Canadian TV icon Ed the Sock once put it) war is bad and people die. The problem with that is that if anyone actually realized that point during the game, what would they do after that? Do the developers expect them to continue shooting fake people, with their heads slung low in solemn realization that they are taking part in a fake activity that in real life is bad? At the very least, Shadow of the Colossus, that game so favored by pompous game philosophes as an example of SUBVERSIVE ART, has the player come to the game’s not so terribly original moral switcheroo (you are a bad person for killing those bosses!) later on, so at least you aren’t going to forget the lesson as you play through more game.

That’s the problem people have to get around. As a game, as something you have to actually participate in, rather than take in (as in film, literature, music, etc.), any point you want to make is constantly be undermined. You can’t make a point about war, really, in a game designed to turn the idea of war into a game. Is it possible for someone to make a game that makes a point about war if they based it entirely around that point? I guess it is possible. You’d have to remove things like multiplayer, or real goals, so it’d basically end up being a ‘real’ simulation of the act…or a carnival ride.


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