Green Room

The power of video games should be embraced

posted at 12:13 pm on May 6, 2010 by

Anybody who has played video games in the last few years has at least heard of one particular series: Call of Duty Modern Warfare. For years, Call of Duty titles on the PC, and eventually consoles, had been one of the major franchises of World War II first-person shooter games. After several years, many had speculated that the theme was getting stale. EA had recently released Battlefield 2, in which gamers could engage each other in combat using modern weaponry and vehicles, and took place in locales reminiscent of war-torn areas of today’s world. Additionally, the US Army had attracted a number of players with their own combat simulator, titled America’s Army.

Picking up on the trend, the Call of Duty series released their own game based on modern combat. Unlike the others, however, they coupled the multiplayer experience with an incredibly solid storyline told through a single-player game. You swapped between the roles of a Marine and an SAS Operative, as they’re deployed to various locations throughout the world, eventually finding that their objectives seem to be linked. Now, fair warning: this game has been out for two and a half years, and the sequel has already been released. If you haven’t played it yet, and don’t want a spoiler, skip the next paragraph.

Playing as the Marine, you enter an unnamed Middle Eastern country that looks a hell of a lot like Iraq, even down to the outfits worn by the enemy. You try to track down a revolutionary leader that has links to a Russian ultranationalist, only to discover that the leader has apparently gained possession of a nuclear weapon…which has been armed to repel your assault on the city. After a last-minute rescue of a pilot, your attempt to flee the area on helicopters fails, and you’re caught in the nuclear blast. An eerie scene follows, as you can only crawl along the ground to view the hellish aftermath for about half a minute, before everything goes black as you succumb to your injuries. The story continues, but only as the SAS Commando for the remainder of the game. The effect was brutal and frightening. Rarely in video games before had your character’s death actually been part of the storyline, and arguably, never before had it been so hard-hitting as this scene.

For years, video games had been largely dismissed by the media as a child’s toy, not to be taken as seriously as movies or television shows. However, the impact of the Call of Duty scene was a demonstration that games had advanced to the point where they were a serious storytelling medium. Indeed, controversy over the adult content in games like the Grand Theft Auto series furthered the argument that video games no longer were only intended for children. Most importantly, as a moneymaking opportunity, Modern Warfare 2 truly proved that the medium was not to be scoffed at when it topped $1 billion in sales.

All the while that Call of Duty had been producing its games, it had a competitor: the Medal of Honor series. The MoH title had actually been released 4 years before the first CoD game, and over its 11 year span, had released far more episodes. They even continued to make WWII-themed games after the CoD series went on its new route. Now, though, EA sees the writing in the wall, and will release a modern version of their franchise later this year. A new trailer takes an emotional look at the content.

Once again, we see that what once was a mere plaything for kids has become a serious venue for telling stories geared towards an older crowd, and even more importantly, setting narratives for heroes and enemies. Note that while these games sell millions of copies and become part of the pop culture, anti-American and anti-military movies like Green Zone, Redacted, Stop-Loss and others continue to tank at the box office. Despite their ratings, and intended audience, we know that a chunk of those numbers are due to teenagers and even children watching and experiencing these games…these jingoist, neoconservative, gung-ho fantasies where the US military are the heroes trying to vanquish their foreign foes.

In recent years, conservatives have been trying to wrest Hollywood from the dominating influence of liberals, with arguably little success. Perhaps we’re looking at the wrong industry. When a pro-American movie comes out, often critics can analyze the hell out of it until they come to some erroneous conclusion that it’s some sort of veiled anti-war message. Perhaps that’s why Roger Ebert hates video games with such a passion; it’s damned near impossible to claim that a game is intended to make you feel bad about all these terrorists you’re putting down before they can kill you and your friends. Exactly how bad are you going to feel at the end when you gun down the guy whose wish was to kill or enslave millions of your countrymen? Just imagine if the game ended with the villain running in terror after hearing over the radio that the UN just enacted more sanctions on his country.

After the success of films like Life Free or Die Hard and Rambo, and with a Red Dawn remake on the horizon in the theaters, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the public enjoys stories about our troops triumphing over our enemies. Current events are certainly demonstrating that they haven’t given up trying to defeat us, either. I think it’s time we focused our, ahem, efforts on the medium that young people are really latching on to. While liberals continue to deride 80′s heroes like GI Joe, kids and young adults are not only rediscovering those types of men…they want to be them.

Recently in the Green Room:

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*jawdrop*

As an avid ‘oldschool’ gamer, I can testify to the emotional power of a well-written game. They’re few and far between…but they do exist.

However - I have not encountered ANY game that packed such a punch, save for Half-Life 2, and that was set in the aftermath of a combination apocalypse/alien invasion on a global scale.

Once in a while there will be a combat-oriented game where one begins to feel the ‘team’ aspect of your squadmates. (especially true for someone like me with a ‘savior complex’) But this is different…you not only feel for the NPC, but his family as well, who may never hear from him again after this recorded message.

What a simple, yet powerful concept this introduces.

Dark-Star on May 6, 2010 at 12:46 PM

MadCon, you just went up %1000 percent on the awesome scale.

I do not usually play FPS, but I will purchase CoD: Modern Warfare this week. I concur that video games might be an interesting and powerful medium to use for a pro-American message regarding the War on Terror, but it will have little to no use politically.

You can make a good political thriller – you can write a good political novel – but there’s no way to make an FPS about politics. I realize that was not the point of the post, but it seemed a tangent worth mentioning.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 12:48 PM

As an afterthought, %1000 percent is kind of redundant. >.<

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 12:51 PM

You can make a good political thriller – you can write a good political novel – but there’s no way to make an FPS about politics. I realize that was not the point of the post, but it seemed a tangent worth mentioning.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 12:48 PM

Really? Looking at the number of different types of games that have been experimented with under the Tom Clancy label, I think the potential for action-oriented political thrillers is actually quite an uptapped well. Of course, some drama will always be dropped in order to make a game with consistent interaction, but there are so many possibilities. CIA operative, FBI agent, spy…hell, maybe even an ambassador with a military or covert background.

The key is coupling a good story with right-minded designers who know how to mesh good controls and gameplay mechanics with the plot.

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:01 PM

You can make a good political thriller – you can write a good political novel – but there’s no way to make an FPS about politics.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 12:48 PM

Oh, I don’t know about that…a FPS where you played a professional in direct, constant conflict with incompetent politicians could be worth a try.

How about a modern version of Axis and Allies, centered on the ME, where your civilian leaders randomly introduced (and – rarely – lifted) limits on your abilities?

Dark-Star on May 6, 2010 at 1:04 PM

I do not usually play FPS, but I will purchase CoD: Modern Warfare this week.

You better. CoDMW is the game that turned my recreational use of Xbox 360 and turned into a full blown addiction (along with an addiction to caffeine and dip). Simply the best game ever.

As an avid ‘oldschool’ gamer, I can testify to the emotional power of a well-written game. They’re few and far between…but they do exist.

However – I have not encountered ANY game that packed such a punch,

Try Mass Effect (or Mass Effect 2).

Shock the Monkey on May 6, 2010 at 1:20 PM

Now that I think about it…wasn’t Jack Ryan mostly a bureaucrat? He would be fantastic to play as in a series of games.

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Really? Looking at the number of different types of games that have been experimented with under the Tom Clancy label, I think the potential for action-oriented political thrillers is actually quite an uptapped well. Of course, some drama will always be dropped in order to make a game with consistent interaction, but there are so many possibilities. CIA operative, FBI agent, spy…hell, maybe even an ambassador with a military or covert background.

The key is coupling a good story with right-minded designers who know how to mesh good controls and gameplay mechanics with the plot.

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:01 PM

Looking at it in that light, I agree, I hadn’t thought of it that way. o.0

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Great post, MC! Quite thought provoking, actually. Why, it almost makes me want to branch out from the one game I do play. Then again, farming, making wool yarn, rainbow recipes, and hitting on every dude on the island is kind of a full-time job. We’ll see. :)

Bee on May 6, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Bee on May 6, 2010 at 1:27 PM

Harvest Moon: the quintessential capitalism simulator.

It should be required playing for every child just so they can learn the basic concepts of “produce something, sell it for a profit, life gets better for everyone.”

This should be your next step. ;)

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Harvest Moon: the quintessential capitalism simulator.

It should be required playing for every child just so they can learn the basic concepts of “produce something, sell it for a profit, life gets better for everyone.”

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:30 PM

I’m going to suggest that to my old Aca-Deca teacher.

Dark-Star on May 6, 2010 at 1:40 PM

As an avid gamer I must say that games are as legitimate a format of telling a story as any other.

I still say that Final Fantasy 7 is the best story ever told on a playstation.

This is just games evolving.

Welcome to Teh future of gaming. Were “the” is spelled “teh.”

JABB on May 6, 2010 at 1:42 PM

MadisonConservative on May 6, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Didn’t you get a little plush toy with your latest HM purchase? See, that’s a motivating factor for me.

Bee=girl.

Bee on May 6, 2010 at 1:44 PM

Great post, Madison Conservative.

It is interesting to see the industry excel more in the mainstream. A few great games I have played that notably had an excellent, well executed and dramatic story: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (the basis for the upcoming film) Planescape: Torment, CoD Modern Warfare 2, The Fallout series.

There are many others, but many of these games do a better job at storytelling than films, and perhaps some of that is because of the nature of the medium, as you described (your mention of the Red Dawn remake reminded me of World In Conflict which is a great game that is essentially this type of story. One of the trailers for it here.)

Beyond story telling, video games can also be an effective tool to accomplish good things, for example this Modern Warfare 2 tournament that contributed money towards children in war-torn regions. Of course there is also the C.O.D.E. fund.

Activision Blizzard has established a charity to help find jobs for unemployed veterans, it said Monday.

This announcement coincided with the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which launched worldwide on November 10. Proceeds from the game will help fund the charity, Activision said.

Beyond that games make an excellent learning tool. Through playing the various Total War games, which in and of themselves are very informative, it has interested me to to read on historical eras and subjects on my own.

Heralder on May 6, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Thank you for this post. Spot on.

–gamer known as “Doug the Unforgiven” aka “TheUglyDougling”

JimRich on May 6, 2010 at 2:00 PM

You can make a good political thriller – you can write a good political novel – but there’s no way to make an FPS about politics.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 12:48 PM

Ever played Bioshock or Bioshock 2? Those are both incredible shooters with incredible story lines. The first one is primarily about what could be wrong with Ayn Rand’s philosophy, but considering you also have to make use of “Rapture’s” scientific advancements (though morally questionable they may be, and thus, not really a product of Ayn Rand philosophy as the individual should always be given choices these individuals weren’t given) and prove that it’s possible to do so without sacrificing your soul (unless you play it evil), it’s easy to argue that it doesn’t completely knock her.

Plus, the second one is all about collectivism and socialism, and you really don’t find any redeeming qualities in it.

You make good points, Madison, but I think you also show that it’s not quite necessary for conservatives to infiltrate the industry. A game where waterboarding is considered torture and the president decides he needs to talk to dictators instead of letting you shoot them simply won’t work.

Games where the government is proven to be untrustworthy and where the individual must learn to rise against seemingly insurmountable hurdles will always be far more marketable.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 3:37 PM

For any who like MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games — also called “mostly men online role playing girls”), I am really into a niche sci-fi game called EVE Online. It is distinct from the more popular games (i.e. World of Warcraft) in a couple of ways: all items and spaceships are destructible, almost the entire economy is player-run, and alliances of players can claim sovereignty over game regions.
The result is a game in which both the “good guys” and “bad guys” are players competing for power and resources. Items, property, and trust have real (-ish) value, because they can be taken away from you. The game does an excellent job of teaching frugality, economics, leadership, and human nature.

This is really nerdy, but — if any of you play EVE, look up “Joe Starbreaker” and his corporation, “The Fighting Republicans”.

joe_doufu on May 6, 2010 at 3:56 PM

This is really nerdy, but — if any of you play EVE, look up “Joe Starbreaker” and his corporation, “The Fighting Republicans”.

joe_doufu on May 6, 2010 at 3:56 PM

That’s kind of awesome. I’m waiting for the Knights of the Old Republic, or whatever it’s called, well, that and my own computer.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 PM

Games where the government is proven to be untrustworthy and where the individual must learn to rise against seemingly insurmountable hurdles will always be far more marketable.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 3:37 PM

You are correct, of course – I merely mean that if we were to address political issues of the day, e.g., socializing everything in the nation, the eugenics movement and its Planned Parenthood front, and the United Nations, we might well end up with an admittedly awesome game, but we might also end up in court.

It is entirely possible that I am overthinking the matter. >.< Pay me no mind.

On a slightly related note, I play Star Trek Online intermittently, and I have been told on several occasions that a right-winger has no place playing Star Trek.

You'd be surprised to know that virtually every day, and every single area in the game, there are heated arguments about Obama, health care, Israel, and socialism. All. Day. Long.

I had a delightful discussion with another player, between the shouts, snarls, and spittle flying in Earth spacedock, where he railed on me for even buying Star Trek, which is a Leftist's paradise.

My reply was something to the effect of "you spend this entire game shooting Romulans and Klingons on sight, blasting Cardassians out of the sky, and breaking the Prime Directive all the live long day, whilst saving up energy credits (‘money’ under a more socialist-friendly name) to purchase superior weapons arrays, shielding, and engines to better destroy your opponents. It sounds like a conservative game to me…. O.o”

That started a firestorm. Quite funny, actually.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 4:37 PM

My post got eaten. ; ; Again!

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 4:37 PM

This is really nerdy, but — if any of you play EVE, look up “Joe Starbreaker” and his corporation, “The Fighting Republicans”.

joe_doufu on May 6, 2010 at 3:56 PM

Ha! I player on and off for abotu a year, suspended my account recently because I hadn’t had alot of time online. Really great game though. If I ever meander back in I’ll look up that corp.

That’s kind of awesome. I’m waiting for the Knights of the Old Republic, or whatever it’s called, well, that and my own computer.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 PM

I’m excited for this one too. Looking like next Spring I think.

Heralder on May 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I figured it was high time there was some sort of conservative “clan” in the game. (There’s actually a fairly successful Ayn Rand “objectivist” one, though I’ve never made contact with them.) Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were a multi-game Hot Air gaming club?

joe_doufu on May 6, 2010 at 4:48 PM

Post rewrite # 3, as best as I can remember it.

Games where the government is proven to be untrustworthy and where the individual must learn to rise against seemingly insurmountable hurdles will always be far more marketable.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 3:37 PM

The point I was attempting to make earlier, but backed off from due to it being very easily misunderstood when typed, is that an international political game would be one thing, but a domestic one would be quite another.

Imagine, for example, if one were to make a sci-fi FPS a la Devil May Cry about the eugenics movement that started with Sanger and continues with Planned Parenthood metamorphosing into a Leftist super-soldier project for a nation in the throes of social upheaval, economic chaos, and partisan divide. Say this particular nation was in the later stages of Marxist revolution – think Red China, or, hell, think Greece on a grander scale, a bit further out from where they are now. Think Stalinist Russia, even.

I could write a really great plot out of that, I think – in fact, I have been writing something an admittedly amateur novel along those lines – but were you to make an FPS out of that, the firestorm that would erupt would be extreme.

I do think “pro-American” games are an extremely useful and fun idea, and hope they continue, and more appear. All I am saying is that the utility for expression of political theatre is tricky, and limited, in my opinion.

It is entirely possible that I am overthinking this, but that is my two cents.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 4:48 PM

Videogames are giving back to the US Military. Not only do the military games help young people decide whether the life of the service might suit them–and they it–but the skills that first-person shooter games develop are now vital to soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen who must operate remotely piloted vehicles, must use remotely operated turrets to look for hazards and attack them, among others.

This is not happy accident; the military saw these skill developing over ten years ago and planned on having them available.

njcommuter on May 6, 2010 at 4:48 PM

That started a firestorm. Quite funny, actually.

KinleyArdal on May 6, 2010 at 4:37 PM

That is hilarious. A friend of mine is a huge Star Trek fan (I’m a mild one but watched when I was too young to realize that it was a bit socialist – people working without pay?), and I understand why they’d think a conservative doesn’t belong in the game, but your points are completely valid. Those people are hypocrites.

You are correct, of course – I merely mean that if we were to address political issues of the day, e.g., socializing everything in the nation, the eugenics movement and its Planned Parenthood front, and the United Nations, we might well end up with an admittedly awesome game, but we might also end up in court.

Maybe, but I do feel that some of this was handled well with Bioshock and could be replicated in other games, especially in some war torn world where people had been forced to rely on the government. Self determination itself is political even though it shouldn’t be.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 5:09 PM

I’m excited for this one too. Looking like next Spring I think.

Heralder on May 6, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I loved the two console games – easily in my top ten.

I’d join a Hot Air group there if we have enough. When I get an account, I’ll probably use this as my name – it’s the same one I used for Ascheron’s Call.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 5:11 PM

I’m waiting for the Knights of the Old Republic, or whatever it’s called, well, that and my own computer.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 4:36 PM

Hold on…they are making another KotOR? I’ve been waiting since high school to hear that!

Shock the Monkey on May 6, 2010 at 5:23 PM

Hold on…they are making another KotOR? I’ve been waiting since high school to hear that!

Shock the Monkey on May 6, 2010 at 5:23 PM

It’ll be an mmorpg, The Old Republic. Same developers too.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 5:35 PM

Half Life 2 was a superb game, so is BioShock 2. Sophia Lamb is the ultimate altruistic socialist gone amok. I’m not sure though that teens would get the connotations of Lambs failed world. When BioShock 3 comes out(and it will since it was pretty clear at the end of the game)one wonders if the daughter’s early training will have taken. That old saw about’give me a child until he’s 5′ and so forth. If video games are to be of use as indoctrinators(and I do not approve of this)you had better be pretty damned sure what you’re about since they take you out of the real world and into one of what could become pure propaganda.

jeanie on May 6, 2010 at 5:49 PM

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is Teh Awesome.

Good post, MadCon, and with you all the way. But I part with you somewhat on the liberalism of Hollywood. Nearly all the major blockbusters and big summer releases are pro-American and conservative values to the bone. Particularly the superhero genre. Now, it can be argued that Avatar and James Cameron are overtly anti-military, but then again, who saved the Na’vi from destruction but an American soldier?

btw, Borderlands is Teh Awesome, too. And Dead Space. Whew, what a game. Half-life can’t hold a candle to it.

John the Libertarian on May 6, 2010 at 8:22 PM

I’ve been playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein since the first beta. :/

Nothing else will touch the twitch that is that game…

BF2142 was super duper till the hackers and glitchers destroyed in a 3 month timespan.

COD Held my interest for awhile and I competed in it for two years.

Still waiting for the next true team-based twitcher like RTCW…

Inanemergencydial on May 7, 2010 at 2:23 AM

Ever played Bioshock or Bioshock 2? Those are both incredible shooters with incredible story lines.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 3:37 PM

+ infinity!

Unrestrained ‘capitalism’ + unrestrained ‘science’ = disaster.

Without either laws or morals charity was a farce, Dr.Frankensteins crawled out of the woodwork, and their society imploded.

Dark-Star on May 7, 2010 at 8:36 AM

I’d join a Hot Air group there if we have enough. When I get an account, I’ll probably use this as my name – it’s the same one I used for Ascheron’s Call.

Esthier on May 6, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Probably be able to set up a Steam gaming group. I like Steam alot. I’ve avoided gaming groups and online games for awhile though since I don’t have alot of time to dedicate to them. That might change if The Old Republic is as good as I hope!

+ infinity!

Unrestrained ‘capitalism’ + unrestrained ’science’ = disaster.

Dark-Star on May 7, 2010 at 8:36 AM

For some reason I just miss some games, then never get them, like Mass Effect and Bioshock, both of which have had great things said of them. I did see some screenshots of some of the Bioshock GUI though, and it annoyed me to see they had unashamedly ripped off the sort of 50s-icon-acting-out-a-scene type of item descriptions that was used by Fallout 1,2 and 3. That didn’t really make me excited to try the game out.

Heralder on May 7, 2010 at 11:01 AM

I did see some screenshots of some of the Bioshock GUI though, and it annoyed me to see they had unashamedly ripped off the sort of 50s-icon-acting-out-a-scene type of item descriptions that was used by Fallout 1,2 and 3. That didn’t really make me excited to try the game out.

Heralder on May 7, 2010 at 11:01 AM

Also, in terms of gameplay, Bioshock is the inferior spiritual successor of the System Shock series. If Bioshock let you down I highly suggest you try SS 1 and 2. (download them if you like; Looking Glass Studios has long since bit the dust)

They’ve even got a small modding community, which I’m part of.

Dark-Star on May 7, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Many of the most popular games allow you to play ‘MEC” or other ‘bad guys’ so go figure.

If you are interested in the more grown up games I would suggest IL2 if you are into WW2 aviation (LockOn Modern Air Compbat for more current aircraft). Despite being a little old there are still hundreds playing online at any given time and you lean quickly how tricky air compbat is.

If you are really serious, or if you are a tanker vet, you will love Steel Beasts Pro… the most expensive ‘game’ out there but it is the best and used by real armies.

Going to play BF2 now!!

lexhamfox on May 7, 2010 at 5:12 PM

Dark-Star on May 7, 2010 at 11:44 AM

I think saying Bioshock is inferior is a bit unfair; Bioshock has an excellent story in its own right and the combat system is one of the most versatile for an FPS since the last Jedi Games. System Shock is a classic, no doubt. But Bioshock stands on its own; the visuals are incredible and the world is richly imagined. It brings back some of the best elements of System Shock 2 with modern graphics. I don’t mind slow political progress but I like when games are able to take advantage of the latest and greatest.

austinnelly on May 7, 2010 at 7:57 PM

lexhamfox on May 7, 2010 at 5:12 PM

Have and love IL2 myself. Most detailed period air simulator I’ve seen yet, big and very dedicated fan community. Highly recommend the AAA community installer, which allows you to fly every plane on the list and several new ones.

I’ve gained new respect for the men who flew those war machines. Things like exhaustion and tedium of long flights to & from places, the ‘sitting duck’ terror of being in a bomber under flak & fighter fire, and the panic when your aircraft is mortally wounded.

Dark-Star on May 7, 2010 at 9:17 PM

This post has been promoted to HotAir.com.

Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Ed Morrissey on May 8, 2010 at 2:23 PM