The power of video games should be embraced

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.