Confessions of an Editor-in-Chief: War Games

Alright, let’s talk about something that’s been on my mind recently. As you know, I do a lot of game reviews for my sites and I see a lot of games. That’s just how I roll. But lately I’ve been seeing a LOT of the same when it comes to shooting games and I think the media and somewhat gaming culture has finally recognized it too in the last few years.
SHOOTER WAR GAMES ARE EVERYWHERE. And by “shooter war games” I mean games like Call of Duty or Battlefield 3, those types of games. But WHY are they everywhere? That’s really what struck me a month or so ago when I was looking at everything.

First I started to look at WHEN those games really began to appear. I’m no historian and I’m not using the Googles or the Wikipedia here but I wanna say somewhere around 2003 or 2004 is when these types of games began to get developed. Historically what happened around that time? Two or three years before that were the September 11th attacks. Now, this is gonna get a little philosophical but bear with me.
So, you have a bunch of gamers and developers who just saw our nation get attacked, right? They’re mad. They’re confused. They’re scared. They don’t know how to interpret these feelings. Not only that, but there’s a whole generation of people just like them who feel the same way. What do they do for a living? They make videogames.
Much like other forms of media or art, videogames show social trends. So, when the nation was confused and in some respects geared for a fight, so were these artists and programmers and developers. What comes out in 2007? Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, in which the United States is embattled against a fictitious Middle-Eastern enemy and where U.S. troops are killed by an atomic explosion and must hunt down the makers of the weapons of mass destruction in some Eurasian-Russian country.
So this statement sort of makes it sound like the game devs were trying to capitalize on our national/social climate. While this might be true in some respects, I think what was really going on was that the developers and producers were trying to express their feelings and try to illustrate what might actually be happening overseas to further aid in the understanding of the national condition.
Am I saying that Activision and Infinity Ward made this game to help us better understand the plight of the War on Terror? No. What I am saying however is that I think these guys were trying to show what it MIGHT become if we continued down our current path and create a similar situation to illustrate the horrors of war that our troops were facing. On the other hand they might have just wanted to make a kickass game and they totally did. No question there.
But, lookit this now. Couple years AFTER CoD 4: MW is released, the country’s confusion and mistrust around the War on Terror begins to rise and the Bush administration is falling on hard times with the people. No one wants the war to continue. The enemy has now become the American resolve for war. The enemy within. Eh? Eeeeeh? THEN in 2009 Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is released and in that game AMERICA is attacked and this time it is the ENTIRE country. I mean, Whitehouse on fire, Washington Monument with holes in it, the works. Very crazy. The enemy is now in the U.S.
So you see where I’m going with this? I think the popularity of these games was due to the social atmosphere of the country and how gamers were feeling. Now, why war games? Well this is simple, in my opinion. As a species we have a predisposition to AVOID pain. Think about it. After we’re attacked there are a LOT of people who enlist to go fight overseas. Some of the most COURAGEOUS people in the world are soldiers. And the rest of us have this feeling of wanting to be a part of that struggle and fight, but we are naturally afraid of going over there.
Game developers are included in that. So they make games about war in a fictitious setting where we fight a fake enemy like those who “attacked” us. It was a way for people to “feel like they were there without actually being there.”
Of course the games are fun and people like them, that’s a given. But I also think there is this psychological aspect to them that people aren’t seeing and really, that might be driving it a lot more than people think.
Lately the games have been taking things more towards the “war at home” feel. To be honest, it’s getting kind of scary. Tom Clancy’s newest project, Rainbow Six: Patriots, is going to be about domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism units fighting people who are regular citizens just like you and me. In 2010, THQ delivered the game Homefront, in which Kim Jong Il died, his son took over and invaded South Korea and Japan, then attacked America and invaded our nation in some crazy Red Dawn­-esque fiction. I freaked out when Kim Jong Il died in real life because according to the game, this was ABOUT the time that it happened and his son went into power in the game.
So I guess what I’m saying is that when you look at games like Call of Duty and you think “Oh it’s just another shooting game and it’s making our kids get all violent,” maybe you should think about the idea behind the game rather than what it is at face value. Sure, I could be TOTALLY off with this whole idea, I mean, it is a COMPLETE possibility, but all those classes I took in school really got me thinking about this stuff and I just wanted to share that with you.