The title above is designed to outrage and offend. If you are, congratulations! (You are the 99%)
Now, this is not some moral crusade condemning violence in video games. Nor is it targeting specific sections of the gaming community, so as to encourage them to stop playing. All I want to do here is get something off my chest, that is, my problem with modern warfare shooting simulators.
Modern warfare simulators are ubiquitous today. Everyone has seen them, heard of them or played them. So you already know the overall idea: pretend to be modern-day soldiers with guns and kill each other. That is all. Don’t pretend there’s any more to it.
Now these games are, at their best, a complete waste of time (much like masturbation, without any of the health benefits); at their worst, however, they are simply a searing indictment on the state of pop culture. The ham-fisted plots that string these games together make Michael Bay look complex, and the people who compete online make Mel Gibson look friendly. So here are three reasons why these games suck: (1) they are artistically bankrupt; (2) they involve little to no intellectual activity; and (3) they trivialise serious issues.
So, artistic merit. One of the driving factors behind the rise of video games is the fact that they recognisably contribute to art and culture. Whether it’s the art-deco madness of Bioshock or the immersive story-telling of Final Fantasy, video games are recognised as enriching our collective artistic consciousness.
The overwhelming exception to this assertion is modern warfare simulators. These games are carbon copies of each other, in every way that counts: America under threat, gunplay ensues, “tango is down”, democracy preserved. The only discernible difference between incarnations tends to be technical: graphics get better; the environment looks more realistic; equipment gets updated. In fact, I challenge anyone to explain to me what makes MW3/Battefield 2 different to MW2 from a creative perspective. At least shooters like Doom, Resistance or even Halo have fantasy elements. Those hackneyed fascist alien-demon-zombies make all the difference… because that’s how lacking in creativity these games are!
Moving onto intellectual stimulation. Unlike those strategizing in Starcraft II, socialising in WoW, or even duking it out in DOTA, the only thing standing out for those perfecting firearm-related homicide is that they can click virtual triggers really fast, doling out death without too much thought (which would only complicate things anyway) and with the kind of shit-talk that makes Malcolm Tucker look like Twilight Sparkle.
What they’re missing out on is the intellectual challenge that makes Portal or Arkham City the masterpieces they are. You don’t need to try in warfare simulators, in either single-player or multiplayer. Single player spoon feeds you blockbuster stupidity, hoping you don’t notice: move to pre-determined point, watch as Eiffel Tower explodes, move to next objective, shoot and kill it, move to defuse bomb, mission accomplished! The multiplayer experience is no better: shoot, kill, win, lose, rinse and repeat for every following iteration. All you need to do is click.
No matter how you look at it, these games are what Twilight is to literature: you’re never in doubt of what’s you’re getting, you’re numbing yourself with banality, and you’d be embarrassed to admit to your significant other that you partake in this, often.
At this point I get to the most serious charge that I level at modern warfare simulators. But first let me clarify something: I have played first-person shooters, including modern warfare simulators. Like pornography, it is something any twenty-something male will have had contact with at some point in his life. But also like pornography, these games skew our understanding of something important and turn it into an entertaining fantasy, simultaneously diminishing its impact and increasing our desire for it.
This is where the root of my dislike for modern warfare games comes from: they trivialise the deployments of our armed forces, and validate every pimpled teenage runt’s belief that they’re hare enough to understand the stress of war. Well, tough shit: you’re not good enough to fight for our country, you’re not resilient enough to go to Iraq/Afghanistan, and you’re sure as shit not smart enough to survive there.
Now I’m the first to concede that I don’t meet those standards. But then, I don’t play jerk-off ‘fantasy warfare’ that allows me to psychically masturbate to a ‘tough-guy’ image of myself. This is where modern warfare games can’t be rationalised, because that is what they’re designed to do. And often, they go one step further. In MW2, you get to massacre civilians in an airport. This is not obligatory by any means, but it provides players with the opportunity to massacre civilians. The separated emphasis is deliberate because they let you be a terrorist. The violence here goes beyond the zany antics of GTA/Saint’s Row, and it goes beyond the stylised gore of Mortal Kombat. These shitty games encourage people to think that soldiering is entertainment open for participation by anyone while war can be enjoyed from living rooms. As far as I know, that’s a sentiment shared by long-time Call of Duty fan Anders Behring Breivik. He might see this as more of a positive than I do.
Direct your criticisms to Woroni, I’m sure they’ll let me know.
Next: Repeating sequels is the first law of game-making