Monday, November 10, 2008

War games

I was reading James Ransom-Wiley's reflections about Call of Duty: World at War's demonizing portrayal of Japanese troops. I haven't played the game, but what Ransom-Wiley describes of the first 5 minutes doesn't seem far off from portrayals of Nazi troops in some games. Is it really ok to demonize Nazi's? I mean yeah, they did the Holocaust, but does that mean that every single German soldier in WWII a heartless monster? I guess it makes sense in an action movie, Rambo kind of thing. Perhaps later in the game there will be a more human portrayal of Japanese soldiers. The heavy metal of WaW's launch trailer suggests otherwise.


Now I'm not going to assume that this is 100% what COD:WaW is about. I shouldn't judge a game before it's even out. But I guess Ransom-Wiley's thoughts just make me think how much I hate how action movies turn violence and war into things to be idolized and relished. I think some people believe that all games are nothing but bubble gum action movies. I guess that's one of the challenges facing the games medium in it's struggle for mainstream acceptance and the covetted label of "art".

It all reminds me of Medal of Honor performance in Video Games Live. When Mr Tallarico came on stage to introduce the piece, he first asked whether there were any veterans in the audience. Then he said to respect those veterans, "we aren't going to show any footage from the game." Instead we were treated to a series of photographs depicting the struggle of both soldiers and civilians during that time. Set to the orchestral piece, I couldn't help but be touched.

But when the lights came back up I also couldn't help but think about Tallarico's words earlier in the show. To much cheering from the crowd, he boasted that the Video Games Live concerts were here to prove that video games are art. And yet here you are, not showing gameplay from Medal of Honor because it's as shallow and unrealistic as Rambo. VGL only really proves that video games have good music written for them and that music by itself is "art". But we already knew that. The mainstream population generally accepts music as an artform. No amount of showing gameplay during the performance or screaming about Halo will prove that the amount of "artistry" presented in the music is also presented in the game.

Am I saying that video games aren't art? No. I wouldn't call myself a connoiseur of the medium if I believed that. So what makes video games art? For that matter, what makes art art? What is art? I should touch on that in another post before I rant on for too long here.

I guess what I'm waiting for is the Saving Private Ryan of war video games. A game that uses the medium's strength of emotional, interactive storytelling to convey the horrors of war. Not boil it down to testosterone fueled fun.

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