Saw this on the mobile version of Eurogamer. You know how sometimes you read a headline and wonder how we got to this point?
That “a mission or two where we don’t tell you where to go” is considered progress makes me so very sad.
Accessibility to a wider audience is all well and good, but can we maybe have big-budget games where I am not treated like a rat in a maze? Yes, God forbid anyone has the temerity to think laterally at all ever. That would be antithetical to the “EVERYONE MUST HAVE CAREFULLY MODULATED FUN AT ALL TIMES OR THEY WILL TRADE THE GAME IN AND THEN WE WILL ALL BE EATEN BY WOLVERINES” ethos of the modern AAA game industry.
I don’t buy into the “dumbing games down for the filthy casuals” narrative, either, of course, but there is something to be said for the idea that the main exponents of a medium teach people how to read it. Can we not be taught to follow the shouty man who is shouting “Follow me!” at us while also having the word “FOLLOW” glued to the top of his head? Is that possible? Could my level of mental engagement with a game go just a little deeper than “I will do what those patronizing words on a screen just told me to do,” maybe?
I’m absolutely for getting more people into games, and anything that’s a gateway game is good. I even like Call of Duty! But you teach reading by having a range of options for students of all grade levels and letting them go up through the levels as they grow more experienced. You don’t do it by making ninety percent of books kindergartener-friendly, then occasionally putting out a book or two for twelfth-graders. Nobody will make that leap easily.
Yes, there are games in the middle, but many of them are indies, and may not have the reach of a CoD. Why aren’t we producing games for a wider range of player skill levels? And, for that matter, why are the games easiest for less literate players all rated T and M? Why do they all involve shooting people and shouty-sweary expository dialogue and the curious inability of anyone but a senior officer to open a door? Why do they all involve being told to kill people of different ethnicities by a voice inside your head? How messed up is that?
Not only are you killing brown dudes, but you’re killing them at the behest of someone else, for reasons that are not clear, in the hope that you may perhaps contribute to saving the world. That’s the modern power fantasy? Having a racist, sexist boss who screams at you tell you to do things for no clear reason and punish you when you refuse to do them exactly as he likes? Is that where we’re at now?
To be clear, it’s not the content of these things that bugs me, really. Indulging in violent, puerile fantasy from time to time is natural, and the Army Man fantasy is one among many. What I fear is the way the fantasy is presented. Say what you will about John Wayne, but the power fantasy his work presented was at least one in which he was the author of his own destiny, in which he effected change through his violence.
The message of what TotalBiscuit has called the “modern military shooter” is, by accident or design (and I suspect it is by accident), exactly the opposite. The message conveyed through the systems is, “Do not think. Do not act on instinct. Do not concieve of your own solutions to problems. Follow orders. Your superiors know better than you. Obey them unquestioningly or die.”
That, friends, is scary. The unpleasant crypto-fascist undertones and blind patriotism are nothing new. GI Joe and The Green Berets promoted a similar sort of thing. What is new, and altogether more dangerous, is the lack of ambition and imagination and daring and intuition being inculcated in players.
We are not bold action heroes in modern military shooters. We are not Bruce Willis in Die Hard, nor John Wayne in The Green Berets. We are not Batman or Superman, nor any of the pulp heroes that preceded them. We are not even part of the Dirty Dozen. We are one of the dudes who gets killed in Saving Private Ryan around the middle of the movie and has a sum total of two lines. We are the redshirts, the no-name grunts. This is, in the world of the modern military shooter, the height of our ambition. And although we are rewarded with a smorgasbord of very impressive visual effects for our compliance, they cannot replace genuine agency.
You might say that people only buy CoD for the multiplayer, which is more or less an entirely different game with a great deal more agency. You would not necessarily be wrong; some people definitely do buy it only for the multiplayer. But I bet you would be shocked to learn how many of them cleared the campaigns, and how satisfied they were by them. I would wager many people buy CoD and its ilk just for the campaigns. They’re all I hear about whenever a new one is released.
More to the point, it’s not like the multiplayer is the portion of the game that plays into the power fantasy. Hacking, trash-talking, and generally awful matchmaking conspire to make you feel like you’re powerless, in my experience.
But perhaps I’m wrong. I certainly hope so. There is little sadder than a power fantasy where you are impotent and expendable.
Bit of an anticlimax, ending my rant here, but I’ve never been good at putting a button on my thoughts. Oh well, at least it was cathartic.
The increasingly inaccurately named Film Friday will go up tomorrow, methinks. Didn’t intend for this to get out of control the way it did, but there’s nothing for it now.
(Oh, and sorry for the lack of italics on titles. Been typing this in the Tumblr app on the iPhone, and I cannot figure out how to italicize a damn thing in it. Oh well.)
See you tomorrow, folks!