Critique of realism (how Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have taken the fun out of warfare)

I consider myself an escapist. And video games are a wonderful medium for escapism, as you can explore new worlds with fascinating characters and stories with the press of a button. That explains the appeal of video games. They’re a gateway to a new universe that you can interact with. And why would you pass that up? I mean, let’s face it: real life is pretty bleak. When you turn on the news, you’re met with headlines detailing despair and suffering. One of those headlines that has been prominent over the last few years was the conflict in the Middle East. Let’s take a look at that situation. There was a war fueled by oil and for oil that destabilized the region, terrorizing those who lived there, and caused unrest and protest back home. We can agree that it was overall, a bad thing. So why is almost every recent first-person shooter about the conflict in the Middle East?? What is the point in reminding people of the turmoil that war caused by having them play through it? And why does Call of Duty find it necessary to kill off as many player characters as they can? Thanks for reminding us how easy it is a life can be taken away while in service. That’s a nice feel-good endgame moment right there.Even if the game doesn’t revolve around the conflict in the Middle East, most modern shooters are military-based. Think about the most popular shooters: Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War,  Medal of Honor. Apparently some rule exists that in only members of the armed forces are allowed guns in video games. The only difference between some of these games is that in some you are shooting Russians and terrorists, and in the others you are shooting aliens. Either way, the game is saying, “Hey look, foreigners! Kill them for your country! Hooah.” There’s a big difference between modern warfare shooters and WWII shooters. Everyone can agree that Nazis were evil and had to be stopped, so gamers should have no issue peppering a Jerry with their MP44. I certainly didn’t. But when today’s wars are met with so much controversy, why fan the flames?

From massacring Russians to betrayal in ten minutes or less

One of the few mainstream shooter titles that doesn’t fall underneath the military guise is Grand Theft Auto, but recently this series has taken a gritty, realistic turn that is very unsettling. Let’s inspect the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto 4, Niko Bellic. Before he even gets to New Y- I mean, Liberty City, his life is already bleak and depressing. Betrayed by his army unit, and forced to leave Europe when a smuggling run goes wrong, (I guess Eastern Europe has no use for smugglers who drop their shipments at the first sign of an Imperial cruiser), he smuggles himself on board a freighter to America, actually in a somewhat Han Solo-ish manner. Believing America to be full of riches and wealth for all, he quickly realizes that’s all bullshit and gets caught up in his corrupt cousin’s dirty business, with loansharks, debts, and drug dealers. The game has barely begun and I already weep for Niko. Plus, I’m scared to keep playing in case something else unavoidable and tragic happens. And the choice of endings you can make is either depressing or equally as depressing. This game is literally sad from beginning to end. I think it says something when committing suicide is one of the most fun parts of the game. But that’s not fair, there are a lot of games like that. And it is pretty fun to jump off of skyscrapers onto SWAT teams. Anyway, Grand Theft Auto used to be about the fun and the mayhem, not about the horrors of inner-city gang warfare. What happened to emphasizing the fun of inner-city gang warfare? I know that sounds absolutely awful, but it’s what made people fall in love with the Grand Theft Auto series in the first place and why more and more people are being turned on to (and by) Saints Row. Goodness knows I am.

You never see Niko crack a smile unless he’s in womanizing mode.

Finally, let’s take a look at the second half 2011, and all the wonderful games that were released during that time. When you look at titles like Skyrim, Arkham City, Assassins Creed: Revelations, and Saints’ Row III, you see very different games that take place in different worlds, with different styles of gameplay. But look at Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Gears of War 3. Besides that obvious fact that they are the third installment in their respective series, they are all cover-based shooters in which a poor soldier is thrust into a horrifying conflict in a world that has gone straight to hell. Three games that end in “three” and really make you look forward to the future.If you think this article was a bit too serious, or maybe even depressing, that’s the point. I think seriousness and grittiness are real turn-offs to gamers, and I can’t be the only one who thinks this. Now, I’m not saying that games can’t be depressing. Some of the best games of all time are real downers, such as Half-life or Shadow of the Colossus. It just doesn’t seem right for series like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto to fill their more-recent games with so much death and suffering when emulating modern day people going through the exact same struggles. If video games are a means of escapism, than gritty realism is that one prisoner from the beginning of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion who insults you, and then tells you that you’re going to die. Good talk, prisoner.
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Critique of realism (how Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto have taken the fun out of warfare)

  1. Assaad

    I enjoyed this read. Realism can certainly be a downer in videogames, but I also like to use realism for a change of pace in my video games. A switch from Sonic to Gears of War. I’ve written something similar in my own blog: http://blazeknytstorm.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/grounded-or-total-escape/

  2. Interesting look on it. I can see how these gritty shooters have started to divide gamers. Personally I like how they have become slightly more realistic because I like how games give me a chance to play through a different persona (what you explain in your 1st paragraph). Especially when it comes to shooters. If I want something other than realism I always know I can fall back on games like Mass Effect, Zelda, Metal Gear Solid.
    Sometimes it’s just fun to pretend youre in the army though!
    Also, in regards to Grand Theft Auto- I loved the old ‘arcady’ feel of gta 3 and san andreas. The tank cheat was wonderful. However, I also loved Niko’s storyline because it was much more realistic than any game in the past.
    I just wrote a blog about if video games are too violent and comment on GTA and cod, it was a coincidence to stumble upon yours straight after!
    Nice post!

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