28 December 2009

The Video Game Experience

The sound echoes out as the elevator passes the second floor. Inside the three men surrounding you begin to load their weapons, as do you.
The elevator has almost reached it's destination. A man turns to look at you: 'Remember, no Russian.'
The doors slide open slowly and you follow the three men into the airport terminal. Families are queuing up waiting to check in and proceed to the three hour long wait for their plane. Husbands and wives are holding hands looking forward to their long needed holiday.
Suddenly, the room erupts in an explosion of gunfire and piercing screams. People are running for their lives; the others who aren't so lucky are piled up on the floor in a pool of blood. The three men proceed forward slaughtering everyone in their path. You remain stationary. Your finger hovering by the trigger.

What was your next move? Did you follow the terrorist's example to keep your cover? Did you watch the horrible scene play out in front of you, powerless to stop it? Or, did you not care for either option...it's only a video game, right?

Modern Warfare 2 exploded onto the video game market and flew off the shelves in November 2009. The Michael Bay-esque (a new term I would like to coin today) campaign takes the player on a number of exhilarating, over-the-top, 'SHIIIT!' screaming missions, jumping between a number of playable characters. Of course, the No Russian mission received a ton of controversy when footage was leaked prior to the game's release. The mission places you in the role of an undercover CIA agent in a terrorist cell, who must take part in one of the groups attacks on a Russian airport. The web became flooded with rumours relating to the mission's placement in the storyline and whether it was in fact a part of the game at all! A number of mainstream news outlets picked up on the story and offered biased and uninformed views on the matter. In some cases Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was labelled a 'terrorism simulator' that 'allowed players to organise and carry out terrorist attacks'. Of course no one with knowledge of controversy in the video game industry expected anything less. Yet, we as video game players were once again shoved into the damning limelight; like a dog who brings a dead bird into the house at the annoyance and disappointment of it's owner.

Unfortunately, the road ahead for video games as a artistic (or even accepted) medium appears very dismal if we continue to see responses like this when developers are taking genuine steps to advance our beloved hobby. It can be argued that the character motivation is slightly lacking (is it really OK to take part in a terrorist attack just to keep yourself undercover?) and the rest of the plot is quite ridiculous (as with any Michael Bay-esque piece).

However, I am not wholeheartedly condemning IW. I think it was a very brave move of them to include such a scene. At the moment, story is an area often ignored by the majority of games offering no real depth or intelligent construction. Whilst I am not arguing that MW2 has a deep and intelligent narrative like games such as Dragon Age: Origins and Grim Fandango; it is tapping into the heart of what makes video games a unique mode for storytelling. Rather than simply witnessing these atrocities played out on screen, we can be placed amongst them. Those willing to open themselves up and be immersed in a video game's world should have felt something from that scene (myself included). It was nothing I had really experienced in a video game before; building from crawling out of a downed helicopter in a nuclear explosion. Taking these steps to explore ways of placing the player into unique positions could be very interesting when a more realised story is involved.

I hope that future is not limited to just Milo though. I do find him quite scary...

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