War is not a game.

I was happily browsing the internet for material for my book for I’m working on. One that I’ll be writing next year, on the subject of just core storytelling. Games, films and what-not and how they go about it. Less about practicality more about technicality. I was browsing a few games sites to get suggestions for some games to play, aside from the obvious ones, when I happened upon this video…

Are you fucking kidding me?

I’m just going to deduct this word for word, because this is horrendous. This is what Jim Strerling and Hamza have been talking about; Medal of Honor is going to get a shit-ton of controversy. It’s got the balls to go where no game has before. It wants to tell an authentic experience and put the player deep into the action of Afghanistan. Yes, go ahead Medal of Honor, go venture into the promised land! People are going to feel uncomfortable playing as the Taliban, but you did have the balls to do such a thing, it certainly does show gaming as serious entertainment!

Oh wait, you’re hiding behind the same exact phrase again

“It’s just a game.”

Over the past decades, we’ve practically changed the idea of what is/isn’t a ‘game’. In ten years, that’s all going to change. We’ve made high art exhibits, giant testosterone needles and games in which you play a plumber who wants his pipes cleaned by a peachy princess. We are serious entertainment, we are not toys.

So until the toymakers stop hiding behind the same point of cover, we’re going to be seen that way. On the Mass Effect buttsex controversy thing, Geoff Keighley defended games as a serious form of entertainment (quite futile against the enraged ignorant, but he damn well made his point clear). So why is it so hard to just say “Look, we wanted to tell an authentic experience. If you feel uncomfortable with playing as the Taliban then we gladly understand.”

Anyway, let’s start to pull a Sherlock and deduct everything that this woman is saying. Hypocritical and poorly argued… but it’s from a mother who has a Son in war so everything is fine!

Good Morning

Report shown in the afternoon, possibly pre-recorded.

Well, war is not a game.

I agree. Do you think that all we do in games is shoot people? Do you think that’s all we’ll be doing in Medal of Honor? By the looks of things, not just the gameplay looks varied, but the experience they’ve wanted to tell. Authentic and all that good jazz.

Period

Nice to know.

And the fact they’ve already done games about World War II, that’s far removed from our current history and people aren’t dying.

Okay, you hypocrite. You’d quite happily let us go make games about World War II (specifically, games in which I shoot people) because we’re only disrespecting the dead. But if we disrespect the dying then that’s just out of order!

That’s far removed, the families urr urr and it’s not based on real people.

They’re not real people, they are completely fictitious. But the guns, the sounds, the enemy behaviour, the battles themselves are all 100% factual.

Right now we’re going into a really really bad time in Afghanistan, we’ve just come off of the worst month of causalities in the whole war and this game is just going to be released in October so families who are burying their children are going to be seeing this and playing this game, I just don’t see that a videogame based on a current war makes any sense at all. It’s just disrespectful.

This grinds my gears, this is what makes me actually feel anger. The ignorant conservative forcefed little tidbits of both sympathy and ignorance in general. You are a mother of a Son who is in the war, and you are against a game that wants to tell a realistic experience. You are completely against any form of interactive education about this war, perhaps even the strongest form of education, because it’s a game.

It is not disrespectful, it is only that when it is done in bad taste. Medal of Honor wishes to put players deep into the psyche of a soldier and teach them a lesson about it. Games like Modern Warfare 2, set in fictional places and wars, don’t need to teach. In some fact, they don’t show the horror of war. From what I’ve seen of Medal of Honorit’s doing what Six Days in Fallujah looked to do – tell an authentic experience about the war to a young adult market to educate them about the current war. In fact, both games had the backing of the military. Tier 1 operators are 100% behind EA and a group of US soldiers actually sought to make a videogame about the war, to which they turned to Atomic Games to do Six Days.

Doesn’t that sound worthy? Doesn’t that sound like the best thing you can do? Prepare and educate young adults about war through videogames, let them decide for themselves.

The response by EA is semi-redunkulous, just look at it.

She responds like this:

It’s a bit unrealistic to compare cops and robbers to the Taliban soldiers.

I agree, EA shouldn’t hide behind the “someone’s gotta be the bad guys” phrase either.

It’s just not based on reality.

Shut the fuck up.

The host asks “most guyz are big adults, can’t they choose what entertainment blah blah lol they already watch wrestling”

Well in pro-wrestling, nobody dies hopefully….

HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA

And to the videogame industry, Sony tried to release a game called Shock and Awe and last year Atomic Games tried to release a game and these were all based on the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you don’t want to play it blah blah my son didn’t get to play it, there’s 12,000 families hurt by these wars and it’s not just a game and I don’t think they shouldn’t be putting this reality and EA is very cavalier about it “It’s just a game.” well it isn’t just a game to the people suffering the loss of their children of loved ones.

Is it futile? Am I being a giant asshole? I’m not going to get anywhere. We’re not going to get anywhere, with a bunch of cowards being executives and playing it safe. They say all controversy is good controversy, why not harness this as an oppurtunity to show the masses that we mean business.

War is not a game, it’s an experience. It’s something that should be told with authenticity and full immersion, to let players fully comprehend what it is like to be in a war. We’re getting there, we’re going to do it someday, don’t try and stop us. You’ll only be hurting yourself and your children, to understand what war is about.

I Can’t Have An Opinion

Comment on a certain article of mine

So you’re saying the game sucks because in your own opinion the game doesn’t appeal to YOU.

Today’s journalism is garbaje if it’s not MW2 the game sucks. Seriously if you’re getting payed to write this garbaje then im more then overwhelmed how stupid fanboys get to write on the internet.

PS On topic the game is clearly active, instead of writing garbaje go play MW2 cuz it seems you suck at KZ2.

Another comment:

Why do you lie? Tons of people play this daily and have been. Just because you don’t play this game doesn’t mean no one is playing it. May not have the same players as mw2 but it does have a loyal fan base with plenty of players to play even at late night and early mornings. Fucking liar.

Jim Sterling is right.

Ebert is right… for now.

I’ve been a long time follower of Roger Ebert, it’s around five years now, and I love the charm the guy manages to get across and how humble he can be. Given he’s seen so many movies he’s probably a walking dictionary on the matter. It’s why it’s ever more peculiar that he chooses to stick his nose into my little world of videogames. I welcome his lovely nose, I welcome him de-constructing the very basis of why I write and campaign for videogames to be appreciated as an artistic medium. What I don’t welcome is cynicism.

In his latest article (probably my favourite for sometime) he takes apart one argument for videogames by Kellee Santiago. I’ll embed the video after this post.

In this article, Ebert points to one of the few games that Santiago mentions; Flower. In such a span of time, you can see that you couldn’t describe this game to such outsiders as an audience at the TED convention. I feel that she tried her best. Flower isn’t exactly a challenging game or a game which shares conventions with mainstream titles, it can pretty much be defined on the level similar to an independent picture.

Flower does provoke some emotions on some level, but that can’t be done without playing it. I understand Ebert’s sincerity on the subject and I know he’s not trying to poke fun at us. Maybe he even considers us at least an industry with some degree of maturity. The trouble is, to all outsiders and campaigners against videogames, you can’t convince them unless they taste the sample. Just one sample maybe.

I remember reading some of Anthony Burch’s stuff over on Destructoid.com, and he said that you can’t prove to Ebert that “Games are art” by making him play Bioshock. When it comes down to it, Bioshock is a game about finding inventive ways to kill people. We can’t make him play Shadow of the Colossus either, because it’s obviously very long and in depth, because it’s still about ‘finding the weak spot’ on giant monsters and then climbing them to stab their hearts out.

I’m quite offended by “videogames can never be art” because of how quickly they are changing. They are changing at such a pace that tomorrow I could wake up and every single videogame just doesn’t work anymore. Imagine that, every videogame in the history of mankind just stops working. All of those nostalgic memories, the crying, the emotional output, the late nights; it’s all gone. Nothing to prove.

That would be the greatest thing to happen to us.

Right now, videogames can be projected to move into a state where they will mirror films creatively and financially. You’ll start to see a trend of fewer games coming out, fewer publishers taking risks, large game budgets. The independent studies will not get their say, they will be weeded out. Call of Duty, Halo, Gears; they could be just the fewer games we get. Casual gaming can’t save us. Lets guess around 100 games come out every year, and around 40 mainstream films come out every year. The number of games is going to just go downhill given the trend, and the independent studio will be at risk of failing.

As they are weeded out, as developers are fired and put on to 500+ teams on Call of Duty for 2 year cycles; that will be the end. The end of blogging about artistic expression, the end of endless nights of going back and taking notes, the end of crying at a videogame.

Everything is subjective; films, television, art itself. What I want to give to this is that videogames are subjective too. I cried at Shadow of the Colossus because of how invested I was into it, but someone might just think it’s the worst game of all time. Massively diverse opinions, and no one should ever be wrong how a videogame affected them. But that’s the thing, isn’t it, I feel that a videogame can effect in the same way that a film or television show can.

Now there’s the special word, can, I approve of Ebert’s post entirely in the present tense but not in future tense. I don’t know what will happen, I can only predict we will get fewer and fewer titles. My friend, Adam Stephen Kelly, tells me that if it would mirror the film industry in a sense. Independent studies churning out the innovation with big buck Hollywood churning out whale vomit. This could be what videogames become, and I feel that would be for the better.

I can imagine 12 man games rushing about somebody’s bedroom, chasing that big idea. Pushing out on to the internet with less than 5,000 plays. A game that changes people’s way of thinking, that changes who they are down to every single little emotion.

We don’t have ONE title or any studio out there who shows the potential of what videogames can become. We have a few games such as Braid and Flower as an indication of what can be done. Ebert himself called these attempts ‘pathetic’, which I slightly agree. But if there’s a scale, if art within games can be pathetic then surely it has the potential to be something meaningful. Surely it can become something on the level of film.

Videogames aren’t art, the mainstream never will be. They have potential, and it’s not something we can exactly show people like Ebert. I appreciate the time he took to watch the TED talk below, and I appreciate that he at least sees maturity within our industry.

We can’t show potential, all we can do really is wait. It might never happen, we might shift into something like comic books where it is completely devoid of originality. You get around four independent comic books NOT about superheroes, and they aren’t even recognized by people. Games right now are about, mainly, killing people or finding ways to harm people.

Maybe it will change, maybe it won’t. Maybe Ebert might be right but only for RIGHT now.

Alan Wake Will Be Awful

[Please note, this is not an early view or a huge preview, this is just what I managed to dig up about Alan Wake]

I’m really… not looking forward to Alan Wake. It’s hailed as a new interbreed of third person shooters and psychological horror, which I’m all for, but I just can’t even begin to like it. It’s spreading like wildfire and just about every gaming Twitter feed I follow seems to love it to bits, but I think I’ve seen more than enough to make a judgement. Because I know I won’t be buying the thing, I spoiled myself the full game. Since it went gold a few days ago, a lot of information has flooded the internet. One month before it going gold, somebody managed to play through the full game and spoil it for everyone. Thankfully it seemed everyone on the internet was asleep so it was only passed through spoiler tags.

I’m not going to spoil it, but I will talk about the spoiler itself (but not spoil the spoiler). Hard to describe really. If you don’t want to read the next section then it’s all on you.

What Alan Wake’s massive plot twist is about, is not for the plot. It’s not the giant epic tale with a massive twist, it’s not a “Would you kindly?”, it’s a kick to the balls. It’s a betrayal of everything that a player has done, much like Heavy Rain, it abuses the player’s intellect and empathy with the characters. I’ve seen some footage towards the end of the game and it is awful, I’ll even admit that at the beginning; the game looked promising. It was blending two great giant genres together and I was hoping for something big. More footage came out and the writing just didn’t flow well for me, the dialogue was off: for a story centered game it sure didn’t tell its story well.

I was more impressed by the environmental storytelling that Alan Wake exhibits, you have to shine your torch to see notes over walls (much like Splinter Cell Conviction). What they did as well as this was let Alan narrate the novel he wrote, and doesn’t remember writing, and after seeing the twist play out, I can tell some people will lap this up. Much like they did with Heavy Rain, any experiment should be massively applauded, even if it butchers what it set out to do.

I haven’t looked deep into the game length, but I do know it to be above 8 hours. It’s a good length for a modern day game, but I don’t know how replayable it will be.

This is just what I’ve seen so far, the footage I saw was near the end of the game. I’d link the Youtube clips from here, but Remedy asked to take them down.

It might turn out I’m absolutely wrong and Alan Wake is the best storytelling existence in videogames since Bioshock…

Not.

Remember, No Controversy

‘No Russian’ was a scene in Modern Warfare 2, near the middle, where you are sent undercover into the heart of a Russian terrorist group. In this particular scene, they ‘send a message’ to the US of A and Russia to declare war on each other, by killing hundreds of innocent civilians in a Russian airport, with you tagging along. I won’t be discussing the absolute stupidity and how only a Cold War fantasiser could come up with such dribble, today I would like to just talk about my own personal experience with said level.  Since it’s being so massively discussed and put into all of the ‘anti-videogames’ debate, I think I should give my own take on it. You know, because I’m the greatest writer on the seas of the internets.

Before Modern Warfare 2 was even released, I heard news of this level. I saw around ten seconds of video of it, and didn’t know what to think. It appeared in a Fox News debate and, as usual, three ‘experts’ (who’ve never played a videogame in their life) went up against one videogame journalist. I’ve been hunting the video on Youtube for weeks now, but I needn’t bother, just picture what sort of debate it was.

“Hurr durr videogames are violent, these scene is blasphemy, corrupting our children!”

“Modern Warfare 2 shouldn’t be in the hands of kids in the first place.”

“Hurr durr videogames are violent, these scene is blasphemy, corrupting our children!”

Anyway, to say that ‘No Russian’ was a moving scene is about as subjective as it gets. Videogames have always been subjective, art has been subjective (that’s why we made the link), everything in existence has a formed opinion – even the air you breath has probably given a two star review by someone in China and a five star review from someone in space. Since subjectivity is pretty much alive everywhere you tread, the point of ‘No Russian’ is up for massive pointless debate. I can picture hundreds of art critics grabbing their knees, shaking in a corner trying to figure out the metaphors – and then just a billion 12 year olds hopping on multiplayer afterwards.

I thought seeing the level play out on video would downgrade my impressions of the scene, and it would appear uninteresting. I went in without expectation of what I would feel, but knowing what to actually expect, so I just played through the level. Two of my online buddies did it at the same time as me (I was playing on Hardened, since I want to prove how big my penis is, scaling videogame difficulty is the perfect showmanship) so we all flocked to a chat box afterwards. To say the opinions were polarising would be like pointing out that the North Pole is to the north and the South Pole is to the South.

My experience was that it didn’t feel right. I took a bold step to shoot one civilian and it felt too cringe-worthy, so I acted out that Makarov didn’t even need me along for the trip. It also felt like the Creative Direction was a massive bitch, removing interactivity and player choice in favor of a horrible story. I tried gunning down Makarov and his crew, even taking cover to make sure they wouldn’t shoot me, and they just turn around and I fail. What sort of message is that. I can gun down the world’s most wanted terrorist at any moment, his back is practically turned towards me. I’m salivating over the fact that the FBI would be sucking by left testicle while the CIA caresses the other if I carry this out. I’ll be a national hero, I’ll stop Russia invading America, I will stop the civilians dying! I will save the universe!

Oh no but you can’t! Makarov is too powerful!

‘No Russian’ came across as quite pointless to me, it obviously put the god awful conspiracy plot in motion, but I felt as if the game had been taken away from me. I was playing a cutscene, but not one that needed to be interacted within. Sure it was kind of nice for Infinity Ward not bitching with the player, but when you put me behind a terrorist with a high-powered weapon and order me to kill the civilians (or not), I’m gonna get a bit peeved off about the whole situation.

My friends were all the complete opposite – with one of them just having to pause the game and stomach all of the terrible things he just did. He said that the game was ‘mean’, I told him that it was what Infinity Ward wanted him to feel. My other friend, the evil bastard he is, gunned down all the civilians and laughed at the scene. I asked him how he could commit such a horrible crime.

“It’s just a videogame lol.”

I get the feeling that the purpose of ‘No Russian’ is quite blurred. The way it’s set out is to try and provoke player reaction, clearly my bastard friend wasn’t moved by it, but my other friend was moved to stomach the level. I don’t think either ideology is wrong about ‘No Russian’, I don’t even think my idea (that it’s utterly pointless and only suits the plot, not the actual player interaction) is wrong either. I respect everyone’s opinions at the end of the day, and I can clearly see Infinity Ward wanted this to happen.

Quite polarising is also the debate that Infinity Ward put this in to intentionally cause controversy, to drum up even more publicity, it so casually avoided telling players to not spoil it and didn’t warn us either. If the scene had come directly from an Infinity Ward video or something, it may have had a different effect. The controversy surrounding it could either be intentional or just accidental, I have no idea if Infinity Ward wanted this to happen.

At the end of the day, it’s nice to have discussion about videogames. What they provoke, what they mean and how they can evolve. ‘No Russian’ can drum an outside media debate but I hope it drummed up a debate between gamers and friends, what they did, maybe even similar to an RPG like Mass Effect 2. Did you let the council live, did you kill Wrex, did you eat the testicles. Maybe not the last one.

As much as I hate Modern Warfare 2 – its unbalanced multiplayer, awful and short campaign and lackluster but charming Spec Ops, I’m glad it made a storm in gaming.