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Modern Warfare 2: let’s be adults about this

As you might have heard, Modern Warfare 2 – which comes out today – includes a bit where you’re doing terrorist things. It’s causing a bit of controversy, and of course I have an opinion on that.

What we’re seeing here is something much more interesting than mere headline chasing: it’s a dramatic example of how videogames are trying to grow up.

If we want our games to grow up with us, we need to be grown up in the way we react to them – and that includes dumping the “we must protect the children” crap when games come with an 18 certificate specifically saying they’re not suitable for kids.

8 replies on “Modern Warfare 2: let’s be adults about this”

Is there any real difference between mowing down queuing passengers in MW2 and blasting Grunts in Halo, or shooting rival motorcycle gangs in the face in a GTA expansion pack? Not to me, there isn’t. These are games, not harrowing documentaries.

Exactly. I remember reading reviews of that game you’ve lent me whose name I forget (sorry), saying how harrowing and morally challenging it was because sometimes you have to choose to kill the little girls, and thinking “What’s wrong with these idiots?” And then I tried it and, indeed, it’s not harrowing at all unless you think that they’re real little girls. It’s a game, with strategies in it. You do stuff in order to win. When you win, you get the satisfaction of seeing a screen telling you you’ve won. The girls and robots and everything else are just superficial artifacts to enable you to interact with the underlying skills and strategies. Frankly, I worry slightly about those reviewers: they’ve clearly lost too much of their grip on the difference between reality and game content. I wonder whether they noticed that Sonic The Hedgehog doesn’t have a “No animals were harmed in the making of this game” notice?

I remember seeing some movie exec making much the same point back in the 90s when everyone in his industry was going on about interactive movies being the next big thing. He correctly predicted that no they bloody weren’t, because interaction and immersion are fundamentally different: ironically, interacting actually makes you less immersed in a story, which means you can’t be manipulated by the director into emoting, which is ultimately what films are all about. If you want to give people morally harrowing stuff and you want it to actually work, you need to do it while they’re not doing anything else (like pressing buttons) and, crucially, you need to make sure they don’t have the option of winning, which makes them approach the whole thing with completely the wrong mindset.

> And then I tried it and, indeed, it’s not harrowing at all unless you think that they’re real little girls.

Yeah, and it’s been deliberately stylised so you’re not doing anything gory, which lessens the potential impact further. There is a good bit in that game – Bioshock, that is – where the rug is pulled from underneath your feet in a way that raises interesting questions about games, but it isn’t sustained until the end. It’s just a good atmospheric game with a duff ending.

> Frankly, I worry slightly about those reviewers: they’ve clearly lost too much of their grip on the difference between reality and game content.

Heh. There’s a good bit in Edge’s review of this game where it points out the daftness of the airport bit: one minute you’re popping shots at polygons and you’re supposed to feel bad; the next, you’re popping shots at slightly different polygons and the audio is congratulating you again.

I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt emotional about a game, other than irritated at it. Surprised, yes, spooked yes, but I’ve never really given a shit.

> ironically, interacting actually makes you less immersed in a story, which means you can’t be manipulated by the director into emoting, which is ultimately what films are all about.

To be fair, most of the output of the film industry isn’t emotionally engaging – and the tech is only just getting to the point where really interesting things are possible. I very much doubt it can ever live up to the hype, but next year’s Heavy Rain (PS3) sounds fascinating.

There are some indie games exploring the emotion thing, but you’re right – I think in any first-person action film the opportunities for real narrative are as limited as they are in Chuck Norris movies. You don’t watch them for an insight into the human condition or to reflect on the inhumanity of war; you watch them to see Chuck kick a nun’s face off, or whatever it is he does these days. And you buy action games to run around shooting people in the head.

I think, too, the main thing about emotion in games is that most of the time it’s unnecessary anyway. In something such as Halo the story’s the usual sci-fi bollocks, and it’s only there to justify moving from one particular bit of scenery to another or to introduce a new meanie.

Accidental but on-the-money typo: I said first-person action film when of course, I meant first-person action game.

> one minute you’re popping shots at polygons and you’re supposed to feel bad; the next, you’re popping shots at slightly different polygons and the audio is congratulating you again.

Spot on.

> most of the output of the film industry isn’t emotionally engaging

Just to be clear, when I said that a film director’s job is to manipulate you into emoting, I meant “emote” in a broader sense than just touchy-feely moral stuff. It includes feeling “Hell, yeah!” when you see Chuck kick a nun’s face off.

I think all this stuff is why I still keep coming back to Tomb Raider: they get it right. They’re interactive Indiana Jones films with a hot girl in them, and they never try to pretend they’re anything else. Playing Legend at the moment, and it’s great fun.

Turns out the really crazy people are the ones who *don’t* play the videogames…

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