We’ve been reading about the war in the Middle East for nearly twenty years. When you read the words on paper (or on a screen, as technology progresses), your mind paints a picture based on the description. Stimulating, but not entirely suitable for the ADHD (Attention-Deficit-Hey!-Dog!) generation.
For years, people have been looking for a way to accurately depict what’s happening in the world. Thanks to intrepid journalism and some pretty daring filmmakers, we’ve been on the ground floor for some of the Armed Forces skirmishes. We hear and see snippets of what they go through…but unless you’re there, chances are the memories don’t last.
So how do we create unforgettable, brutally real, yet relatively harmless experiences that accurately show what soldiers—and people—around the world are going through? How do we take what some would rather ignore and make it impossible to turn away from?
Infinity Ward found a way.
I don’t traditionally play first person shooters (Red Faction: Guerilla Warfare, which I found enjoyable, was my first one since Halo 2), but I try to investigate anything that generates as much hype as Modern Warfare 2 did. The outset of the game warns that some levels might be deemed offensive and wisely gives you the option of opting out of these missions. Figuring that I’m about to experience a bunch of racial slurs against Muslims and death-to-America propaganda, I choose to play through the offensive missions.
And I promise you, I’ll never forget what I played through. Neither will you.
I don’t want to spoil it, but if this title is even a hint of what soldiers (and people) are going through around the world, then I have a newfound respect for our armed forces and a great swell of sympathy for those who live in fear of this kind of thing—which happens almost every day, it seems.
This game is so intense that I often found myself pausing just to walk around and catch my breath—because I wasn’t breathing, during the game’s more intense moments. But beyond its stellar gameplay, Modern Warfare 2 is a shining example of what video games can do for storytelling when properly executed. In fact, I firmly believe that just as books were eventually translated to film, video games represent the next arc of storytelling, and perhaps the most potent medium of this generation.
The scene in question succeeds not just for flawless execution, not because the game gives you the option to bow out (you will not want your kids anywhere near this, I promise), but because the scene is horrific without being tasteless or exploitative. And following this scene presents a very realistic possibility of what might happen should episodes like this be allowed to continue in the real world.
What we experience on foreign soil in this game is nothing compared to what happens when the war comes home. And best believe, in this game, it does come home.
Why do we expose ourselves to stories? Why do we flock to heroes, villains, and everything in between? What is it about Batman, Superman, Wolverine, Harry Potter, Edward/Jacob/Bella, Link, Leon Kennedy, or Kain/Raziel (pretty good summary, I think) that causes us to return to the medium of our choice over and over again?
Personal opinion; these people, with their powers, wits, guns, magic or all of the above, involve themselves in danger and intrigue that we can only dream of. They deal with the same moral decisions we face but at much higher levels, with much more devastating consequences (Batman broke a moral code to assassinate Darkseid in DC’s Final Crisis). Most importantly, they do what we can’t; even if the cost is great, they get closure. They beat the bad guy. Justice wins, and in the end, I think that’s what a lot of us wants. The good guy wins, the bad guy goes to jail or hell or whatever.
But in books and movies, we only get to see and passively follow along. In Batman: Arkham Asylum, we got to be the Dark Knight and experience life from his point of view. No book or picture can rival that, although if it weren’t for those, we wouldn’t have the video game.
Reading and watching these soldiers in action is nothing compared to what Modern Warfare 2 accomplishes.
If we really love drama so much that we will sink millions of dollars into franchises just to keep them going, maybe video games can do what few other titles in other mediums have; as they immerse us in their stories and force to experience things we probably couldn’t handle in real life, maybe we can begin to prevent our own self-destruction. Instead of condemning video game violence, we should realize that a lot of this is inspired by real life. Maybe we could use the multi-million dollar video game business to learn from our mistakes, as well as tell better stories.
Cause zombies could rise up, and Skynet could take over the world. You just never know.
But in the meantime, I applaud Infinity Ward for their courage and execution and hope to see others follow suit. Titles like this not only justify the sixty dollar price tag but advance the interactive medium.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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