VGChartz (why does that website have such a dumb name) has a great article up where an interviewer asks several people in the armed forces to talk through the drama surrounding Medal of Honor featuring The Taliban as a playable team.
The fascinating thing about the interview is that several of the interviewed people spoke more broadly about the topic of modern war-based first person shooters. Modern Warfare 2 is their go-to example of that kind of game, and with good reason–it is probably the weakest game in the series, and it also features the infamous “No Russian” mission.
The article is a little long, but every comment is worth reading, especially because these people actually get to the user-experience heart of a number of issues that game critics are trying to work through all the time. The discussion of vulnerability is especially important–the fact that these video games are used as recruitment tools to bring people into military life when we consider that the soldiers depicted in the Call of Duty games are invincible machines. In the event that the machine dies, a quote pops up that tells you about the honor of sacrifice; then you’re up and ready to sacrifice a life again.
Justin Polaski talks about this:
(Polaski, Army) The previously mentioned games cheapen the impact of the war. Games such as MW2 teach the player that it is heroic to play as a nearly invincible shooting machine mowing down brown-skinned people who spout off culturally stereotypical platitudes and die in droves before the player’s corporately licensed wrath (i.e. the weapons actually having the correct names such as M4A1, Spectre Gunships, and wearing copywritten ACU patterns). Portraying the conflicts in such a manner cheapens the deaths of all those who have died on both sides of the conflicts.
Cheapening of life aside (which I can’t speak to), this certainly speaks to late capitalism’s core ethic: bend everything, eat everything. The war itself becomes a brand name; the Second World War becomes a marketing tool, IP to be exploited and abandoned when it loses its efficacy. What I take from Polaski is a sadness associated with this: the guise of realism paired with unrealistic game mechanics means that the real people who died are seen as failures, or worse, as acceptable casualties. I am afraid of a world where the predominate game-playing demographic cannot understand what it means to lose a military conflict.
I turn to this again and again, but I think this just reinforces the fact that we need more games that make players vulnerable. We need games that show up that humans are weak. We aren’t super. We are all normal, even the most amazing of us. And we need to recognize it.