beamspams: (Shinji Green)
[personal profile] beamspams
So, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 isn't even out yet, and it's already generating tons of controversy over leaked information regarding its opening sequence. I certainly can't say that the industry I work in isn't exciting.

I can understand why there's going to be a lot of controversy over this one, though. It's actually pretty disturbing, but to prevent anyone reading who wanted to play Modern Warfare 2 from being spoiled, gonna put it under a cut from here on out. If you like gaming/storytelling in games/controversy, I'd really welcome your input, though. I'm curious to see what everyone else thinks.

So, earlier this week, video was leaked onto the internet of the very first opening mission in Modern Warfare 2. Activision did its damnedest to pull it all off YouTube etc, but it kept getting reuploaded so people who wanted to see it could see it.

I'm not *entirely* sure of the specific details, but the general gist of it is that the first mission in MW2 puts the player in control of a terrorist gunman as you attack an airport (in Russia, I believe, though it wasn't clear), and you essentially gun down helpless civilians as they flee for their lives. The footage I've seen was pretty disturbing - the guy playing shot someone who was trying to drag someone else to safety, just indiscriminately opening fire into crowds, etc.

I think that in the specifics, you're actually a CIA agent who has been ordered to infiltrate a terrorist cell in the interest of earning the trust of its leader, and in order to do that you do whatever you're ordered to, because this man is dangerous enough to spark war in which hundreds of thousands could die. But I digress, since I don't actually think that's important.

It's really interesting to see the reaction - in games like Grand Theft Auto or Infamous we can go on killing sprees all we want and a lot of gamers don't bat an eye, but there was a lot of discomfort among our forum community about the idea of playing a terrorist - even one who is pretending to be a terrorist to ultimately avert future disasters. (And that isn't even counting what's going to happen when media watchdog groups find out about it)

But here's the thing: The purpose of this mission is to establish the villains as legitimately evil. Not once does the game ever reward you for doing what you're doing, not once does it put it in a positive light. The game makes it explicitly clear that you are doing something disgusting and vile, and I think it's very interesting.

If this were a movie's opening scene, about terrorists attacking an airport - or hell, if this were a passive cutscene, even - I don't think people would be batting an eye. But because this is a game, where the player is the one who is "pulling the trigger" so to speak, I think that's where a lot of the controversy and unease is coming from. The game is asking you to do something you find reprehensible.

And that's kind of why I like it. Well, to clarify: I'm just as disturbed by the idea as anyone else, and I have no doubt that when I play this game I'm going to feel disgusted. But I respect Infinity Ward for trying to take steps to experiment with gaming as a storytelling medium beyond passive cutscenes, and how they're using it to give it more of a visceral, emotional impact. If this were a movie or book that focused on the villains when they did this, would there be so much outcry? I doubt it - so why is it not okay for games to try and tackle such serious subject matter when the game makes it crystal-clear that this is something revolting?

It reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus, in a way. When you killed the colossi, you felt like shit (well, I did). There was a feeling of "Goddamn, I've just attacked this ancient, majestic creature that never did anything to me, and murdered it." It wouldn't have had the same impact if you were watching a movie about a guy who scaled and killed these giant beasts; it was emotionally jarring because it was YOUR actions.

Similarly, the one thing that everyone remembers about the first Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the one sequence that shows the aftermath of a nuclear strike. Anyone could have shown a cutscene with the survivors wandering around, but Infinity Ward made it playable - you were in the shoes of a soldier who was far enough away from the blast to live, but who suffered lethal radiation poisoning, and you controlled him as he stumbled around dying, and then collapsed and died. It was an incredibly impactful and memorable experience, and one that I don't think would have had the same effect at all if it had just been a cutscene.

I see what they're trying to do here, and I'm going to defend them against the "You've gone too far!" crowd because I think that games SHOULD be given a chance to become a serious narrative medium. But I'll be damned if it doesn't make me uncomfortable to think about doing it.

Date: 2009-10-30 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmm... first of all, I do agree with you. Interactivity is an INCREDIBLY powerful tool for storytelling, unique in its ability to elicit emotions in the player because the player is actively involved... not just that, but in a way the line between the player and the protagonist is very blurry, and so "actively involved" means so much more than "sitting on a couch pushing the button that pulls the trigger." The player is much closer to the action than that. And I also agree that no, it doesn't go too far. Games should be allowed to present such vivid and, yes, such horrifying experiences -- that emotional connection is art in a way no other medium presents it.

Of course there will be the inevitable 15-year-old who doesn't get it and tries to see if he can snipe the whole airport, which will anger me not only because of its overall callousness, but also because it disrespects the game itself and the story it wants to tell, the emotion it wants to project.

After saying that, I disagree that the framing story is irrelevant. I think it certainly would have been effectively horrifying if, say, you were playing an actual terrorist, but I think the fact that the man behind the gun is supposed to be a good guy, that this is an action that the good guy takes "for the greater good," also has extra impact on the twistedness of the scene. But then, I really hate the moral of sacrificing the few for the benefit of the many, so I'm probably biased.

This seems to be another in a history of moments that really shake the player to the core (the end of Shadow of the Colossus was one, the endgame of Terranigma [SNES, getting old here] is another). Games, I think, are definitely at their best -- and best prove their worth as an art form distinct and separate from other art forms -- when they provoke that intense and amazing feeling of "What have I done?" Not "What did that guy do?" or even "What have I made that guy do?"

"What have I done?"

Date: 2009-10-30 06:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
True, the framing story does have a bit of context. If you, the player, doesn't want to do this thing but is being forced to, it's an approximation of what the actual CHARACTER would feel, doing something so reprehensible for - in his mind - the sake of the greater good. So there's more of a connection there, I think.

But you're spot-on with it being a "What have I done?" scenario. That's one of the best ways to describe it that I've heard yet.

Date: 2009-10-30 05:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think that in an effective way the game is somewhat terrifying, this scenario is arguably in poor taste and definitely going to push a lot of people's buttons.

But it's also important, maybe necessary, exactly because it plays on some very powerful possibilities of the medium. It's something I was thinking about before: video games are at their best, as modes of storytelling, when the player is invested with a sense of responsibility and agency. Forcing the player to do something they find distasteful, enough so to make them cringe or cry or whatever, is the very image of power in this medium. It's a rare, horrible, precious thing done in very few games, and even if this particular scene does not turn out well (or even if it's just there for shock value in spite of the justification of the script writers) I'm glad they did it. We need games that can be provocative in this way.

Date: 2009-10-30 06:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, I definitely agree with you. It's where I think games SHOULD be going in order to tell their stories, rather than just trying to (poorly) imitate movies.

If any team can pull it off, I have confidence in IW. Did you play CoD4? The "nuke scene" is one of the most powerful moments I've ever played in a game. But I'm in agreement that even if this particular instance turns out in poor taste, it's good that they're at least trying.

Date: 2009-10-31 12:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I did. Sorry to say that it was spoiled for me beforehand, but I can still appreciate the kind of impact it should have had.


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