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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Coffee Talk: When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong

Everyone needs to let out a bit of that pent up aggravation every once in a while. I get that. However, after finally getting around to watching the most recent Medal of Honor trailer, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy on a few levels. Now, before we get assaulted with hate mail and rabid comments: these words and opinions are 100 percent mine and not representative of Geekadelphia as a whole.

In recent years I’ve been turned off to just about every first-person shooter (FPS) out there aside from Team Fortress 2, the Left 4 Dead series and the recent free-to-play offerings Quake Live and Battlefield Heroes for essentially one reason: the attempts at extreme realism. More on why exactly this is bothersome behind the cut.

Players experience WWII’s Pacific front firsthand in Call of Duty: World at War

It’s not just the violence (but that is part of it). Rather, it’s how developers and gamers alike (not excluding myself at times) seem to be seeking an experience of the truest-to-life violence out there: war. While it’s obvious that these are just video games, I cannot help but be perturbed rather than excited when the Medal of Honor trailer’s narrator proclaims, “We are experts in the advocation of violence.”

Now, before anyone jumps to conclusions that I was present as a member of the prosecution when Sega was on trial for violence in video games back in the ’90s, just about every video game we’ve played had some degree of violence from the cartoon to the realistic. The issue here isn’t violence itself, but the level at which developers are creating and gamers are seeking it to be expressed in a Hollywood realistic environment.

It’s somewhat depressing that Call of Duty and Medal of Honor are becoming more commonly overheard words than Mario or Sonic. Perhaps this is due to both mascots showing their age, but nonetheless it’s upsetting that games seeking to emulate something I’m sure a considerable portion of us would never want to experience in reality have taken a hold of popular interest in gaming.

I have a mantra when approaching video games that goes a little like this: If I would never want to experience something in reality, why would I want to play a game surrounding that very experience?

Now, you and I both know that video games do not always have to be an escapist passion, but escapism takes majority of the reason why we all play them. It’s in this vain that I’m not sure video games can attempt to address the horrors of reality like film, music or written word can.

This is regardless of how much of an advocate you might remember I am for them being so.

Video games, simply put, are too young of a medium to attempt to address the atrocities of war, that I nor many of you know anything of, in a tasteful manner. This is due to video games genres like FPS and fighting games being simply too visceral (unavoidable, sorry) to express the sociological and psychological complexities of something like war (again, something many of us will most likely never understand). The instinctual experience of survival is the prime focus of just about any FPS, which leaves little room for developers to address said complexities adequately.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 depicts scenes eerily similar to current events

While developers like Infinity Ward deserve acclaim for realizing this issue and attempting to address it in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise, one can’t help but wonder if their message is hitting home. Most especially to the legion of bloodthirsty teenagers (anyone on Xbox Live or a multiplayer PC FPS will understand), furiously attempting to skip the dramatic and arguably poignant scenes to get on to the next head shot. Yes, those immature bigots you’re playing with are going to be sent out into the world someday by their oblivious parents.

I won’t bore you with trying to decipher why is it, then, that creators and players alike are attempting to explore these aspects of reality, but perhaps it’s simply because we have this relatively new medium through which we desire to explore whatever is possible and hopefully learn more about ourselves. Like all creative media, expression is a process of trial and error and it’s more than likely that video games are experiencing just that: growing pains.

But maybe, just maybe, we want to shoot something that isn’t a giant, slimy alien bug. That statement opens up a whole other can of worms related to why we would want to shoot each other (even in a virtual environment) that maybe we’ll address in future post if it’s requested.

Hopefully, some day in our lifetime this incredible, interactive medium will be able to address complex realities like war in a way that the other media can, but maybe that’s only possible through the process of improving upon the games we have today; slowly, but surely. One can only hope this will be the trend for the future.

Until then, who wants to get in on some Counter Strike: Source? It’s been far too long.

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