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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Believer in Games

Speaking of games, I need to give another plug for everyone’s favourite magazine Believer (see my previous post for why it’s a great mag).

They had a great ‘games’ issue a couple of months ago which covered all kinds of gaming not just the video sort, but In particular an interesting article about video games as propaganda caught my eye.

It looks at the fusion of war games with real wars… ie how we used to play games for wars long past (WWII, Vietnam, Roman Empire etc), but that increasingly things are much more current… Iraq is the example they get into where semi-real, almost current news footage is spliced into the game action and mission setup. (I’d also point to the sublime to play Rainbow Six series as basically a sequence of not so subtle war-on-terror set pieces which you play out.)

It’s a thoughtful and fairly balanced article on violent and/or potentially mind forming games by most media standards, but a large part of it is critical and voices ‘qualitative’ differences on grounds od principle between filming a story about say Vietnam or WWII and making a game about it.

In contrast I have to say I’ve always found that the best gaming experiences are rather less jingoistic and narrow minded than most filmic depictions of war. This is largely because, although as the article points out you keep getting to play again until the ‘right side wins’, you also have the experiences and choices of defeat, death and doing bad things, (killing your own men/prisoners,/yourself etc).

Call of Duty for example, despite it's ocassionally lazy marketing, is basically an interactive Saving Private Ryan without the schmaltz and bull... in fact scrap that, it is closer to a playable Band of Brothers than a Saving Ryan. In other words it's far more real, far more moving, far less 'message'.

The fact it’s hard and you fail time and again in both small and big ways (getting across Red Square alive / completing a mission) is what makes it more fun and also, to me, less patronizing about the realities of war. On an aside - failure and degree of difficulty are two of the interesting factors that makes games addictive in the first place, which should have lessons for us in marketing (make things too easy at your peril).

Video games are of course 99% wildly silly fiction, but because you have to choose and because you can and will fail, they can be far more ‘real’ and consequence-explicit than is managed by most movies, TV Documentaries… or the real news for that matter. Which is kind of scary considering they are after all clearly categorized as ‘games’.

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