A ForeignPolicy.com piece on the state of war videogames asks if such titles are bringing the reality of current conflicts into the living rooms of gamers, or simply exploiting them for commercial gain.
A good chunk of the piece centers on the recently released Medal of Honor, in light of the controversy it generated. That controversy, the author writes, “wouldn't have occurred even five or six years ago,” as “video game studios seemed to be reticent about tackling contemporary conflicts, preferring instead to crank out games based in abstracted worlds and full of abstracted enemies.”
Older games such as SOCOM and Full Spectrum Warrior began to depict newer enemies, but “the level of graphical complexity was remedial enough that the game remained, well, a game.” Then, recently the Six Days in Fallujah game popped up, generating negative press, and last year Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 appeared. Suddenly, “Gone was the cartoonish violence of past simulations; ushered in was a world of dizzying alleyway firefights.”
The most interesting comments in the article come from Georgia Tech School of Literature, Communications and Culture Associate Professor Ian Bogost, who said that the videogame industry has never had an interest in politics.
Studios are stuck in this weird netherworld, between Silicon Valley and Hollywood. And games are stuck in that place, too. They want to be technology, and they also want to be entertainment.
When asked if games might someday “say something meaningful about foreign conflicts,” Bogost responded:
I'm optimistic. Games are great at depicting systems instead of telling stories. ... And then there's role-playing: What is it like to be someone else? That's the missed opportunity in Medal of Honor -- what does it really mean to be the Taliban?
Where are they coming from? What does that feel like? Now that doesn't mean you have to endorse the opinion, but [in a video game] you can explore something from someone else's side.
Bogost said that if Medal of Honor had taken this approach, “it would have been interesting and powerful.”