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Shock without the Awe with added "Oh do shut up, you!"

Ah, the knee jerk reaction. How I love a good read of some poor imbecile's reaction to a nasty thing that the kids are doing/playing/watching these days. With every slight incursion on the norm and accepted, some poor ignorant sod feels the need to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, and tell the world it's a travisty.

The knee jerking in this instance is the article "Shock without the awe", an article published on IGN by Daniel Krupa, something of a regular writer for them http://uk.games.ign.com/articles/121/1212233p1.html. In it, he expresses disgust and distaste at a scene in the latest Call of Duty installment where a family, including an eight year old girl, are killed by a terrorist chemical weapon in London.

Okay, so as someone who has been playing games for the last nineteen years, I might have a bit of a bias. And with nineteen years of Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto and the like, a little desensitisation to game violence may have occured. I expect games about war and crime to have a few instances of the red stuff, and lately, some of it is going to be innocent blood spilled. But I guess what bothered me about this article is the know-it-all think-of-the-children ideaology is passes as fact.

His prime comparison for the scene is the infamous �No Russian� level in Modern Warfare 2. For those who don�t know, you play as an American undercover agent who has infiltrated a Russian terrorist group. As part of this cover, he is forced to gun down civilians in a Russian airport, before finally being capped himself by primary antagonist Makarov, who knows full well your origins.
The scene got a knee jerk reaction as you�d expect, who pointed once again to old arguments such as �murder-simulator� and �copy-cat-able�.
Since playing it myself on the day of launch, I formed these conclusions from the scene.

1. It was important plot-wise, as the deeds the American agent carried out had to be so evil and shocking, that it would force the Russian nationalist government to retaliate against America after it was revealed that the one who was found dead on the scene was indeed from the US of A. It had to be like the Russian equivalent of 9/11 to force the Kremlin�s hand.
2. The scene made you hate Makarov and his people. That they would gun down their own people in the first place to achieve this end is loathsome, and the only reason the American agent participated was to fully infiltrate the group and stop it happening again. By the time Makarov raised his pistol to my head, I was already picturing shooting the guy myself for all the evil he�d done.

However, I think the scene would actually have been better if the terrorists grew suspicious of you and egged you on, or if you had more reason to think that your actions in the airport might be for the best in the long run. It felt a bit sudden to be suddenly batting for the other side and doing these nasty things after a mere voice over and loading screen. But this aside, I actually applaud Infinity Ward for including the scene, as it gave the previously glorified, patriotic, black and white, good and evil, allies and axis Call of Duty series an ugly nugget of truth; that innocent people die in warfare (especially this new ugly underhand kind of warfare we often see today) and good men can do evil things in the name of what is good.

The problem here is, because it is a Call of Duty game, or the mere fact it is a game at all, gave gamers and the general press respectively the idea that it was mindless violence for mindless violence�s sake. Many gamers don�t look to Call of Duty to tell them an interesting story, or to show them the ugly truth of war, perhaps because Call of Duty 1-3 were merely over patriotic Nazi murder games. At no point did the games make you question what you were doing and why, probably because when it came to stopping Hitler, nobody ought to have been asking themselves questions. But when it comes to Modern Warfare compared to actual modern warfare, there are many questions we have to ask ourselves about what is being done in our countries names, questions that many of us don�t really have an answer for. The Modern Warfare games portray a plot where there is answer you can reach; �These guys are evil, their plans are bordering on suicidal Armageddon. They won�t spare anyone. Stop them.�

Now at this point, I ought to point out that Call of Duty is far from my favourite series of games. Call of Duty 4 is pretty high up there, but the others would struggle to make Top 100. But I like them enough to have bought and finished all of them bar Call of Duty: World at War (coming to a Backlog Diary entry soon). Yes, Activision and their money making schemes are a bit too capitalistic maaaaan, but I believe many of the developers of these recent games are really trying to do something with this series. Why make average forgettable crap when you have an audience the size of the whole population of England (25 million copies of Black Ops sold world wide).

So when Mr Krupa of IGN seeks to sully their name just to get some page views, I feel some objection needs to be raised. Here is an excerpt:

'Push the envelope'. It's a phrase that troubles me. Forcing a player to walk towards a little girl, while she twirls giddily with the joy of a child on holiday with her doting parents, just so you can watch her die before you in a terrorist explosion isn't innovative; it's shocking and horrifying and disturbing. And its developer, I suspect, fully knows this.

But what I find equally loathsome is the idea that it's somehow artistically brave, or even commendable. "You always want to push yourself and see if you can push the limits of the medium, and storytelling," continued Robbins. "We've got such a big audience for this game that we want to deliver something that's memorable. Experiences that people are going to be talking about the next day after they played it, talking about with their friends. It's really a matter of creating something unique."

This kind of crass spectacle isn't redefining the possibilities of the medium at all. It is naked shock value. In Robbins's remarks there's a telling insistence that he wants the game to be talked about immediately and intensely, not debated or poured over for years to come. It's the very kind of fevered communication produced by shock value. But when confronted, those who are knowingly using shock tactics will play the part of the misunderstood artist - the individual who is creating something that challenges what we deem acceptable.

Well I have a counter remark to that first little paragraph; sometimes what does push the envelope is shocking, horrifying and disturbing. It wouldn�t be pushing any envelopes or any other kind of stationary supplies for that matter if it didn�t raise a few eyebrows. And the truth about modern warfare as it is today is that it is shocking, horrifying and disturbing. We�re talking about an ideology that does not discriminate against its victims, which actively seeks to harm the civilian population. The scene in particular is followed by a typical Call of Duty load screen which has an overhead view of the map of the effected area, with a panicked voice over confirming that Downing Street, the epicentre of British politics for centuries, was within the affected area. Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer could have shown us the Prime Minister and his entourage succumbing to the effects of the poisonous gas, which would have perfectly moved along the plot, and shown that shit had indeed moved fan-wards. But instead, they showed a very real, very close to home scene of a family on holiday who perish within the blast. It�s sick, it�s horrible, and it�s the truth, and to show the player just ho they are dealing with and what they have done is artistically brave and commendable. The developers knew there would be some kind of fallout from showing this after having done it before, and they did it anyway. True, it will get people instantly talking, and this may have been a major motive, but is it that important when you consider the overall effect? The player quite rightly should hate the enemy by now, and I don�t think it should be a big surprise that the pay off at the end is made more satisfactory because of it.

I myself might understand a further argument against this scene; it�s merely IW reusing a tool they have used since Call of Duty 4; including a shocking scene showing the demise of a player character or innocent victim. I�ve been shot in the head tied to a pole, blown up by a nuke, shot and burnt in a ditch, and shot in the face in an airport. Now I�ve watched my wife and daughter get blown up and succumbed to the poisonous gas myself. But maybe this reused tool shouldn�t be complained about too hard. After all, the name of the game is Call of Duty; it is your duty as the soldier characters to lay down your life to protect the world from things such as chemical bombs and evil Russian types. Innocents will die unless you intervene, and each game tries to make you remember that in a harsh unforgiving way.

My problem with the violence in Call of Duty is it's too calculated, too stagey, too neat. For all we know, it could have been designed and built fairly late on in the development of the game, so lightly is it integrated into the plot. The effect of the violence is not examined. It's a discrete event, removed from the main characters, and could easily be removed without the narrative crumbling in on itself. At least 'No Russian' carried an important plot point, which precipitated the events of MW3. It's cowardly, involving characters that we don't know and never see again. And the effects of the violence unleashed are left unobserved.

Actually, I would say the little aside which takes you away from characters you know may well be the bravest thing the series has done to date. I know by now it might sound like I want more kids to get blown up in my video games, but bare with me a minute. As I have said above, involving the innocent lives of this family in the ongoing conflict of this series gives the games a whole new context, one which was not so easily obvious in previous games, which is the motive to stop this happening again.

So to any developers who accidentally navigate off Jim Sterling�s reviews of your game onto the C-Blogs and see this little article by someone who may well be considered to not know what he is talking about, I�ll say this; yes, realistic violence without proper motive is tacky and tasteless, but if you know what your doing has a purpose, don�t worry about people like Daniel Krupa, worry about us guys who may well be considered to not know what they are talking about.
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About The Villainthropistone of us since 10:07 AM on 08.05.2008

A gamer since the age of 4. I like pretty much all genres, and now that I can afford them, all systems. I'm looking for a new co-op game which won't suck me in for a year and a half. Please give AMD Eyefinity compatible gaming PC's generously (never mind, got one).

I would now consider myself a PC gamer primarily, but have grown up with consoles all my life. Whilst a bit of depth and plot are much appreciated, I tend to gravitate towards online FPS's and racing games.

I've been on a bit of a hiatus from posting here at the Dtoid C-Blogs, mainly due to my voluntary position at PureSophistry.com. Click the link to see my stuff.

Origin: jebussaves88

Oh yeah, and I have a twitter now. @jebussaves88
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