The Call of Duty Villain of the Year is YOU

A couple of the RPS links today:

http://www.somethingawful.com/d/news...

The message, that populism is dangerous and shut up and love your 1% drone overlords, will no doubt be buried under plenty of rappelling, helicoptering and sniping, but it is the most vile war and class war apologism of the series. Goyer throws his lot in with the powerful against the powerless, creating ghost armies to fight from our own extravagant military. He blames the poor and those pursuing social justice for a future doomsday monologue that might as well involve a rogue hand and precious bodily fluids.

http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/...

The first, most relevant part:

In early June, at the E3 convention in Los Angeles, I attended a demo for a game called Splinter Cell: Blacklist. In the demo, I watched the Splinter Cell franchise's long-established hero, Sam Fisher — operating somewhere in Middle Eastistan — enter a tent, kill two gentlemen, and grab a third. Sam asks this third gentleman where a certain colleague of his might be. The gentleman declines to answer, so Sam sticks his knife into the gentleman's clavicle. The gamer is then given an onscreen prompt to twirl around his controller's joystick, which in turn twirls around Sam's knife in the gentleman's wound. The screaming gentleman gives Sam the info he needs — and, suddenly, it's "moral choice" time, for Sam has to choose whether to kill or knock out his freshly tortured victim. Let's review: a moral choice — after an interactive torture sequence.

We've arrived in a strange emotional clime when our popular entertainment frequently depicts torture as briskly effective rather than literally the worst thing one human being can do to another — yea verily, worse even than killing. Inflicting pain and suffering on a captive human being because one person feels like it and the other can't stop it … is this not what we're told awaits sinners in hell? Is this not the domain of Satan?

I left the Blacklist demo sick and infuriated, which was a shame, because the person introducing the demo was a game designer I admire and have long wanted to meet. I really wanted to ask this man how he felt, demo-ing that. Ask the programmers and artists, too, how they felt, bringing that moment into this world. I wanted to ask them all what the deal is with this industry we're a part of. I didn't. Couldn't. I know people who've been tortured. Someone I know was tortured because of something I wrote about him — a cold little bibelot I'll take with me to my grave. I described my Blacklist experience to some gamer friends, a couple of whom thought I was overreacting. Overreacting to a blithe, shrugging presentation of the very definition of human evil, all in the name of "entertainment." I spent a couple days feeling ashamed of being a gamer, of playing or liking military games, of being interested in any of this disgusting bullsh*t at all.

Some of us in this forum have talked about what a skeevy vibe we get from military shooters, but I think the general consensus has been that these games have been too goofy to really cause any harm. I think I've moved beyond that today. It's a genre that stopped innovating about five years ago, and is now just trading in shock value and base jingoism. I don't even know where to start with this stuff. Paying Oliver North to lecture me on misguided naivete? Jesus Christ, he's only the most well known American traitor of the past three decades, a man who subverted the Constitution because he thought he knew better.

I guess its hard to blame Blacklist for playing up the joys of torture. It's become a weird standard in pop culture in recent years. But there's something about using the controller to very closely simulate inflicting pain on another human being that seems to go above and beyond the Jack Bauer baseline. Hell, if you're going to put torture into a game, at least don't make it easy. Show the guy screaming for hours on end as you inflict more and more damage on his body. Make the little sh*ts work for it. I mean, this is your statement about "rough men willing to do the things no one else will," right. Hardly seems reasonable to pull that off with a few rolls of your thumb.

How about the sudden swing of the Call of Duty franchise into politics? When did that happen? CoD has generally been pretty mindful to stay away from politics. After all, much of their audience is young people, a notoriously unconservative (and particularly un-neoconservative) bunch. Even with the expansion of the gamer demographic, I can't imagine the 40+ crowd is their key demographic here. It's probably just lowest common denominator marketing, but it's still galling.

I'm just ranting here, but this got me a little hot-blooded today.

I can't say i'm particularly surprised. I don't like it, but I don't expect any better at this point, and I know that Spec Ops: The Line is the exception, not the rule.

It is curious, inadvertently or not, to see CoD stepping into the political, Tom Clancy-style now (and you cannot use the 99% language, and then have Ollie North helping publicize your game and make any claim whatsoever to not being political). They've already done "No Russian" and nerve-gassed London, I wonder what edgy, traumatizing moment they'll trot out this time around to make clear how high the stakes are.

It's a genre that stopped innovating about five years ago, and is now just trading in shock value and base jingoism.

And the new Rainbow Six game isn't even out yet!

Again, I don't like this stuff, and I hate to see games wallow in it (which is where we seem to be at), but the vast majority of AAA military games have been stuck in a particular brand of 80's-era "The Expendables"-style jingoism. The question, I guess, is whether the audience particularly cares or notices about these things. Frankly, I doubt it. I think we're at a point where even beginning to call CoD games "story-driven" is an immense stretch, if not an outright lie. The focus has been on the MP for years now.

Splinter Cell, meanwhile, has always tried to trade in a more "realistic" kind of "actions have consequences" kind of world, with varying levels of success. I mean, there's never been a reason to make a "24" game, because we already have Sam Fisher to make the "do we torture the terrorist to find the bomb (the answer is inevitably yes)" decisions. And those decisions are generally right. I don't think a game has been released that, for instance, showed you torturing someone, and that person giving you fault information in part because he genuinely doesn't know anything and he'll say anything to make you stop. You follow the faulty information, the bomb explodes, people die, and you have failed on multiple levels. I think Splinter Cell's come closest, but I don't think anyone's done that kind of angle.

Video games are always about that "ticking bomb" scenario where "wars aren't won by following rules"/"ends justify the means" et cetera. Just give us a fun ride, throw in some explosions along the way, and leave morals out of our consequence-free kill-a-coaster.

Reading those two articles reminded me of some of the early criticism of the most recent Medal of Honor game, about how removing the sh*tty, terrible, immensely frustrating civilian component pretty much sanitized the entire Afghan War.

But yeah, this is what games do, and there's a market for it. They clumsily appeal to many of our base desires. Video games certainly are art, but many of them are not good art. In these games, everyone you shoot absolutely deserves it, and there's no time to consider morals, because here comes a bunch more dudes for you to shoot. I don't think the genre, on the whole, will ever get close to even approaching nuance.

EDIT: Oh, and I don't think having Ollie North doing pub for CoD is particularly about believing a single iota of what he's saying, and more about generating shock and buzz (which the CoD series has seemed to trade heavily on in the runup to the last few games) by having Ollie North talk about your game. It's like Gary Busey hocking Saints Row 3. Rest assured, if there'd been enough publicity in it, they'd have let Orly Taitz or Fred Phelps do it.

I was about to comment on Splinter Cell, but the grey area has always been in SC from the beginning (just like joking about how old Sam is, although that's now gone weird).

In the back of my mind, I can't help thinking that it's less about being political, as it is yanking peoples' chains to get them to talk about it being political and get more publicity for the games. I don't really think the creators of the games think about a certain issue and feel it needs to be highlighted, as much as the plot or parts of a game need to factor into what they can do to make it's profile bigger. Games are too big and cost too much for them not to do this.

kazooka wrote:

Paying Oliver North to lecture me on misguided naivete? Jesus Christ, he's only the most well known American traitor of the past three decades, a man who subverted the Constitution because he thought he knew better.

Yeah, that's an odd choice for a mainstream game. Why not just include a special mission in the game in which you discover a secret cache of Saddam's nuclear weapons, guarded by a secret military force of armed greenpeace eco-terrorists and abortion doctors?

I will end up buying whatever CoD game comes out because my son is hugely into the multiplayer and Nazi zombies, but I don't even bother to play the single-player games anymore. Which is too bad, because I used to like them.

Ollie North being a paid consultant on the COD: BOPS2 project has already convinced me not to buy and not to play that game when it comes out.

I have to admit I find pretty much all modern military shooters to be really unpleasantly jingoistic &/or sociopathic. The only one of its kind I was vaguely interested in was Spec Ops: The Line - specifically because it appeared to take the oorah out of it.

Maq wrote:

I have to admit I find pretty much all modern military shooters to be really unpleasantly jingoistic &/or sociopathic.

This was what made the original Battlefield: Bad Company so different. It was the opposite of 'hoo-rah." Like being able to play a game version of Kelly's Heroes. Then DICE decided to chase the CoD model, and the second version turned into CoD-Lite.

The original Modern Warfare was pretty anti-war, in a Do Not Do This Cool Thing kind of way. I don't think the newer games are purposefully political, they're just kind of... rudderless these days. To be fair to Black Ops II, we haven't played the game yet, we really don't know how the story is going to play out.

Personally I'm hoping it's something of a Raul Menendez = Emmanuel Goldstein kind of thing. It would fit in with the crazy sh*t they had going on in the original Black Ops.

I played CODMW and left after the AC-130 sequence. Made me feel gross. There was talk at the time about how this was a comment on how detached killing can be and how, from a distance, real war looks an awful lot like entertainment. But it wasn't a comment. If it was a comment, it was completely unintelligible in the context of the game and series. It was supposed to be cool. Haven't played a modern military shooter since.

When the CODBLOPS2 thing broke a few months ago, I honestly thought it was a joke. Oliver North as your promotional voice? A war-mongering villain based on Occupy and Wikileaks? Yeah. Felt gross again. Can't dislike enough.

Looking forward to the future game featuring Donald Rumsfeld as a spokesperson, in which Amy Goodman turns out to be a islamist-atheist-gay agenda-sharia-sleeper agent who donates a nuke on a small family farm in the midwest.

It certainly seems like this is the point where COD fully morphs from low-grade conservatism that doesn't make me look up from my mashed potatoes, to full bore Thanksgiving is ruined because I'm in a fist fight with my uncle grade horsesh*t.

The one good thing, for me, about Activision gutting IW, is that I had a friend who worked there, and left, so now I don't have to be constantly posting "Dude, WHAT THE f*ck?!" on his wall (Yes, I know this is the other studio, but still).

It'll never happen, but boy would be awesome if BLOPS2's catering to the sensibilities of the 1% resulted in them only getting 1% of the sales of their previous titles.

Farscry wrote:

It'll never happen, but boy would be awesome if BLOPS2's catering to the sensibilities of the 1% resulted in them only getting 1% of the sales of their previous titles. :D

More likely 99.9% of the COD audience don't know who the hell Oliver North is and will just buy it anyway because he's just some guy on the moving picture box telling them what to buy.

I've been enjoying my annual Activision Multiplayer Shooter entries. I think this year I have to skip it though. Between their employment of North to promote it, and the political commentary which is - to put it bluntly - telling me to pay them to take a sh*t on my conscience... well, I don't feel like a respected customer and can't use my dollars to condone this behavior.

I'm not boycotting Activision or anything that extreme. I just think I have to give this particular game a pass.

Scratched wrote:
Farscry wrote:

It'll never happen, but boy would be awesome if BLOPS2's catering to the sensibilities of the 1% resulted in them only getting 1% of the sales of their previous titles. :D

More likely 99.9% of the COD audience don't know who the hell Oliver North is and will just buy it anyway because he's just some guy on the moving picture box telling them what to buy.

I know who he is and i dont give a f*ck. I'm buying and will continue to buy pretty much everything with doing as little thinking about politics as possible. With games it's whatever i think will be fun for me.

Post removed for needless passive aggression. Lame on my part.

Farscry wrote:

It'll never happen, but boy would be awesome if BLOPS2's catering to the sensibilities of the 1% resulted in them only getting 1% of the sales of their previous titles. :D

I actually discussed this with some of my cardgaming buddies a few months back when this was announced. The general consensus was that the ability to finally shoot up those whiny, lazy, parasite kids (if only in game form) was a definite selling point for them.

And then, of course, I was told to take off my tinfoil hat about my concern that we're dehumanizing people on our own soil from deeds not even remotely in "the past".

I'm not sure that you can lay blame on military shooters for making this A Thing.

Pop culture has been leading in this direction for a while. Remember Jack Bauer's tendency to torture all and sundry?

I'm not saying we shouldn't criticize CoD for following the trend, but the trend exists with or without them.

I don't think anyone is claiming MMS's are the first to do this. But that's kind of a non sequitor, no? I seem to remember 24 being both extremely popular and, for a portion of the populace, extremely gross for the same reasons. Same with that Blackwater game that came out last year, minus the extremely popular bit.

Well I agree with ranalin in that I don't think video games are at a point to effect social chance or have influence politically. That does not mean that it will never reach that point or that the right game could not be released today that has that effect.

I remember a Conference Call episode years ago where I sent in an email on a related topic. At what point do the controls have to get, such as with a wiimote, where simulating horrible acts becomes bothersome? The example I mentioned was sticking someone with a knife and then getting mega-pain bonuses for twisting it cruelly for emphasis.

Scratched wrote:
Farscry wrote:

It'll never happen, but boy would be awesome if BLOPS2's catering to the sensibilities of the 1% resulted in them only getting 1% of the sales of their previous titles. :D

More likely 99.9% of the COD audience don't know who the hell Oliver North is and will just buy it anyway because he's just some guy on the moving picture box telling them what to buy.

Anecdotally, while I have no doubt there are enough pricks like Bloo encountered (sorry, calls them as I sees them), and way more guys like ranalin who just like their CoD fun to make the latest one a success, my barometer for CoD is a friend of mine and what he tells me about his game playing crew. He reports they're all pretty lukewarm on getting another CoD this year. So, maybe this is finally the plateau year?

While i guess there is an issue of how much time do you let pass but i hate that when bad things happen it becomes a bad thing to even bring it up later or reference it in any way.

North is completely qualified to talk about all the points that he does for the game. Just because he screwed up and i dont approve of it doesnt make him less qualified to do so or make the company making the game 'bad'.

Why is Oliver North even involved in this project? I actually do find that pretty distasteful.

I think you may be missing the forest here.

The thing people are finding disconcerting isn't the fact that someone who did something wrong is allowed to talk about a subject. The issues is that a game is taking a particular political stance and using a spokesperson who shares that political stance, and that spokesperson has a problematic history to boot. People find those stance disagreeable. There is context to this. This game exists in a larger world, and is saying something to/about that world. Activision has every right to make it, and many of us have every right to think it's gross.

Gamers talk all the time about how no one respects the medium. It has meaning! Weight! Something to say! But when someone criticizes or takes issue with what a game, gamers are quick to fall back to "it's just mindless fun! c'mon! it's just a video game!"

Broadbrushing, here. Obviously.

Where is this game taking a political stance? Yes it's using a political figure, but i dont see a political stance being reflected in the game that they're promoting.

But who'll buy the game? The 99%.

ranalin wrote:

Where is this game taking a political stance? Yes it's using a political figure, but i dont see a political stance being reflected in the game that they're promoting.

In fairness, the whole "America, f*ck yah!" espoused in COD games really is kind of a political stance:) Oliver North is a pretty polarizing figure as well.

There is a good point here that I'll readily concede to missing - the game could include any number of twists and turns and ideas we don't know anything about yet. It's lazy of me to criticize it without having full knowledge of what it is. So that's something. But that's not the point anyone is arguing at the moment, so I'll leave that to one side.

Oliver North is a big national defense neoconservative. He has made his living in the past few decades as such since he committed war-related crimes back in the 80s. Yes, that was a while ago, but recent history should prove that many of the things done back then still echo today. The game takes it's inspiration for its villains from Occupy and Wikileaks, two movements that are widely of the left and which are critical of US military policy. As its protagonist, it has a souped-up future soldier. If you can't find a political stance here, I'm not sure what to tell you. Maybe the game turns this all on it's head. Could happen.

SallyNasty wrote:
ranalin wrote:

Where is this game taking a political stance? Yes it's using a political figure, but i dont see a political stance being reflected in the game that they're promoting.

In fairness, the whole "America, f*ck yah!" espoused in COD games really is kind of a political stance:) Oliver North is a pretty polarizing figure as well.

Yup, and that was boorish enough to make me lukewarm at times. Bloo's anecdote about "shooting those 99% layabouts" is an example of what makes this one particularly distasteful to me. If other want to buy and play it, seriously, go for it. I'm not going to rip on them. It just makes me uncomfortable personally in that I don't want to contribute to the game's sales even if the multiplayer has nothing to do with the objectionable aspects (and I doubt it will).

BLOPS1 gave a vague promise to turn all things on their head... and didn't. Soviets (Cubans, Vietnamese, ..) were solidly the bad guys, hellbent on unleashing that diabolical doomsday plan or other on the freedom-loving America. It's kind of highly symbolical that by the end of the story, the ONLY "good" Russian in it turned out not to exist at all.

Is promotional material for a game really political?

I don't see that Treyarch/Activision are really seeking anything besides more sales. Is every game that 'glorifies violence' making a political point? What story isn't political in some respect?

I know this is the internet, but I'm just wondering if people look too hard at some things, and when you look at something too hard for too long you see all kinds of things that may or may not be there.

Scratched wrote:

Is promotional material for a game really political?

If it's taking a very politically charged topic and presenting a one-sided approach to it... well, how isn't it political? Just because it's meant to be "edgy" to generate interest doesn't neutralize the political slant. Hell, Wall*E was political, but it was also a funny movie trying to make money by generating ticket/dvd sales. BLOPS2 is far more blatantly political than Wall*E was, and there was a surprising amount of right-wing huffery over that movie.

[edit]Alternatively:

Scratched wrote:

Is promotional material for a game really political?

That depends upon what your definition of "is" is.

I couldn't resist.