Have you ever played an emotionally wrenching wargame? When was the last time a first person shooter made you cry? Ever spent weeks torn up over the pain and suffering endured by your troops in an RTS? Why not?
That question might sound strange, but stick with me a second… You see, over the years I’ve been addicted to all sorts of shooting games, exploding games, running-people-over-with-tanks games. Mostly because the good ones are hella fun, especially with friends. But part of me always felt a little weird about it. In January’s Edge, Lorne Lanning put it this way:
That’s when a medium really has power — the idea of the artist, mythologically, is to show us the way, or the wrong way, even. It’s showing the world something it needs to know, but for some reason isn’t necessarily able to see. You see it in a great movie, book, or play, but it’s not happening in games. What I see instead is we say: ‘Hmm, why don’t we take war, and make it as visually realistic as possible, then sterilize so that it’s just fun’, and there’s something very perverted about that.
And particularly perverted considering that my country is at war as we speak. How is it that so many games fetishize guns and ammo but don’t quite manage to attach the same import to people?
I’m certainly not looking to start up the whole murder simulator debate again (heck, I liked Manhunt). But I am hopeful that more will consider the fact that we are making fabulously fun games from experiences that are anything but. It’s not so much that I fear the folks are being desensitized to violence or that games like Battlefield or Quake 3 or Defcon shouldn’t exist. (I love that stuff!)
My point is more that game developers are missing a fantastic opportunity to help players better understand what troops really go through on deployment. That might not be as much fun but, then, neither is war. And as powerful a medium as gaming is, it seems a shame not to explore all its dimensions.
Update: Edge just put the full text of Lorne’s interview online. Worth a read — the guy makes points.