Games have several important effects. One is that they train us to accept the premise of the game.
If I don’t accept that a knight moves two spaces forwards and one sideways, I simply can’t play chess. If I don’t accept that mass murder is necessary, I simply can’t play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Reflecting on this latter experience, one commentator wrote:
I thought, You don’t have to do this. You can stop. You can refuse. You can walk away. I didn’t.
Trying to avoid the endless killing doesn’t work, any more than changing the knight’s move would in chess. And mostly, we just go along with the premise imposed on us by the structure of the game. In games we learn very quickly which rules we shouldn’t bother challenging. In real life, we have far more freedom of action, but we rely on social constructions of the rules of life to tell us which obstacles we shouldn’t even bother trying to overcome. We are like cattle that never even touch the electric fence. Even as we proclaim our freedom, we corral ourselves.
It’s hard to break out of that paddock. But what we can’t yet achieve politically we can sometimes achieve artistically. As soon as I heard about the extraordinary sales figures of the latest Call of Duty game sequel, I thought this is a very suitable subject for artist/provocateur Joseph DeLappe (of ‘Dead in Iraq’, 2006 and the Second Life Salt Satyagraha, 2008). It turns out he’s already been there, with a machinima collaboration named 6 Days in Call of Duty 4, an ironic take on the ill-fated game Six Days in Fallujah. It seems what made Six Days in Fallujah unsellable was that it was regarded as too realistic. DeLappe and his collaborator Joshua Diltz have taken this idea and used it to test the limits of what is possible in an ‘acceptable’ shoot-em-up game.
Here’s the download page.
Update: The Onion has a satirical take on a ‘realistic’ wargame, Call of Duty 3, in which players can opt to complain about cell phone reception and be redeployed to Germany to repair humvees for 10 hours a day.