Realism and gaming – where should we draw the virtual line?

I was horrified to learn that the latest installation in a slew of violent video games was yet another bloody, war-themed ‘first person shooter’.  The nature of the game was not the problem, as objectionable as I find violent ‘games’ (or violent anything for that matter) – they’ve been around long before advances in graphics made them so believably gory.  Indulgent violence is something we’ve had to become used to unfortunately.  But how should we feel about this when the premise of the game is not a made-up or historical backdrop, but modern day Somali piracy in Mogadishu?

For real?

Medal of Honor: Warfighter is the fourteenth installation in the Medal of Honor series, following twelve games based on World War II, with the last game also based on modern warfare.  Perhaps previous Medal of Honor games as well as other war-based games such as Battlefield, Call of Duty, Homefront and Future Soldier should have been just as offensive to me, but this one takes the cake.  It’s amazing how unaffected we can be until something gets too close to home.  I imagine other games featuring fight ‘scenes’ in places like Afghanistan were also thought to be in bad taste by those a lot closer to the real life action, while miles away a game meant for entertainment purposes only shows no sensitivity towards a current combat situation that is as sad as it is controversial.  For me, with Somali pirates said to now be hovering around the nearby Mozambican coast, Warfighter has taken it a little bit too far.  Huffington Post asked Jay Bahadur, an expert on piracy in the region, whether he was comfortable with this and thought it was a good idea to portray this in a video game.  Bahadur was quick to mention that there had been more than a few protrayls of these pirates in the media and the game is by far not the most offensive.  He said of a Somali-themed episode of South Park – “…that certainly had more violence than a video game, that episode. I’ve heard that there have been portrayals of Somali pirates on Korean sitcoms! So there have been some…”

Medal of Honour scene

On the other hand, Tom McShea, Editor of Gamespot, feels the game is insincere in it’s portrayal of war although the developers stressed the ‘respect they have for real-life soldiers.’ The ‘regenerating’ lives and flippancy with which death is handled is anything but ‘respectful’ considering the game is based on real people, real places and ‘real’ current combat situations.  It may not be the most violent or the most offensive but as it is being played while the gunfire and kidnappings it draws inspiration from are played out in reality, doesn’t sit well.  It certainly hasn’t been met with the level of revulsion that over-the-top violent games like Grand Theft Auto have been, but hopefully some of the negative comments the developers have received will encourage them to take a step back from this kind of hyper-realism in gaming and keep the reality in the game play and graphics.  The question is, how much of a market is there for authentic situations in game play, does it really matter?  If there was a game where one could choose to be a soldier from their own national army and fight in real wars, past or present, would this be the most appealing to you or the least?  Would the Koreans take this so lightly if it were based on them?

McShea added about the game and the genre in general – “Military games have turned war into a silly good time, and yet they hide behind their realistic claims as if they’re doing justice to the armed forces. In reality, they’re exploiting the people who give their lives for a cause they believe in. By focusing on instant satisfaction and extreme accessibility, they turn real battles into a virtual fantasyland where no harm is lasting and no danger exists”.




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