In the early days of computer games, one of my favorites was called Operation Vietnam, where you handled strategic level battles that took place during the
Vietnam War. I found it fun. It consisted of me choosing which type of military support to throw at the campaign, including airstrikes, and then you watched it all take place. To a civilian, it was the idea of being some kind of general back at headquarters, making those kinds of decisions. If you were in the military, it offered a different lesson, and it wasn’t the same one civilians were getting.
For me, it reminded me that no matter how you tried to plan the right offensive, someone on the ground was going to completely mess things up. Seriously.
Why do I think that? Well, because the game was coded horribly so that no matter what type of orders you gave, it wasn’t going to do exactly what you wanted. I hadn’t seen this type of bad execution until years later when I played a game called Patton vs. Rommel, where I experienced what it felt to order flanking movements on the enemy, only to be yelled at by General Patton for not ordering flanking movements on the enemy. THAT was exactly what being in the Army reminded me of, sadly enough.
So, years later, I find myself still playing computer games and loving every moment. But around the year 2000 something happened that worried me, and I think I was the only one concerned.
A series of games were released which utilized a technology called Full Motion Video. It was the idea of incorporating video into games so that you would actually be seeing real people doing real things. When I saw this, I immediately began to cringe, and for reasons different than everyone else. For others, it was a really bad game with horrible video involving Rob Schneider. For me, it was the realization that the separation between games and reality was dissolving.
Fortunately, FMV didn’t survive the attempt. Games went back to the drawing board, and we thought nothing of it.
And now we’re in the 2019 era of gaming, which is bringing in a whole new line of games with video that is beginning to scare me again. Games such as Death Stranding and whatever Call of Duty-like franchise sequel is coming out definitely scare me because they’re doing something games have always been one step away from doing: Feeling real.
Years ago, after I got out of the Army, I worked for Maxis, where we made games like Sim City, Motoracer and The Sims. What I liked about this company was they made computer games that weren’t really violent. Okay, you can argue that Sim Helicopter had a bit of built-in violence, but those sorts of things are just going to happen. But it was nice to work for a computer gaming company that’s focus was on entertainment, not violent entertainment.
But games these days are becoming more and more realistic. I started seeing this when I was playing World of Warcraft, and the cut-scenes were becoming extremely realistic. Fans were overjoyed at seeing that, but it was leaving me a bit concerned, convinced it was only a matter of time before we started to see realistic blood and violence.
We’re kind of there now. Someone was asking me the other day if I was going to buy the latest version of a military shooter (might have been The District), and I said no, which surprised her because she knew I was former military. I keep telling people that I left that world behind me and wasn’t really trying to see it recreated in another medium.
Which leaves me wondering how this might play out when young people are really thrust into the narratives that Hollywood loves to wrap around these types of instances. Does it desensitize us to future violence so that we start to see horrific incidents as normal, or will the younger people of today be able to discern the nuances that separate narrative from reality?
I’m not the right one to answer that question. But I suspect there aren’t enough people looking at it, and the only ones that are happen to believe the question is “how much can we do?” rather than “how should we do it?”