Thursday, November 12, 2009

Call of Duty and the Fate of the Art

So, everybody's talking about Call of Duty now. I knew it would be like this, I just didn't realize it would be...well, like this.

I should start by saying that I haven't played the game, not a big COD fan, honestly not a big military strategy fan. So, I was first alerted to the "disturbing nature" of some of the game's content through a BBC article early on the day of release. Maybe I'm a strange sort of news listener, but what caught my attention wasn't the brief review, it wasn't the overwhelming controversy of content, it wasn't even the sound clip of people being gunned down by terrorists in the game. What caught my attention was the guest they brought in to talk about it. They were presenting a "downside" article so they needed someone to defend the game right? Who would they get? Designer? Director? Head of the Studio? Any member of Infinity Ward would certainly be acceptable. Even and EA rep would be expected?

They went with politician. Not just any politician, an MP. That would be like pulling Jim Jones, representative from Ohio to talk about the game. To me, this is clearly unacceptable.

Say Oliver Stone's new movie is coming out, say it's "Natural Born Killers" in which you are put in the shoes of two serial killers slaughtering their way across the country. Say there's a controversy and someone is taking shots at his movie. Would it be alright to have Rep. David Price (R-North Carolina), go on tv or the radio to defend the movie? I for one, would expect a reputed news program to bring on Oliver Stone, or perhaps the script writer Quentin Tarantino, or perhaps Actor Woody Harrelson to discuss why he took the part. This is the way you treat an art form.

Yet, during this interview, I heard them repeatedly make reference to the fact that video games "weren't just for kids" and "ought to be judged on the same level as film". If that's true, why does the video game community not get a voice in this discussion? Fringe cultures remain fringe as long as they have to continue telling everyone that they're not a fringe culture. See, it doesn't matter how many times newscasters, politicians, or bloggers say that video games are an art form. Until the creators have a voice in the argument about their creation, the conversation is a joke. Just from the tone of the conversation, it was clear that neither the newscaster nor the MP had played the game. I doubt the play video games at all. Who would accept a review by a reviewer who had not read the book or seen the movie they were reviewing?

Of course, next week the articles will be on Assassin's Creed 2. No one will mention the crazy amount of research, detail, and narrative prowess that the Ubisoft gang put into their art. These "newscasters" who report on the next big threat to our children will not have played the game, they will not have done their research, and they will not take the time to profile the creators. Of course, someday, someone will make a movie of the game and it can be openly dismissed as a movie based on a video game. The only solace I take in this is that, being an English major, I know that once upon a time the novel was in this same boat. This art form though, has gone from incomprehensible ping pong games to complex multi-character narrative sandbox games in thirty years. Give it another twenty, people will be making lists of the "Great American Video Games". Who will be our Hemingway, our Fitzgerald, our Harper Lee?

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