Of all the different discussions born out of Spec Ops’ release and critical success, the most interesting was the notion the game isn’t a commentary on war, so much as it is a comment on war games and the people who play them.
That discussion has already been explored by smarter people in more detail, and I’d do it a disservice by attempting to do so here. But since its release I have been wondering, where do we go from here?
Last week’s Gamespot AU podcast featured an interesting discussion on annual franchises, and specifically Call of Duty. How are annual franchises hurting the industry, should companies be abandoning them in pursuit of more creative fare, etc.
I wrote in July for Games.On.Net a piece that bridged these two topics. Essentially, my point is that Spec Ops has raised the bar and any other game attempting to explore or depict “the horrors” of war shouldn’t really do so unless they can at least attempt to offer a decent commentary.
But lately I’ve been thinking this should go even further and that by purchasing these games, specifically the next Call of Duty, we’re not only doing the industry a disservice but actively damaging it.
There’s a lot to be said about the current state of the games industry insomuch its variety, or lack thereof. Games like COD offer a spectacular thrill ride, and it’s easy enough to point out that yes, the industry has reached a point where it’s able to deliver these types of high-quality experiences time and time again. That’s something to be proud of.
But like an actor who gets pigeon-holed into the same roles again and again, too much of one thing is very bad and leaves an extremely sour taste not only on the audience, but the makers of this entertainment. Given the release of such a cogent piece of commentary in Spec Ops, we are shown what is possible and what exactly games can explore.
How then can we justify buying a game like Call of Duty and then suggest these two games should exist in the same space?
I should concede my frustration isn’t really very fair because I’m disappointed by a marketing push I saw last week.
When it was announced Black Ops II would focus on drone warfare, part of me thought there could actually be an interesting discussion about the philosophy of using drones and the ethical quandaries therein. It’s such a topical space that a thoughtful approach would be welcome, especially in videogames, and I remained optimistic.
But of course, I wasn’t surprised this week to find that when consumers purchase the game, they can receive a remote-control drone as part of a pre-order package.
So on the one hand, we have a flawed but ambitious game that explores the moral quandaries of wanting to kill people on screen in a new and interesting way, and on the other…a remote control drone. A model of the same type used in the game to kill your enemies. Marketed at a time when Barack Obama is criticised for his use of drones in the Middle-East.
Given Spec Ops exists, and has arguably set a benchmark for commentary, why should we tolerate Black Ops’ existence? How is purchasing it under the guise of “stupid fun” anything other than a vote for the dumbest entertainment possible?
My argument would be less passionate if there was already a variety of different games commenting in many different forms. But there isn’t any. To be sure, the best games this year have come out of the downloadable space and it’s a joy such treasures like Journey and Fez have been able to find success. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking there is a library of entertainment out there for us to find. The box we live in is still very small and there is only a small amount of room on the shelves.
What the industry hears is that people want stupid entertainment. Reports suggest Spec Ops has sold less than a quarter of a million copies. The market has spoken, it could be argued. Sure. But people always like what they know. They have to be convinced to try what they don’t – and Spec Ops is arguably the more necessary purchase amid a desert of the same.
Call of Duty has had its time. It’s had success. And it won’t stop being made. But surely we can take some small part in this, say “no more”, and stop buying these types of games.
Surely, given what Spec Ops has achieved, we really don’t have any excuse.
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