Recently, the newest Call of Duty game has been receiving significant online criticism for its apparently crass and ridiculous story; this, per se, is not interesting to me. The games have historically, since no longer being set during WW2, had exploitative and poorly-written stories which began as functional, genre-typical backdrops to a first-person shooter game but over time became even lower-quality and overreliant on shock value to try and recapture the success of Modern Warfare‘s nuclear bomb mission and execution sequence. Those were very good pieces of action storytelling for a computer game; the former was unexpected and brief enough to retain its impact, and the latter was a strong homage to things such as Half-Life‘s introductory sequence. The criticism of Advanced Warfare, though, is interesting because it shows, to me, that there are two very distinct approaches to criticising storytelling in video games. Having not played the game I can only discuss the critical debate around it, but that is the interesting part.
Recently there has been much less furious media outcry about the content and possible harmful effects of computer games and violent media; this in itself is probably a good thing. Kneejerk Mary Whitehouse-esque decency witch-hunts muddy real debates about what sexual and violent content is appropriate in popular media, and lead to reductive situations where real discussion is avoided simply because the prevailing attitude is a simplistic censorship is bad. Closing down debate in this way prevents any possibility for improvement of the status quo.
I mentioned in the first Thinking Points article that video games are being held to be inadequate in their handling of “serious” issues by the media at large. These criticisms, though, do not appear to have stopped. Makers of games are weighing in now, and the negative media attention simply cannot be escaped – it is from broadsheet newspapers, and critics of other media. The latest complaint is that the trend for lavishly-depicted acts of violence as shown in many titles at this year’s trade fair E3 “fetishise” violence; turning it into something the viewer should take pleasure in.
Note: These articles will be shorter than most and more focused on opening up a debate.
I don’t want to weigh in directly on the current debate about sexism and “ultraviolence” in gaming; for one, there are two quite different (albeit linked) issues here being rolled together in the eyes of some. Firstly the juvenile, reductive and quite frankly low-quality writing in games that lets creating protagonists who instead of being central agents of plot are needing “protection” be something accepted unthinkingly. Secondly the bigoted and immature screaming of online subcommunities which, at the core of it, is no different to football hooliganism or any other kind of nastiness within those who identify themselves by a pastime.