Great comment (Gaming)

by CruelLEGACEY @, Toronto, Monday, February 15, 2021, 16:36 (9 days ago) @ Cody Miller
edited by CruelLEGACEY, Monday, February 15, 2021, 16:44

I’m a little concerned about it, to be honest. I seem to recall the original iteration of the game wanting to address the atrocities during that battle in some way or another, but the trailer for this new version reads like the typical imperialist war propaganda found in a lot of media, especially video games. That snippet of the interview with the veteran saying something along the lines of “You don’t understand because you weren’t there” reeks of trying to justify the awful things that took place.

I think it was Pauline Kael who said it was impossible to make an anti war movie. If that’s true, boy is it ever impossible to make an anti war game. Even if we accept that statement as true (and it probably is), that doesn’t mean it’s inherently propaganda or justification for atrocities. There are loads of excellent war films that serve a great cultural value. You never know until you see the final product.

The irony of “You can’t understand it if you weren’t there” is that if that’s true, then telling the story will lead to no further understanding now will it? But if you CAN, then the question should be why this person’s story?

As a culture, we have a strange relationship to veterans, especially depending on the time. We honored those in WW2. We chastised those in Vietnam. How do we feel about them now? How much media portrays them as fucked up? How much as heroes? How much as criminals?

Do you think perhaps their desire to tell their own story is a means to give themselves an identity distinct from what the media would say? What identity is that, and why that identity? What does it mean when someone really needs to tell you who they are? What does it mean that we can’t just tell by looking?

What does it mean when anyone wants to make a war movie or war game? What do they want you to think? Why?

Regardless of how it turns out, as a cultural artifact I think this will be quite interesting.

I’ve never fought in a war. I’ve never been anywhere close to combat. I’ve never fired a weapon, or even been in a serious fist fight. So far, my life has been pretty darn sheltered from violence (for which I am infinitely grateful). I have studied a fair bit of history though, including some deep-ish dives into ancient and modern combat. And the more I learn, the more convinced I am that I cannot possibly fathom what it is like to actually experience fighting in battle. Forget not knowing how I’d feel, I don’t even know who I would be, because every point of reference I have with which to judge myself is so far away from anything like combat.

So when topics like this come up, it makes me think about how long we’ve been telling war stories as a species (roughly forever), and yet how much the audience watching/reading/listening to these stories has changed or split in recent years. Anyone making a war movie or video game today is doing so for an audience, most of whom will not have first-hand experience similar to the subject matter being depicted. But some will have similar first-hand experiences, and the gap between those 2 segments of the audience is so massive that the idea of crafting a story for both groups might seem impossible from a certain angle. And yet, when I move away from fiction and go to first-hand accounts and memoirs written by WWI veterans, many of their stories ring out to me as instantly relatable. I have never felt anything like living in a trench in Verdun for 2 months while being shelled constantly, but there are accounts of human suffering, heroism, tragedy, and nobility that ring out of these places in a way that hits me right in the gut, and gives me a glimmer of insight into what those people went through. In a way, it’s no surprise that these “human” elements tend to be the focus of many war stories, because it’s one of the few elements that everyone can relate to in some way. And that’s where things get tricky, because the line between “telling a moving, captivating story” and “glorifying war” is blurrier and more subjective than we’d probably like it to be. We might look back at a war from 50 or 100 or 1000 years ago and decide, with our detached view and modern sensibilities, that the war in question was utterly unjustifiable. But to tell a story about war and not include elements of heroism, honour, and self sacrifice (along with all the horror and chaos) strikes me as inaccurate and propagandistic just as much as a typical pro-war recruitment piece. From my “outsiders” perspective, it looks to me like war is often a push and pull between different forces at different scales. You might have troops involved in a small skirmish who do something heroic and admirable, but then you zoom out and see they are part of a larger force that is tasked with a horrific goal, and then you zoom out even further and see that the horrific goal you were just looking at was being done to prevent something even worse that the opposing side was trying to achieve. So telling a story that tells the WHOLE story is a monumental task, if not impossible. It also raises certain questions; does telling the story of that small heroic squad “glorify” the larger war they were a part of? Or does it highlight the fact that human beings can and do find ways to hold on to our better selves even when we’re surrounded by evil?

Video games are, IMO, even trickier than traditional storytelling mediums with regards to this issue. It’s really tough to get away from the fact that on a certain level, video games are expected to be entertaining and fun in a way that books or even movies aren’t. Even the most grim and emotionally bleak games I’ve ever played (ie The Last of Us) are thrilling and fun on a certain level. One of the reasons I think TLoU is an absolute masterpiece is that it seems fully aware of this dissonance, and even uses it to reinforce the story. When certain details of Joel’s Past are revealed early on, it was easy for me to look judgementally down on him. But as the game progressed, I began to catch myself enjoying the act of taking out each and every Hunter in my way, to the point where I was going out of my way to find every single one of them, even when sneaking past them was an option. The game did such a good job of making me hate those bastards that I was ready and willing to dehumanize them. A casual glance at the game might accuse it of glorifying the violence, but I’m inclined to think such a judgement is missing the point. The game was revealing things about me, as a human being.

Now the big-fat-elephant response to what I just said is that playing a video game where you control a character who kills people is absolutely nothing like actually killing people. Well DUH (lol). I don’t think that’s really the point, though. I think the fact that a game like TLoU was able to make me aware of how easily my emotions and my “morals” can be brought to clash and even contradict each other is valuable enough. That insight alone is an important one to have and to hold on to, particularly for people like me looking back on past wars or even examining current ones, from a safe distance on the outside. And to your point about this particular game being an interesting cultural artifact, I fully agree. I think that aspect alone is an endlessly fascinating subject. I think we can learn a lot about our own current culture by examining the ways we examine the past. The simple fact that we largely view war as something to be avoided at all costs sets us apart from many peoples throughout history. We might look at tales from Ancient Greece or medieval Europe or even the early 20th century and judge them as pro-war propaganda, but for many people in those times and places, war was seen as an inevitability. The idea of avoiding war was often laughable. So it’s no surprise that unquestioning solidarity and the will to vanquish all enemies might be seen as desirable moral qualities in such times and places. Our modern reactions to such ideas are a good reminder of how different our world is.

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