Editorial: Not so new era for video games

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

The demo for the video game starts on an unusual note — a man with his face covered walks into a desert encampment, holding the body of a wounded combatant. He shouts for help and three Middle Eastern men rush to his aid, their voices laced with concern for their injured comrade. As they lead the man with the covered face into a tent, they lay the injured warrior on a table, examining his wounds while desperately discussing their next steps.

This introduction is almost completely unprecedented for a piece of western media. Not only are Middle Eastern men portrayed as something other than slavering warmongers, they are actually shown as sympathetic characters. Their friend is injured and they rush to his aid — just like anyone would. This does not last long.

Almost immediately, the man with the covered face pulls out a gun and shoots two of the Middle Eastern men in the head. This is shown in slow motion with bullets passing through their skulls — to give a sense of the brutality. He then rips off his mask to reveal a grizzled American face, and proceeds to beat the remaining man to death with his bare hands.

This scene, from Ubisoft Toronto’s upcoming Splinter Cell: Blacklist, scheduled to be released in spring 2013, is standard fare for western video games. The rest of the game’s demo plays out in a similar fashion, ending in the bloody execution of a terrorist leader. The game’s hero Sam Fisher wars against a ‘villainous’ organization attempting to convince western countries to pull their troops out of Iraq, a goal that apparently warrants ruthless war crimes in retaliation.

While the actual game will most likely add more meaning to the conflict, it is disturbing that a five-minute long video of slaughtering Middle Eastern freedom fighters is being used to promote this title. However, it is not surprising.

After the popularity of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare exploded, terrorists replaced Nazis as the go-to faceless villain for first-person shooters. Almost every game about warfare pits American or British heroes against waves of dehumanized combatants who are ruthlessly gunned down using far superior military technology. They are treated much in the same way as Russians were treated in Cold War era films — as an enemy that deserves nothing but death.

These video games are a part of the overwhelming amount of propagandistic media centered on the ongoing turbulence in the Middle East. They contribute to a growing animosity towards anyone with brown skin, and actively demonize that which is different.

This problem is not restricted to merely video games, either. Popular movies, television and books all do their part in fueling this hate-filled zeitgeist. Yet video games lack something other media have — titles that actively go against the status quo.

Many games take subtle approaches to critiquing America’s occupation of Iraq, with Skyrim’s Imperials being a notable example. The medium needs its Four Lions — a game that isn’t afraid question the propagation of racist ideals.

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