Wednesday, November 23, 2011

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Hey Activision -- Want Call of Duty Treated Seriously? Then Seriously Incorporate Civilians into Call of Duty

Call of Duty versus Hurt Locker

Activision’s CEO Eric Hirshberg thinks his Call of Duty videogame franchise deserves the same respect accorded to acclaimed Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker, complaining to Kotaku, "There's a sense that games are more exploitive in a way that The Hurt Locker—which also was designed as form of entertainment—isn't."

To which I tell Eric Hirshberg, there's a very good reason for that sense: While a movie like Hurt Locker delves deeply into the pain that war visits upon innocent civilians, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games are blissfully flee of civilians. (Yes, I'm familiar with the infamous terrorist scene in Modern Warfare 2, but that's an exception that proves the rule.) Overwhelmingly, Modern Warfare battles are conducted on streets without civilians, in buildings without civilians, and generally speaking, places that would in reality be rife with civilians. The games' overall lack of civilians is an insult to the very title of the franchise, "Modern Warfare", because actual modern warfare is very much about avoiding civilian causalities, and the horrible consequences when they are still inevitably killed. And while Call of Duty purports to lionize elite soldiers, the game's lack of civilians is actually disrespectful to their service, turning it into a a carnival fun house free from the stress they actually endure avoiding the loss of innocent lives, and the guilt they suffer for years, when those innocents die anyway.

I share Hirshberg's desire to see next generation immersive 3D games treated like works of popular art. But if he really wants that, he should tell his developers to treat their subject with the seriousness and realism it deserves. Because right now, there are actual soldiers suffering from PTSD over the deaths of civilians. And while their experiences are being ignored in games like his, they're being treated in 3D platforms like Second Life.


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Pussycat Catnap

Your criticism is very valid.

Game developers will now soundly ignore it, and point to that terrorism scene you mentioned and say "see, we have all that trauma / civilians, what are you complaining about?"

- That from experience. Its how they've handled race and gender issues in games for decades. Its how they handle this as well. Though movies have matured in this area (where they have not in other areas), so maybe eventually your call will get some attention in games.

Just not all that soon.

Dizzy Banjo

yeh its fair enough. When war games can stand up next to Full Metal Jacket / Saving Private Ryan / Deer Hunter / Born on 4th July.. then I'll begin to take them as serious comments on war. I think there are many games which can be considered a piece of Art. Personally for me they are actually things like Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, as they are practically flawless executions of game design ( imho ). I think other games like Flower and Osmos also exhibit art like qualities as experiences too, because they try to engage the user in unusual more contemplative states.

Arcadia Codesmith

If a game ever captured even a fraction of the true essence of war, nobody sane would ever play it.

foneco zuzu

So true Arcadia

Rin Tae

I guess however that the target audience of people who would like to play a game that offers a insight into the deeper psychology of the participants in such a conflict .. be faced with life and death decission .. try to get their character through a difficult development .. play a role and immerse into it is very much different from the target audience of those such games are currently aimed at.

Net Citizen

The inclusion of civilians in a war game is a double-edged sword.

While it may offer a degree of realism befitting that of real conflicts today, it also has some drawbacks:

1). Render cost.

Massive crowds in particular requires considerable amounts of computing power and graphics memory - more than what most people running on an integrated graphics chip have available.

The civilian "feature" could be reduced in number or turned off altogether but then that would defeat the purpose and intent of including them in the first place; not to mention that gameplay as a whole would change.

2) Poor AI.

No AI is perfect and that problem will only be compounded with non-combatants. This won't be a major issue if the level is heavily scripted so that civilians do certain things at particular intervals or triggers in the game.

However, in the setting the author describes, the situation is fluid and dynamic where anything can happen anywhere at anytime; that will be problematic.

The end result will be player frustration as civilians seemingly run into their crosshairs during a firefight even when logic dictates they should have long since made themselves scare. Games are intended to be fun, first and foremost.

3)Unintended consequences.

War games that cater to the mass market will undoubtedly find a significant portion of its player base belonging to the very young demographic.

It doesn't require an abundance of intellect to realize that where innocent virtual bystanders are concerned, children have little in the way of consideration. Who remembers the soccer-mom ragefest at the endless examples of kids who beat up hookers and murdered cops in Grand Theft Auto 2?

Players can and will satisfy their morbid curiosities by deliberately maiming civilians and then posting their exploits on YouTube.

4) Emotional detachment.

Sure, Call of Duty does penalize the player by forcing them to restart from the last checkpoint if friendly fire occurs, but that is mere inconvenience; seen in the same light as virtual civilians in general.

Non-combatants are featured in other war-gaming genres such as real time strategy and I cared not one iota about the fact that my Crusader tank ran over civilians in droves in Command and Conquer Generals. They were simply in the way.

You could add as many penalties where civilians would be viewed as mere inconveniences or rewards in which case civilians would simply be abstracted as a means to an end. Either way you slice it, few would actually care or appreciate the role of civilians inside a game premised on all out war.

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