Beyond Dew and Doritos: Modern Propaganda 3: Advanced Imperialism

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Written by Jack O’Leary

I remember Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 being released. How could I forget, I was 14 and studying at an all-boys school where the only thing more impressive than violence was playing Xbox and bragging about your sexual encounters. Every single day, and I mean every single day, people in school talked about killstreaks and No Russian without any shake up of conversation. Looking back on it, I knew some very dull people, but at the same time I was enthralled by the stories they told, and I remember with clear distinction the hype that surrounded No Russian. Upon acquiring a copy of the game I rushed through the campaign mode, eager to find out the conclusion of the story that Infinity Ward attempted to tell.

And make no mistake, Infinity Ward did attempt to tell an amazing story that could perhaps be a critique of American foreign policy; the title of the article comes from a particular mission, No Russian, in which the player commits an act of mass terrorism on the unsuspecting civilians in an airport. The player is in fact a mole planted by the CIA in order to get close to international terrorist Makarov, and could have been a lot greater than it was. Unfortunately, give teenage boys a gun and something that can’t fight back, and you end up with an audience that will savour the mission, hail it as the best part of the game, and, with the set up of the mission and its characters, believe that what they are doing is justified so that they can kill a terrorist. Unfortunately, if this mission was indeed meant to be a critique of American foreign policy and how their shadowy acts come back to bite them in the ass, then they have actually perfectly replicated American foreign policy and justified it to a wide audience.

This is not the only example of Infinity Ward’s failures with the storytelling, not through any means of their own, but through the limiting medium of a first-person shooter, and it is a medium that has failed to tell a story no matter the subject matter. Similar narrative failings in the genre include Spec Ops: The Line, a spectacular game assessing the impact of mental health on soldiers that was unfortunately too focused on explosive set-pieces and combat than the narrative should have been, and perhaps suggesting that for an art form that seems open ended and player influenced, there is really only one way to go about things in a videogame. In the aforementioned “No Russian” the player is not instructed to shoot any civilians, but is not penalised for doing so; this choice thus limits the player and confines them to a solitary course of action.

And then of course we have the completion of the imperialistic agenda merged with the capitalist agenda; the brand synergy of Mt Dew, Doritos and Call of Duty is so perfectly ridiculous that it’s both frightening and hilarious to know that somewhere some 13 year old is chugging Dew, getting his Dorito dust covered mitts all over an Xbox controller, and hurling obscenities down a microphone to other 13 year olds who are chugging Dew and eating Doritos. It is, however, more frightening than hilarious to know that children are pushing forth into this sociopathic domain upon which any confrontation can be solved with violence and that buying enough sponsored product can make you inherently better than your companions. Online multiplayer, a game mode with literally no narrative, can still influence people to push an imperialist agenda. Upon joining my first game lobby on Modern Warfare 2 I was immediately assailed with racial slurs because I was on the team that was meant to be planting bombs; phrases like “towelhead” and “sand n*****r”, and sentences about how it was great to shoot me because I was threatening civilised society really taught me a lot about the types of people who played these kinds of games, and from then on I muted everyone in a lobby unless I was with friends.

So what have we discerned from this short section of stories? That video games, especially FPS’s, cannot be seen as a unique form of art if they remove room for alternate interpretations; nobody plays Call of Duty for the story, because even if the story is perfect in practice, the execution will be the same. You are inevitably going to be a literal god of war, gunning down faceless enemies with little thought about the actions your character is performing, with little pause to go and explore beyond the need for bragging points by finding “intel” that isn’t interactable with in any form. You become, in practice, a drone, not questioning what you are told, with little to no alternative routes available; you become a piece of living propaganda, convinced by the game that what you are doing is right because of course you’re playing as the hero, it’s a video game; and whilst all of these examples above are purely based in the realm of fiction (as no terror attack has taken place in Russia at the time of writing, at least) there is one horrid spectacle I have yet to write about.

America’s Army, the literal propaganda tool developed by the US Army to aid with recruitment and reduce the amount of recruits washing out after 9 weeks has won 36 awards, 4 times as many as Modern Warfare 2 won. If there is there could be literally anything less terrifying about this situation, it seems to have educational value too: in an article from Christian Science Monitor (yes, I know) they interview an 18 year old on the game, and this is his response: “It “provides great information,” the teenager says. “This would probably spark an interest. I don’t know how I would have found out so much some other way.”” [1]

Will anything about the current game market change? Probably not. Games that push an imperialistic agenda will push that agenda whether they want to or not based purely on the types of games they are; a FPS will tell people to shoot because of their country, and an RPG will tell people to bash A and skip dialogue because who has the time to read all of that? The latest entry to the Call of Duty series, subtitled Advanced Warfare, looks to be more of the same in terms of story, and I’m not sure I can stomach another hoo-rah from a soldier who is inevitably going to die to drive home the point that war is terror or something before going on a massacre to avenge him.

Articles cited:
[1] The Christian Science Monitor [May 31st 2002] Video game offers young recruits a peek at military life

http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0531/p18s01-algn.html

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