Go Play: Escaping, Assassinating, Warring

I realized I look at so many different things here, movies, music, books, comics, etc., I should include something else. Sure, I could also narrow my focus, but I’m not good at that, I want the big picture, all of it. So, today I want to look at video games. Why? Well, just like all the others, they are an essential part of our cultural canon, especially (but not exclusively) for younger people.  More than all the others, they engage you actively in an activity, thereby shaping your ideas and values in a different way than other mediums. I’m not saying they have a bigger impact, but it is a more unique impact than just consumer media. Anyway, I think video games have a different way of portraying and transporting cultural ideas. So, I thought I face them now. Here’s my plan: I look at the list of upcoming games (from Wikipedia, all the quotes are from there), pick some games and see what’s there to see.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t know any of these games and haven’t played them, so I’m not saying anything about their quality. I have been an avid video gamer in the past. If I didn’t spend so much time on movies, comics and blogging, I would try to find some time to play games again. So, I’m not criticizing any aspect of gaming itself, nor would I deny that any the following games are fun. Okay? No threats now? Thanks! (though, I wouldn’t mind the traffic)

The Swapper is “a side-scrolling puzzle platform” game. It is about a man trying to escape a space station. Here we find a very common trope in video games, the escape from some kind of facility, either by solving puzzles or by fighting your way out. I believe that this serves a desire of escape many of us feel in our society, the idea of getting out, but since we rarely do escape our own lives (at least not literally), experiencing this kind of breakout is satisfying. It gives us the feeling we could, if we just tried hard enough (which then again fits into our cultural meme of You have to work hard to achieve something).

The plot is about human exploration of space after Earth’s resources are exhausted. It is also a common story (also in movies) that shows our lack of hope for the future. We accept this bleak future without being prompted to act against it, not seriously. I think we see this story so often that we can’t imagine any other way, so we accept it and move on. The plot also includes an alien race called the Watchers, who are “more intelligent than humans themselves.” They turn out to be malevolent, but still there is this idea we have, that others are better or more advanced, which implicates that we lack that knowledge because we feel helpless and unable to change our fate. If we only got a little better, if we only were able to improve, the world would be a better place. But, this won’t happen and if there’s anyone capable of such intelligence, it must be an alien race. (Yes, this reminds me a lot of Julie’s daydream in Daniel Quinn’s My Ishmael).

Assassin’s Creed Rogue is an “historical action-adventure” game (part 8 in the series, at least I played a little of part 1…). There are two things here. One concerns many games, in that it allows us to play roles we normally wouldn’t inhabit, in this case an assassin, someone who professionally kills people. On the one hand I think this plays into a general wish to be someone else, someone more special, whose life is more exciting than our monotony of Work Work Work (Pub Club Sleep). So much that killing people for a living sounds appealing to us.

The other thing is that the plot focuses on the character growing “disillusioned with [his Brotherhood’s] methods and their cause.” Again, two things in that second thing: 1. being disillusioned is another state of mind we accept as normal because it happens so often to us that we hardly question it anymore, 2. this way the game can have it both ways, making us an assassin, but also giving us the “appropriate” moral standard society expects from us. Our culture always does this, luring us with things that are supposed to be wrong and against the rules, but also expect us to be moral enough to distance ourselves from them.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is of course a relatively traditional first-person shooter and what I said about Assassin’s Creed is true here, too, the prospect of being a soldier, risking your life for a cause seems exciting and fascinating. I do think those games make war more acceptable, though, and sell it better than they should, especially because they are so enjoyable. Even if they can be scary and intimidating, war still becomes a game you can win.

The plot revolves around “the first global terrorist attack in history,” so that in this case it is similar to movies that since 9/11 have accepted terrorism as a “popular” threat. But again, we’re not just watching Jack Ryan getting the terrorist, but we actively hunt them down ourselves, giving the player much more satisfaction and the feeling that this is a war that can be won (which, like every war on an issue, cannot be won). Yes, and it stars Kevin Spacey. The tagline of the game is Power changes everything, which is an endorsement of our culture’s ideology if I ever heard one. But it’s the key to all of those games, they give us power or even just the sense of power and that’s a big part of their appeal, which is also why they allow you to be able to interact more and more with the environment.


Wow, I wasn’t sure if I could write anything, but now I exceeded my self-set limit of words already. Which just means that I will do this again because I enjoyed it very much and I hope it helps seeing things from a different perspective in this field, too.