Military Videogames – It is All a Matter of Perspective!
The recent release of Grand Theft Auto 5 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 has brought questions of perspective into sharp focus. What, in short, are the consequences of the move to play first person? Here I offer some thoughts on the question of violence and what the moves in GTA may mean for future depictions of war within military shooters.
Central to the reaction to GTA5, is the question of whether or not the move to a first-person perspective has a greater effect on the player in terms of how they respond to the in-game violence which they can perform? A column in Forbes entitled, ‘First Person Mode Makes ‘GTA 5’ More Horrible Than Ever’ is fairly typical of this media debate, suggesting that the move to first person does indeed make such violence more visceral and by implication has greater impacts for players (http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2014/11/17/first-person-mode-makes-gta-5-more-horrible-than-ever/).
Here I don’t wish to engage in the debates centred on the media effects of violence (see Robinson, 2012 for my take on the politics of this (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-923X.2012.02271.x/abstract), instead I want to reflect on how GTA5 may act as a precursor to more ‘realistic’ violence in future military shooters. GTA5 offers depictions of a ‘real city’, with urban citizenry walking around in their day to day lives, and the game offers the player the opportunity to attack them as they are texting, walking and chatting etc. In doing this, GTA5 exposes how sanitised (relatively at least) videogame depictions of war actually are.
Most players of war games will be familiar and highly experienced at playing first person – most military combat games such as the Battlefield, Call of Duty and now cancelled Medal of Honor series are framed from a first person perspective with the player occupying the boots of a soldier and engaged in killing waves of enemies with machine guns, hand grenades, remote guided weaponry and mechanised equipment. Yet what is striking is that most of these encounters are handled in a very different way to GTA5. First, civilians are seldom represented in the game, so preventing the possibility of civilian casualties. Second, Spec Ops: The Line aside, when they are represented the norm is for the game to present the player with a ‘fail state’ if they attack/injure civilians. Conflict and violence is only to be used on legitimate targets, namely those military combatants who threaten the player in his/her role as a serving military operative.
Such conflict is also invariably at distance – the player is actively discouraged from close up or hand to hand combat. Whilst military shooters frequently give the player the capacity to melee (and this is usually highly effective in that it neutralises the enemy in a single strike) it is normally only used as a last resort. Thus, reflecting back on the majority of war games having played GTA 5 reinforces the clinical, surgical and precise nature of war as depicted in military videogames. In fact, if videogame depictions of war were more like the brutal depictions in GTA5 then this would make such depictions arguably more ‘authentic’ and ‘realistic’. Yet the controversy over the game Six Days in Fallujah which Konami decided to withdraw from publishing in 2009 suggests that the industry (and perhaps even the players) are not ready for such depictions – may GTA5 (for good or ill) prove to be a first step in this direction? (For more on Six Days in Fallujah: http://www.gamespot.com/articles/six-days-in-fallujah-the-untold-story/1100-6396567/)