When Konami dropped their plans to publish Six Days in Fallujah, I was incensed. After years of military shooters that were nothing but the grossest fictions of military adventurism and utterly devoid of any discussion of the real consequences of war, finally a videogame was going to approach the subject matter with a documentary eye. The soldiers of Third Battalion, First Marines were the men who asked Atomic Games to develop Six Days in Fallujah so that their stories could be told. Now the game was effectively dead in the water because a small number of military families had expressed their displeasure at the subject matter?
Brilliant videogames make us reflect on larger issues and maybe rethink our positions.
Some people might argue that the way we show respect for soldiers is to present the horror they face to everyone else, to make us appreciate the sacrifice these men and women make. When I consider how awful the violence is in Max Payne 3, which is mostly an issue of small arms fire, and then consider the destruction military-grade weapons are capable of, I wonder whether the de-facto canceling of Six Days in Fallujah is as egregious an event as I'd originally felt if it was going to truly attempt to be realistic.
Even the best movies about Vietnam and World War II, with the most gruesome and brutal depictions of violence aren't mostly about firefights and death. Do we think a videogame audience would put up with the same proportion of action-to-narrative that war movies usually present? Can you imagine an eight-hour campaign of some of the most brutal, horrific, psychologically-taxing violence we've ever seen in a videogame? Would any of us actually want to play that? Maybe the argument "Movies can tackle serious issues about war, so why can't videogames?" doesn't make as much sense as I thought it did. Maybe the difference in mediums, specifically the length of the experience and the pacing that each medium requires in order to be successful, really does make a tremendous difference here. And don't these considerations make it sound extra ridiculous, perhaps even offensive, when we listen to publishers tell us that games like Medal of Honor are seeking to be realistic?
The best videogames are the ones that stick with us long after we've put them down and continue asking us questions. That's been my experience with Max Payne 3. I think it's easy to look past shooters as a bunch of meathead bro experiences we associate with foul-mouthed audiences on Xbox Live, but think about how everyone lost their minds over BioShock because it was dealing with real world issues and themes. I suggest to you that Max Payne 3 might be brilliant in precisely the same way, and the real world issues it alludes to and deals with are much more timely than anything discussed by BioShock.
Dennis Scimeca is a freelance writer from Boston, MA. You can read some of his other musings on his blog punchingsnakes.com, or follow his random excitations on Twitter: @DennisScimeca.