Erstwhile screenwriter, telly face and gaming curmudgeon Charlie Brooker is at it again. And as usual, he’s got a ruddy good point.
You might remember him from his various BBC series – “How TV Ruined Your Life”, “Newswipe” and his one-off special, “Gameswipe”, or in his capacity as the creator of Channel Four’s ace reality telly/zombie mash-up, “Dead Set”. He’s also one of the few Guardian columnists whose byline I actively seek in the paper, chiefly as he never loses a chance to integrate games and gaming into the papers’ general arts conversation.
His latest column tackles “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” intelligently and asks a simple question that has probably occurred to most games players at one time or another:
“Why am I playing this game, when the protagonist is such a weapons-grade tool?“.
So often in games, movies and novels set in this genre, we’re asked to accept at face value that we should identify with characters whose sole notable feature is an ability to field-strip an assault rifle blindfolded and to p spout inane, frat-boy one-liners largely inspired by the killing of enemy combatants, the inevitable, imminent slaughter of said enemy combatants or the destructive force of the military hardware which will be used to wipe enemy combatants from the very face of the planet.
It’s all a bit dull, really – and it’s where I can’t get excited by the “Battlefield” and “Call of Duty” games. I don’t want to be these guys, so the idea of slogging through a five-to-six hour campaign in the company of people who’ve read too many Jack Ryan novels and taken them far too seriously isn’t exactly my mug of Senseo.
I’m not saying that all game protagonists must henceforth be replaced by variations on this guy:
But wouldn’t it be more interesting to play one of these games with a protagonist who isn’t built like a brick outbuilding and whose sole interaction with the world is to pepper it with bullets, knife slashes and tactical nukes?
I realise the irony of saying this given my preference for the bald-headed, space marine genre of third-person action games but there again, I don’t want to be those characters, either.
If games are supposed to be offering me wish-fulfilment and an escape from the pressures of the real world, they’re doing a bang-up job on the second point and a piss-poor job on the first part.