The topic of video games crossing the boundaries into poor taste is not one that can be easily settled. It’s based firmly on personal taste with far too many people settling on the idea that because games are fantasy, there isn’t such a thing as an inappropriate game. Creative director of Operation Flashpoint: Red River, Sion Lenton, disagrees. He believes video games surrounding real-world conflicts are simply bad taste: “I, personally, don’t want to focus on live conflict. I don’t think it’s appropriate and I don’t think it’s tasteful.” Before accusations of wussiness ensue, his strong feelings stem from something quite close to him: “One of the girls who works here, her nephew was killed by an improvised explosive device [IED] a couple of months ago. So when I hear that, I don’t want to be in a f*cking meeting bigging up my IED tech.” Fair point. But the situation Lenton mentions is quite unique to his company and therefore is easy for other developers not to notice. I wouldn’t necessarily point the finger of sin towards other studios for trying to recreate authentic real-world settings, after all, like other forms of media it’s just art imitating life.
Lenton gave these comments to Edge magazine (the full interview can be found in issue 223)after all the commotion caused by EA allowing gamers to play as the Taliban in multiplayer matches of Medal of Honor. A great deal of fuss was caused leading to the removal of the name and instead calling them Opposing Forces. Lenton’s next point does bring up some interesting leverage for anyone against using real-world conflicts. He and his team never once considered basing Red River in a controversial arena: “We are deliberately setting out not to court that controversy, we don’t want to go there and it’s not a conversation we ever wanted to get into,” he said. “At no point did we think that it would be cool to set the game in Helmand or Afghanistan, because there’s a war going on there and there are British soldiers dying. We’re still making a war game, and showing soldiers dying, but I guess [the fiction] is us playing safe. But I don’t have a problem with playing safe when it comes to this kind of thing.” The words he uses are particularly important. Making a game to be controversial just for the sake of it is frankly lame. People will get their kicks out of it as they do watching controversial movies but they cease to become mature vessels for storytelling at that point. If we want our medium to grow and are arguing that video games should be allowed to have a social commentary on real-world situations, surely it needs to be treated with respect and handled appropriately.
That being said, the games often mentioned like Call of Duty or indeed Medal of Honor, are still so removed from reality in terms of their handling and mechanics that I can’t see Activision or EA’s were ever intending for them to be viewed as anything other than fiction. Just as if they were set in a made-up world like Red River. Things becomes a little more serious when the games turn into simulators and you are modelling your kills on those happening to loved ones over seas. Bottom line is if a game, movie, book, magazine, piece of art is done to stoke the flames of controversy because it’s thought to be cool, that’s when, for me, boundaries of between good taste and bad become blurred. And I can think of quite a few movies that revolve around that ethos but can’t actually think of too many games which do. Lucky for us gamers eh?