Continued from An Inquiry Into the History of First-Person Shooter Video Game Villains, Pt. 1.
3. Third Wave: Modern Reenactments and Al-Qaeda Clones (circa 2002-2008)
The third wave of First Person Shooter (FPS) video games involves a combination of the two previous game styles: reenactments of currently occurring conflicts and conflicts with entities that are clearly stand-ins for Al-Qaeda. Beginning in about 2002, video games started to make the jump from historical and generic battle scenes to battle scenes that parallel real wars that are occurring today. Inevitably, political entanglements accompanied this increase in realism, as unlike their predecessors, these games cannot claim to be abstract diversions that are independent of actualy events. They are, necessarily, commentary on war and international disputes, whether the developers intend them to be or not.
It is not just the plots that cause the political entanglements; these games are also political in their very origin. What is unique about the third wave of video games is that it was not private developers that first pushed the boundaries, making it acceptable for video games to be set in modern day conflicts. Rather it was the U.S. military that first developed games that attempt to recreated on-going, real life wars.
A few months back, an infograph on video game villains was making the rounds, depicting the nationality and setting of various combat video games. The infograph makes an interesting point: the identity of bad guys in video games is very much a reflection of real-world geopolitical developments. But the graph does not go quite far enough. It is obviously comprised of only a few hand selected games, and as it goes back only to 2001, it does not show the more general, historical trends in video game development regarding bad guy nationality.
For video games set on modern day earth, the question of who should play the villain is a very delicate issue for game developers. It is also a new one: prior to 2001, it was virtually unheard of for a video game to feature a real world nation as a villain, and it is only in the past four or five years that games featuring real nations and organizations fighting each other in hypothetical conflicts have become commonplace. Having real countries be video game bad guys has, however, been part of long arc in video game development, wherein video games have persistently pushed the boundaries regarding what is considered an “acceptable” story line. At the very beginning of video game development, realism of any sort was strongly frowned upon; even having bad guys that bled red blood was considered too shocking and graphic. Over time, however, games have incorporated more and more elements of realism into their game play, beginning with the least controversial elements and then working its way up to games based on hypothetical armed conflicts between existing nations.