The third and final segment! Continued from An Inquiry Into the History of First-Person Shooter Video Game Villains, Pt. 2.
4. Speculative Warfare (circa 2008 – present)
Because ultra-realistic FPS games are a marketing time bomb, and because of the awkward gameplay moments that will inevitably arise when your setting involves U.S. forces fighting against a real world enemy, ultrarealistic FPS games have now moved on to the fourth and present-day era: speculative warfare. Like the games of the two previous waves , speculative warfare games feature wars between real nations and real human organizations. However, instead of recreating past or current wars, these games are set in the present or near future, and involve hypothetical conflicts between existent nations.
As always, Russia is the common denominator. Even with the Cold War two decades dead, video games have no shortage of creativity when it comes to finding ways to, once again, make Russia the villain. Just like how the historical reenactment games rewrote history to make Soviets the bad guys, speculative warfare games warp modern day international relations into unlikely scenarios where Russia is the evil invading force. For instance, in Battlefield: Bad Company 1 (2008) and 2 (2010), the player is thrown into the midst of a modern day war between the Russian Federation and the United States, with little time wasted on explaining how such a conflict could ever come to pass. In contrast, Modern Warfare 1 (2007), 2 (2009), and 3 (forthcoming – 2011) at least try to give some plausibility to their story lines, by inventing the rebel Russian Ultranationalist Party to explain how Russia suddenly becomes an active world threat again. (Although the rumor mill falsely claimed MW2 had been banned in Russia, the developers did take out a scene allowing players to shoot civilians in the Moscow airport. Although shooting Russian civilians was deemed too much for the Russian market, simply having Russia be a villain is not a problem.)
Still other games go for the hybrid Russian villain, by mixing elements of historical military fears with modern day anxieties, and team Russia up with a more likely antagonist nation. For instance, in Frontlines: Fuel of War (2008), you have the Western Nations fighting against the “Red Star Alliance” — the mighty pseudo-superpower duo of Russia and China. Likewise, Rogue Warrior (2008) also uses Russia, but teams it up with North Korea and a nuclear weapons smuggling program.
Having Russia be the villain for speculative warfare plots opened the door for other nations to become the hypothetical villain. Russian markets never seem to mind when Hollywood or U.S. game developers choose them to be the bad guy, and the trope is so common as to be beneath notice by any diplomatic instruments. But Russia is sui generis, when it comes to the lack of controversy caused by casting it into the villain’s role. Having other nations fill in for the bad guy is not nearly so straightforward. It is not hard to see why — having major U.S. and other Western nation game developers declare that they can foresee ostensibly friendly or neutral nations as likely enemies in a U.S. military conflict necessarily carries some uncomfortable implications.