Life is but a Game – Unmanned

Many war games or games about war attempt to incorporate moments into gameplay that evoke an emotional reaction from the player. Perhaps one of the more famous war video game franchises today, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series has continually included moments of shock and awe usually resulting in the death of one or more main characters. This is typically done to remind the player that war isn’t all glory; a grizzled veteran always has the chance of dying alongside a green recruit.

This was controversial when the original Modern Warfare dropped a nuke on your character and thirty-thousand of your compatriots, however, the games have continued to exterminate playable characters to a point where canonical player deaths have ceased to retain shock value and become an entirely expected occurrence. And though putting the player into a situation where they are fully expecting their character to die makes for a uniquely odd character-player relationship, the repeated use main character death has thoroughly beaten the metaphorical dead horse. Very few war games have done much to grab players the way Modern Warfare had over six years ago.

Unmanned

While I would hesitate to qualify Unmanned as a war game, there is little denying that it makes a unique and poignant critique of modern warfare. Rather than put the player in control of a thick-necked soldier, Unmanned tells the story of a day in the life of a suburbanite drone pilot. Most of the game’s “action” takes place inside the main character’s head as opposed to a war-torn battlefield; the gameplay is comprised entirely of dialogue trees and point-and-click challenges. There is no high-stake, top-secret mission central to the story, either; the protagonist is far more preoccupied with flirting with his colleague, the intricate nature of shaving, and remembering the lyrics to Queen songs. It’s like The Sims with more introspection.

So why bother with a game that deals solely in the banal? Furthermore, why bring it into conversation alongside a game like Modern Warfare? Well, the dryness of the game’s delivery is thematically linked to the message the game wants to get across. Unmanned wants to deal with war in the least fantastical and sensational way possible. It shows war as a routine part of an average Joe’s day (as it is for many drone pilots); it is not portrayed as a heroic duty, but as a mundane task. During the drone piloting scenes, the main character sits in front of a display with a control panel. The goal of this section is to successfully follow a “suspicious target” as he makes his way to a meeting place. All the while, the player must also carry out a conversation with the drone pilot. This section of the game lacks the intensity of the UAV scenes from Modern Warfare, and the gameplay more of an exercise in multitasking than anything else. The most important effect this scene has is that it turns war into a discussion by the water-cooler. The tone of the entire drone scene is more akin to Office Space than Saving Private Ryan.

In its mission to portray war as a desk job, Unmanned also begins to discuss the desensitization to violence, a topic which many video games often find themselves the target. Interestingly enough, the scene following the drone bombing shows the main character playing a typical first-person shooter game with his son. Juxtaposing the final drone piloting scene with the protagonist enjoying an FPS war-game with his son could be interpreted as commentary on the perceived blurred line between real world violence and violent video games, but a far more interesting take is the commentary on the player himself.

Throughout the game, the player is instilled with a sense of detachment and isolation brought on partially by the technology in his life. In the drone scene and the video game scene, the main character is facing a screen (and facing your computer screen, coincidentally) controlling the actions of another character (the drone and the war-hero, respectively). The main character is completely distanced from the battlefield and the effects of his own actions, and the player is even further removed. By the time the credits rolled, I hardly felt anything at all, and that’s probably a bad thing.

Consequently, I can't shave without reflecting on life's deepest mysteries anymore.

Consequently, I can’t shave without intense introspection anymore.

Perhaps Unmanned is commentary on the idea that war has become like a game for soldiers. Perhaps it’s commentary on the way our culture thinks of war and receives it. Maybe the game wants you to feel like a callous. There is not a whole lot to work with in Unmanned, which is a shame since there are few games that have left me feeling so hollow. I would suggest giving it a shot if you’ve found yourself feeling too good lately.

 

P.S.: Unmanned is completely free and available to play online at http://unmanned.molleindustria.org/

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A Farewell to Hayter – Metal Gear Solid Gets a New Voice

 A few hours ago, Kiefer Sutherland was announced as the voice actor the Big Boss in the latest installment of the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Many fans of the series have already begun to voice their own displeasure with the exclusion of the man who voiced Snake for fifteen years from the project, David Hayter. Kojima has addressed his decision during Konami’s pre-E3 showcase:

“…we’re taking on some very heavy subjects such as race and revenge. This makes the tone much darker. As a result, I wanted Snake to have a more subdued performance expressed through subtle facial movements and tone of voice, rather than words.”

Kojima appears to want to abandon the exposition laden and sometimes needlessly circuitous dialogue that the previous games are notorious for in favor of a more understated and nuanced performance. Rather than the gravely monotone that Hayter has become well-known for, the new voice will have to be able to convey a range of emotions. Whether or not Sutherland is the actor for that job is entirely up for debate, but one thing is for certain: the new direction the series is taking means that Snake’s traditional voice has to go.

Snake and Big Boss have always been, under Hayter’s voice, cool, unshakable badasses. Seldom has Hayter altered his modes of speech during his performance (read: Snake and louder Snake). While this has done a great deal in the way of establishing Snake and Big Boss as iconic action heroes (or villains), it does not leave much room for character development or exploration. Kojima has famously expressed his discontent with the way Solid Snake was portrayed throughout the Metal Gear Solid series and the lack of a distinguishable character arc. There was simply not much Kojima could do with a character who created to be more action hero than human.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people's voice start to change.

Besides, fifteen is around the age where most people’s voice start to change.

During the pre-E3 video, Sutherland puts forward his own views on what Kojima expects from his lead character in Metal Gear Solid V: “…what does Snake want for the future and how does the past weigh on him? There is a characters hope for a future, and that rounds out what I term as the human experience.” Kojima is not looking for the gruff machismo that many have come to expect of Metal Gear Solid franchise, but a more human-like, vulnerable character. Snake and Big Boss have not quite been portrayed as human characters in the previous installments. They have been touted as legendary super-soldiers, and while they may claim to be nothing more than hired killers, they continually accomplish increasingly fantastic, world-saving feats.

Kojima does not appear to want to serve the fans as much as he wants to serve the story he wants to tell, which is an incredibly bold move to take especially considering how well received Hayter was, not to mention the image that Snake has established over the course of the last fifteen years. Yes, a lot of people will be upset, and the end product may not entirely resemble the story that most people expect, but that’s not to say it won’t be entertaining or thought provoking. Very few franchises are willing to welcome drastic change. To avoid stagnating, becoming too stale and predictable, developers need to attempt something new, maybe even something that might not seem in the best interest of profit. As someone who grew up with the franchise, I can honestly say that I have never been as excited for any game as I am for Metal Gear Solid V, even if it does have an unfamiliar new voice.

Nostalgia Critic comments on Art in Video Games

Though I do not care much for Doug Walker’s “Nostalgia Critic” videos, I was drawn to his recent take on art in video games and the medium’s potential for artistic merit. While he avoids talking about specific examples of games that are worthy of the distinction because of his passive level of engagement with games, Walker makes a handful of valid points on what passes for high art as well as drawing a few comparisons to art in cinema. It is definitely worth a watch, so I’ve included a link below.

http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/39451-nostalgia-critic-are-video-games-art