On the subject of video games and portrayals of war
— some interesting takes I think people should take a look at before clamoring for the approaching Apocalypse Now! video game:
1) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare — the game that kicked off the modern military shooter also suffers from that old notion that “you can’t make an anti-war war film”. In trying to make some sort of statement about the futility of war in its narrative, and using anti-war quotes in its loading screens, they also made controls tight, gameplay light and fun, blockbuster spectacular experiences (including spoilers — a nuclear explosion), and thus created an entire genre of fun hero-based first-person shooters with a gonzo patriotic theme.
2) Spec Ops: The Line — Like Apocalypse Now, the game is advertised to be based on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and makes some direct literary references (the villain’s name is Conrad). In it, you follow an adventure to rescue a sand-swept post-apocalyptic Dubai from a mad military leader. The game quotes other military shooters, presenting choices that aren’t quite overt, ultimately with a message being the “only choice is not to play”. The game was critically lauded, but controversial amongst gamers who felt they didn’t have agency in the story which was — of course — the point (this is also the point of the hugely popular Bioshock, but the political message makes it hit home a whole lot more).
3) Far Cry 2. Far Cry 3 makes literary allusions to Heart of Darkness and Alice in Wonderland, but Far Cry 2 embodies these in its own flawed, open-world, gem of a way. Far Cry 3 had high aspirations which fails under its own weight. Far Cry 2 has no such aspirations beyond certain open gameplay elements, launched as a buggy mess, failed, but was rediscovered as an unpolished gem.
In it, you’re a mercenary (1 of 6 international mercenaries) hired to go after the Kurtz-like Jackal. You enter an unnamed African country at the brink of a Civil War, are almost killed by the Jackal while suffering from Malaria in a hospital. The country explodes into war, there’s no way in or out, and as a survivor you’re asked to do mercenary work for the two remaining warlords and some side work for the civilians and press. What follows is basically Yojimbo, as you rise amongst rival warlords, travelling the open country with a few allies. Not to give the rest away, but part of the unpolished nature of Far Cry 2 gives rise to an emergent narrative of futility. There’s always checkpoints and armies and violence, and whatever you do just prolongs that violence. There’s no good or bad, it’s only survival at a certain point. You have the feeling of being both an agent of war, a cog in its machine, a soldier, and despite all your ability unable to turn the tide. Recommended.
4) This War of Mine. This game isn’t for everyone, but it’s meant to simulate life under a war-torn nation. You manage a family of survivors — usually a group of friends and roommates — as you loot, pillage, build up your apartment to hide from the war outside, and become a part of the black market economy of people stuck in a war-torn nation. You choose to take in other survivors, to help others, even to — well — kill them or avoid gangs. Based on experiences in Sarajevo during the Bosnian War. Recommended, and only non FPS on the list at the moment.