Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
What Is the Matter with You People?

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 29 Nov 2011 12:00
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What's alarming about Modern Warfare is that the "shocking moment" has become token. In Modern Warfare 1 the nuclear blast genuinely was surprising and elevated the game slightly above the average level of gung-ho realistic war shooters. What made it even more interesting for me was that it played with the expectations one has of a game. You do not expect the character you are playing as to bite it in such a drawn-out, hideous way. The one thing you're usually sure of in a game is that whatever happens to everyone else, you are going to survive. There's no game otherwise. Even while watching your arms and legs getting sawn off half-way through Quake 4, or getting thrown clear of a crashing vehicle in every fucking shooter in the universe, you know there's no possible way you won't live on. Even better, moments before that moment in MW1 your lads had just gone back into the danger zone to rescue a comrade, which you'd think would give you a double layer of plot armor.

By MW2, though, the series had rather drastically devalued killing off the player character, and virtually every temporary protagonist who isn't palling around with Captain Price's unit gets knocked off by the end of their moment in the spotlight. Instead, the game finds a different way to play with our expectations of a player character by having us participate in a massacre of innocent civilians. It gives us the usual nose-leading mission directive but simultaneously, within the context of the world, condemns us for following it. It brings to mind that one science experiment where members of the public continued electrocuting a prisoner because an authority figure told them to. How much would it take to persuade an average person to commit an atrocity?

When we come to Modern Warfare 3, the "shocking moment" has become just another item on the checklist, and is a hollow, incidental event. There's no toying with the perceptions of a player character and their role; you just get to see a small child get blown to bits in London. Presumably just one of many children who were killed in the slightly ridiculous simultaneous chemical attacks on every European city, but apparently the one worth focusing on was the American tourist. Perhaps they felt all the native London children would be less relatable because they'd all be picking pockets and covered in dirt from sweeping chimneys.

But that's not why I'm complaining about it (for once). I'm complaining because it failed in its purpose. It wasn't shocking because I saw it coming a mile off. And it bothers me because it wasn't included for its importance to the plot or for any kind of gratification (at least I hope not), but because there had to be a shocking moment. It seems almost bureaucratic, like it was requested by the accounting rather than the story department. And there's something very disturbing about a large faceless game publisher coldly and emotionlessly tearing apart a simulated child purely because it was on the schedule for that day.

Still, not quite as disturbing as this Facebook comment that was left under my MW3 ZP video:

"Or they could have zoomed in on Makarov caging up a bunch of children "HoloCaust style" And using chemicals on them first. It would have made an ironic statement and it would have been quite the upgrade, since it wouldn't have been instant incineration, but slow torture."

Er... thanks for your input, Mr. Poster Man, but I wasn't talking it down for not being extreme enough. Or 'ironic' enough. I doubt emptying an entire lorry full of toddlers into the woodchipper would have improved my opinion any. You know, I was drifting through the comments seeking inspiration for this week's column, and then I saw this. And then I read the news story that modders have put child murdering back into Skyrim. So here's the discussion topic I've come up with: "What the fuck is the matter with you people?"

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