Meet Jen, Game Pople’sConsidered Gamer, whose reclining persona makes for a much more considered take on game reviewing.
I’ve long been fascinated by games that can provoke an emotional reaction. I enjoy a strong, emotive story even if the mechanics are flaky. But often it’s not until I’ve finishing a game, when I sit back in my post-achievement state and considered what I’ve just been through that the emotion of it all hits me.
At times it’s obvious how we are meant to feel as we play a game. In Heavy Rain, we feel for Ethan’s plight; we’re scared and alarmed by Dead Space’s desolation, but others are much more subtle. In Call of Duty, while it’s easy to be absorbed by the violence and potentially mindless experience, I felt for the soldiers depicted in the battles. It can be an uncomfortable experience playing a game based on a real war. Practically everyone alive will have had a relative who fought in the Second World War.
I played Call of Duty 2 alongside my father originally, a man who had been in the army during the 1960s and whose father before him had been in the army during the Second World War. As I put it in my review:
Call of Duty 2 offers a surprisingly emotional experience for a game that will also be much adored by the more gung-ho gamer. Once you get past the mindless killing and violence, there is a heartrending account of the experience of war.
Instinctively, I find playing a game based on a real war wrong. As much as I know that it’s “just” a game, it feels uncomfortable when I realize that some poor soul, probably even younger than me at the time, had to live through such an experience. Despite these reservations, I found myself playing Call of Duty 2, an extremely competent first person shooter, but one that I hesitate to call “enjoyable” simply because at times it felt a little too harsh to call such a thing.
You see, Call of Duty 2 was a surprisingly scary and alarming experience. It wasn’t scary because of strange ghouls or monsters jumping out at me, it was scary because of the brutal reality of it all. One wrong move meant death, just how it would have been back in the 1940s if you were a soldier hiding in a bunker trying to fend off the enemy.
Quite early on in the game, we realized that we weren’t going to get very far by simply “running and gunning.” This would require some thought and plenty of covering fire. Hiding behind a wall next to a bombed out building, I’d quickly confer with my Dad on what was best to do. We knew we didn’t have much time; we were quickly reminded this by the emergence of a grenade at my feet.
A quick run to the next wall while firing wildly at the German soldiers gave us a few more seconds. We reached the next wall and I ducked down, clutching the controller as if it was my rifle. Just as my heart had slowed to a healthier level, a German soldier appeared from seemingly nowhere. Somehow instinctively I managed to kill him in the nick of time, albeit with the screen looking extremely red due to my being so close to death.
It was a powerful experience when playing on Veteran mode. One wrong move meant death, which added to the realism. When we paused for breath, we didn’t know it at the time but each of us was silently thinking of the relatives that had gone before us. And looking back, I still think what I said in my review was true.
My heart was racing; even my mouth appeared to have dried up in those few seconds. I looked to my father; he was much the same, even speechless. Silence ensued and I simply carried on, traversing the torturous level of the destroyed streets of Moscow.
As things went on, we eventually reached the conclusion of the level. We had witnessed bloodshed aplenty and I could honestly say we were both mentally exhausted. I was actually visibly relieved to be able to turn the game off and return to it another day. It may not have been real, or even been aiming to be a realistic portrayal of the Second World War, but there was still that part of me that felt even more of a pacifist than I was before turning the game on.
In the end, the reality of this made Veteran mode too fraught, too dangerous and stressful. It didn’t stop it being a powerful experience though and one that I didn’t expect to have from such an action packed game.
Games frequently are given too hard a time in the mainstream press for their mindlessly violent nature, but many of the most popular games have much more depth, providing you look for it. On the surface it might seem as if only RPGs or adventure games can provide an emotional experience, but look deeper and any game can do it if you open your mind. My time writing my Considered Gamer reviews has made me realize that everything from a PSP Mini arcade game to games aimed at children can still offer more than just the surface suggests.
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