What’s the difference?

Sure, I play my fair share of shooters–Call of Duty, Halo, Medal of Honor–but when reading this article, I was taken aback with the notion of rewarding a player $100,000 emulating the ballistics of JKF’s assasination with hopes of dispelling the many conspiracy theories that surround that tragic day. The question I asked myself while reading this was: how is this different from Call of Duty? or any game for that matter that involves the assassination of any figure of histortical relevance.

Tracey Fullerton introduces the term documentary games, which serves as an “umbrella term for commercial war games that feature fictional recreations” (62). Now, this may apply to Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, but it appears the same for JFK Reloaded, which doesn’t make sense–the assassination wasn’t fictional, it really happened.

How is this different from killing Fidel Castro on Call of Duty: Black Ops, for example? In the game, players are given the objective to storm Fidel Castro’s stronghold, and neutralize him. As you break through security, exchanging gunfire with hostiles, you reach Castro, and put a bullet right between the eyes–awesome, right? Of couse it is! You completed the objective, but would players feel awesome putting a bullet through JFK’s head, and if so, why? Is it because you accomplished the assassination, or is it because your ballistic marks match that of Lee Harvey Oswald’s?

This article was interesting because it questioned my morals. How is it that I can streight-faced run into an enemy stronghold, kill everyone, put a hole through the head of a communist revolutionary, continue through the rest of the campaign, and not feel disturbed? I can’t really see JFK Reloaded as a game–a documentary, sure, but not a game. In Call of Duty you can game over very easily, and continue from a checkpoint. Conversely, JFK Reloaded only has one way to win–there are no chekpoints, or game over screens.

One thought on “What’s the difference?

  1. “How is it that I can streight-faced run into an enemy stronghold, kill everyone, put a hole through the head of a communist revolutionary, continue through the rest of the campaign, and not feel disturbed?”

    Because I think, in a lot of ways, Call of Duty fails to be realistic.

    As many hours as I’ve spent wracking up prestige ranks and golden weapon skins in its multiplayer, the 7-10 hour long campaigns this franchise has annually churned out are glorified on-rails shooters. It’s Time Crisis without the pedal.

    I also think it’s important to recognize that Fullerton’s definition of a “documentary game” likely name-dropped Medal of Honor more in reference to its humble beginnings as a historically-based World War II shooter in the PlayStation 1 generation than its recently EA-injected “War Fighter” reboot.

    Call of Duty similarly came from humble beginnings as historically-based, based on a true story fiction (similar to something like HBO’s original mini-series Band of Brothers and The Pacific — though they are very accurate). I think we both know that through the sub-series “Modern Warfare” and its subsequent additions to the “Call of Duty” franchise that it has pretty much become something else (i.e., the famously-cited airport scene I mentioned a few weeks back in class). Its own creators even admitted this, with the PR battle between Infinity Ward and Activision over what the game was actually going to be called from its original announcement as strictly “Modern Warfare 2” at E3 2009 up until its release. Was it “Call of Duty?” And what does “Call of Duty” really stand to mean? Of course name recognition sells more copies than holding due respect what the franchise once originally stood for as historically-based while trampling its ashes, and Activision forced “Call of Duty” onto the box, regardless, in the end.

    So when you’re playing Black Ops, confronting Castro (or his dupe/double), and eliminating him, it’s almost a joke. Both to our American government that through fifty years of attempts in reality we can only continue doing so virtually, but also to the gamer in the chair. To which the scene itself, Castro man-handling a lingerie-garbed woman as his bullet shield, this is really what military shooters have become. Because beyond their technical limitations that eliminates them as “documentary” of reality in 1:1 representation, game developers, as Bogost concludes in his essay/chapter/article/whatever, have really not proven themselves as appropriate commentators on political and social issues.

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