Thursday, December 15, 2011

Episode 62: "Seeing Red"

The International Red Cross raises concerns about military games and The Geneva Convention. The OverThinker responds.

Even though the opening/closing skits are, as ever, strictly an "extra" thing; I hope people enjoy The RetroThinker as a character - he's a lot of fun to inhabit here and there.


Anonymous said...

Interesting episode. As an first person shooter fan i'd love to see more of them try to approach mature subject matter and show more of the ambigiuities of war. I get what the Red Cross is saying and i respect them immensely, but forcing vidoe game character to follow the protocols a soldier would in real life is just not practical. Think of all the gameplay mechanics that would need to changed for every military shooter.
A game like SWAT 4 gave the player the chance to save lives of hostages and hostile enemies, not just a shooting gallery. But to expect every miliary shooter to have similar mechanics just couldn't work.
Arma 2 tried try to show some of the ambiguities and tough choices of modern war, but from the ground up it's built as a 'military simulation' (or just a strict tactical shooter). Call of Duty is not however. It's gameplay mechanics are closer to that of Unreal Tournament than Arma 2 or SWAT 4.
So really, i think demanding more maturity in a game's set pieces, cutscenes and approach to writing is reasonable. But expecting it to be reflected in the gameplay mechanics is unlikely to happen.

Joe said...

Speaking of nothing happening in a vacuum, I'm rather amused that Retrothinker goes on like Nintendo brought 16-bit console gaming to the masses, when they were last to the party.

I'm not sure how much attention the ICRC news deserves. Part of me just wants to write it off as just a one-off seminar filling space in the schedule of an elder institution's professional conference by making a superficial attempt to show their relevance by referencing some current pop culture. (I'm a librarian, and our professional literature and conferences have been addressing our relevance and our portrayal in the mass culture for over a century.)

On the other hand, this might be a similar tack to Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of West Point and some of the Army and FBI's top interrogators visiting the producers of 24 and asking them to stop promoting torture.

But is the problem really games influencing the culture, or are the games just reflecting the ways the Global War on Terror is fought, where violations of national sovereignty and aerial assassinations are practically a daily occurrence? If the US government itself continues to erode civilian and legal oversight of and limitations on military actions, can game developers be blamed for reflecting that reality in their games?

vlademir1 said...

I really like the use of a public access cable show as a functional equivalent to having a show on an internet streaming service in a then and now sort of way. That said, even for someone who's gaming dedicated, there is a hell of a lot more cultural shift in the intervening twenty years than just that in gaming to weird him out. The differences in the political landscape, various ubiquitous technologies like cell phones, not even smart phones but just plain vanilla cell phones, the social acceptability and commonality of various previously taboo "style" ephemera like tattoos and piercings and hell just the changes in Boston itself, like those from the years of work relating to 1-93 would be likely to cause much more distress well before stuff relating just to gaming. Add to that anything relating to his friends and family in the intervening years, and, well, what we see of the character at the end is much more functional than I'd have expected.

On the topical part, all I can say is that while I agree with their concerns I can't conceive of any real way to censure game companies for presenting what they do in the way they do in this genre without going too far. Really the demand in this genre isn't so much for narrative, from my experiences, as for the game of paint-ball with sorta realistically depicted military hardware. It is quite likely the lack of respect for human rights in the narratives that has caused this, though.
This is saddly compounded by the fact that a large chunk of the demographic that favors the realistic shooter genre is young enough that they may not even have considered that such conduct is an issue (I'll decline to mention my thoughts on parents who buy their kids such games but don't then take the opportunity to engage their kids on the moral, ethical or legal implications of the kinds of actions they undertake in them).

Mike said...

No. No no no. You can't lay this shit at the feet of Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3 globally. The original Modern Warfare had a very clear message (war is hell) and Battlefield 3 had soldiers questioning their motives, displaying cowardice and generally behaving in a reasonably realistic manner. For the most part. Neither of them are stupid revenge fantasies, either.

You seriously have to stop writing off an entire genre (the modern military shooter) just because Modern Warfare 2 and 3 are simplistic popcorn depictions of war in the vein of Top Gun.
Seriously, given how much you criticise this genre, I expect you to be familiar with Modern Warfare, Battlefield 3, ARMA II, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and the others because it sounds like you've played Modern Warfare 2 and that's it...

Aqua said...

Mike, it's not Bob's oppinion that really matters here, if you haven't guessed by now not even a cataclysmic event will change how he sees those games. The point here is how many other and bigger powers than an internet blogger see it. And thus far, not too many of those have been very good...

Mads said...

I loved the storyline of this episode.

It was tacky, it was silly, but it fucking worked. I think that's the first time since your wario's woods episode that I was excited about the story.

As for the discussion...that's really sticky.

On one hand, I believe games should be treated just like every other medium; that the onus is on the player to be critical of what goes on, on screen. That if someone actually uses GTA as a murder simulator, that's the users doing.

On the other hand, I think that you're responsible for all the concequences of your actions...even if you were merely incidental to a specific cause of events. As a novellist, then, if someone copycats murders described in your book, you have some degree of moral responsibility.

What really charges the discussion for me is that I believe Games are significantly more subversive and engaging than other fiction mediums. It's not just that I like games; it's that I think they actually posses supperior potential, in certain respects, and that they occasionally achieve things, emotions and reactions that no other medium could hope to come near in potency.

So if games are more powerful, doesn't it follow that they're also more morally responsible? Maybe so much so that game developers should concern themselves with what they might be incidental to?

I don't know. I do know it's the gaming industry's dirty laundry, and that discussing it is probably going to be inevitable...But short of a gaming code of ethics, which will be guesswork at best as to the concequences of designs, I don't see how to even get that discussion started.

ConanThe3rd said...


If you pulled that crap off on the Escapist, you'd probably be thrown out on your backside so fast it would make space fold in on it self.

Sorry Bob, if you take so long to get to your point, the pitchtorches and fireforks are already down the god-damned street.

SEP-ER-RATE the narrative with the show. Please! For everyone's sake!

Popcorn Dave said...

Getting a little repetitive here aren't you Bob? I know you want to keep on top of the big controversies, but you had nothing new to say here... FPSes suck, but they shouldn't be banned, multiplayer ruins everything, bla de bla... and right off the back of another tired anti-FPS episode. I'd rather have the Dizzy episode to be honest.

Anyway, Retrothinker looks like fun, although please don't make him go around saying stuff like "duuuude, I can't believe how brown and realistic everything is, and everything is an FPS, modern game is totally not radical!". I think Retrothinker would be pretty happy to see a lot of what's happened since 1990, and the modern FPS would blow him away. Nearly photo realistic graphics, smartphones that are way beyond even the most powerful computers of 1990, playing Mario Kart with Mum and Dad, online gaming with people thousands of miles away (and not just text adventures), instant downloading of any classic game you want... from his point of view, it would be heaven. Don't let the chip on your shoulder get in the way of common sense.

Aiddon said...

Bob, I think you deserve a little goofy episode next time with the Dizzy thing. I thought you were gonna kill something with how angry you sounded.

Anyway, like it has been said time and time again, games really need to stop all this unironic silliness like in MW3. Seriously, it's getting annoying and juvenile. The only time I've ever seen war depicted in a nasty light was in Yasumi Matsuno gameography (creator of the Ogre Battle Series and Final Fantasy Tactics), though those are medieval wars.

Spongey Blob said...

MovieBob, will please explain to me why you're saying that it's just videogames that do this? Or, indeed, anyone? The argument of films and television growing up is a clever one... it's just a shame that it's absolute horseshit. Why is Rambo too over-the-top to take seriously, but CoD Modern Warfare, with Russia repeatedly invading Europe and America, is somehow 'more serious and realistic'? Films haven't grown up at all - the lack of coverage of war crimes in the media sucks as did the gaming community's reaction, I'm not denying, but just games? No. That's like saying of all the pizzas in the world, margherita is the most unhealthy because it's the most common.

I think asking for more mature shooters is a perfectly reasonable request of anyone, especially the Red Cross, and talking to the games industry itself is no problem, but expecting it from Call of Duty? Not now; maybe just after the first Modern Warfare, they could've taken the games in a more serious and mature direction, but by now they've got a big fanbase doing what they've repeatedly done for the past four years; it undoubtedly sucks to have the same thing over and over, but if it makes them money that's what they'll do. What the solution SHOULD be is that another company or franchise should leap into the gap - people clearly WANT ambiguous and mature explorations of war, even the people who play these games, so why doesn't someone take advantage? You have to remember that what made Apocalypse Now so powerful was that it was a risk that not many people had taken yet, in a world of ridiculous war-loving oo-rah gun porn. Sounds pretty similar to right now, does it not?

Edward Gordon said...

In a lot of the current indie games or games that have nods to "retro" classics, you would see the old federal warning appear at the beginning before the game starts.

Maybe this is a simple way to approach things in a manner that could educate a game's target audience, as opposed to outright censoring any vilifying themes? A simple warning at the beginning of the game that tells its audience that this game is a fantasy which takes place in a world without the Geneva Convention, which you can look up at such and such a website. Or do games already do this? It seems like a simple enough idea.

OmegaWyrm said...

I really hope the direction that the Retrothinker storyline is going to go is with him initially thinking everything is horrible and crappy but gradually realizing that there are still quite a lot of good games being made, especially on the indie scene. A bit where he plays Portal, Recettear, Rock of Ages, Brutal Legend, Cthulhu Saves the World, or something like that and realizes that there are plenty of smaller devs out there making games that are fun and haven't forgotten the roots of the medium, and games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution really do show that a few of the big developers have teams that actually try to push the boundaries of gaming. Super Smash Brothers would probably be enough to restore his faith. Or having him play Sonic Generations would be really meta.

It would be great if he shits all over the online gaming community though, both for it's negativity and how often the ability to talk to other people makes a game LESS fun because everyone acts like a dick most of the time. Maybe he could hear about something like the Humble Indie Bundle, which I think really keeps the spirit of retro-gaming alive?

I am really excited about the potential of this character and the stories that could happen with him, I just hope that Bob really doesn't intend to be solely negative about modern gaming with him and will include at least a little bit of nuance.

Evilkinggumby said...

OK if we find out eventually that Retrothinker fathered a child before he got frozen while at a gaming sleepover and he is actually The Overthinker's dad... will just destroy my mind. hehehe....

Kool episode. To me it seems like the red cross is bringing all this to light because, as you noted, someone has to. If no one big and important(i.e. highly visible and able to make a massive stink about it if necessary) raises questions like this gaming would go on untouched and barely changing. Now the dev's have to stop, consider this angle, and most likely it will become a new dynamic in the games. Hopefully the developers can make it one that actually WORKS for the player and adds depth, still makes the games fun, and so is perpetuated. Most likely the player would have to get some added swag bonus for avoiding civilian casualties like commendations from their commanding officer or extra exp/perks. Cause you know folk won't save the whiny crying civvy fer simple morals... lol.

I'd laugh if they made it so if you saved a civilian you could slap a gun in their hand and have an A.I. bot follow you for a while.. hahaha... THAT'd be precious.

I love the contrast of then-and-now in this episode though. For those of us who lived through the dawn, growth, explosion and plateau that is the gaming industry.. it is a sobering moment. To think of the sheer amount of shit on the horizon and the books.. console wars, bit wars, new names and new faces hitting the market.. and then looking at it now where innovation is a "once every decade" risk... the tide has turned and it has definitely turned brown... lol.

I wouldn't be surprised if eventually after so many studio's are eaten up, dissolved and people fired because of the business model.. we eventually see mainstream gaming continue to get more and more homogenized and the real heart and soul of great gaming will shift to indie "small house" dev's who want to rise above and make a profit but also make a great game. We're seeing a bit of that with all the indie humble bundles. We see it with small companies doing releases on Steam. I would love to see it continue and bifurcate the industry until eventually mainstream gaming is forced to try and copy/rip off the indie games and becomes the red headed stepchild through collective consumer boredom/apathy. hehehe.

David said...

Interesting and thought provoking episode. While I realize it's a pipe dream I love the idea of a court martial sequence in a FPS.
Really loved Ivan pointing out the "Retro" paradox as I had that thought myself. Also really hope we get to see an episode about lost characters. As a platformer fan and child of the late 80's/early 90's I legitimately miss the old gaming mascots. Hopefully that topic can come back again.

Anonymous said...

Dead Island was banned in Germany because of extreme violence. Surprisingly, foreign courts and legislatures are not bound by the decisions of the Supreme Court.

Manny I said...

Dear Bob, ive been a long time fan of the show. There is a matter that i would like for you to address. Recently, G4tv had a deathmatch with the best games of 2011 where the fans voted. Here is where the problems start, out of the 32 31 were either for the Xbox 360 or the PS3 which is fine because they were all great games, but the only wii game was not treated fairly. First off, it was the only game that did not have a review video made for it. Secondly, it took down most of the best games of 2011, ex, uncharted 3, arkham city, skyrim, but during the final match against assassins creed, when they were to announce the winner, which was zelda, they only mentioned it for 30 seconds and followed up with a comment on how anger will always win. This was referring to that G4tv did not nominate SS for game of the year. I can understand if "hardcore gamers" make a remark like that on a forum but this is truly uncalled for on tv. Please give your 2 cents on this matter.

Twinmill said...

You know, I'm pretty sure if someone from the retro age of gaming froze themselves and woke up in 2011 (2012), they'd be nothing short of amazed at what's out there.

Gaming is still a fun hobby, it looks better, it's more immersive, and it has grown.

In fact, I'm pretty sure the RetroThinker would be dumbfounded, and still disappointed, not at what exists today, but at the fact that us, as gamers, take all of that for granted because we're used to having our current generation games on a silver platter. We're willing to nitpick and take large jabs at, not just games, entire genres, because we disagree with them.

In other words, the RetroThinker wouldn't dislike almost any of the games that are out there today, but what he would dislike, is how seriously people take them.

And I'm not talking about a rage-when-you-die-because-you're-emotionally-invested way. I'm talking about a fight-over-the-internet-for-hours-on-end sort of way. That's one thing I can agree with, and it may be part of your point: It seems like people spend more time fighting about games than playing them.

Kindberg said...

Hey Bob.

My first thought after watching the episode was, when you said that in movies to show that it isn't reality they either go science fiction or over the top like rambo.

Couldn't you argue that todays shooter games are just over the top? I mean, even Rambo 4 grossed more money than the hurt locker? (src wiki). you are properly going to say "yes, ofc shooters are over the top". But it just seems like such a huge risk for developers not to make rambo games, and those that will try it, will fail at the sales. Atleast with regards to movies; serious movies also get made to win oscars so film studios can catch them. and looking on your VGA episode at The Big Picture, one of those would properly never win there.

Tuskus said...

So much nostalgia.

SonicBonjoviFan said...

I'm really starting to warm up to the idea of the story arcs and this one seems interesting and I'm really eager to see where it will go.

HolyJunkie said...

I like this Retrothinker. He's like Captain America, minus the muscle- replaced with the spirit of y.

And the Avengers don't really exist in this world. There's only like... Bob... and... um... Tony... Not Iron Man Tony, I mean just some dude named Tony. I'm doing this so any Retrothinker-esque guy named Tony can have his mind blown.

Sawtooth said...

Probably not the point, but every time it cut back to him and it was STILL playing the Mario Invincibility music I couldn't help but laugh.

Funny stuff. XD

Final Stage said...

The Darth "Nooo!" at the end of the episode totally made the entire show :)

I think the Retrothinker was one of your best skits yet, and totally the stuff I was/would have been excited for in 1990.

Jannie said...

I have a question, and please, Aiddon, Sylocat, whoever, lets call a cease fire for a moment.

Simple question.

Preface: let's be honest, you hate FPS games, so you write off the whole genre. That's fine. I do however take issue with how you thoughtlessly right off the people who enjoy them as well--but fine, you're allowed to do so for no adequate reason. That is literally your right and a well-earned one we all share. Whatever.

I have this question though: let me put forth the hypothetical scenario that somehow, the Red Cross manages to get any kind of FPS game banned. Modern Warfare, Halo, all of them. Don't pretend like you wouldn't want that. You've said as much before. So let's all make believe and say that this actually happened.

What do you think would ACTUALLY happen in gaming then? And please, please, I'm serious, no snarky answers like "THEY'LL MAKE BETTER GAMES LOL!" I mean honestly, do you really think people will just give up 20+ years of evolution and just go back to making platformers and mascot games? Would you even like that? Would that be a best case scenario for you, Bob?

In short, what do you really want to happen to people like me? What is our place in that would? What about the industry--do you think it would thrive or be hurt? Do you think those shooter fans would just move on, or stop playing? Do sports games have any place in this world? Do people like me have a place in your world or not? Do I even have a right to exist to you?

I ask this because, frankly, I am curious. I'm trying hard to be as direct and honest and non-offensive as possible, because I'm seriously just asking a question. And I know I'm opening myself to an onslaught of offensive and insulting accusations and aspersions cast by your many defenders but I feel that, since you have made no secret of your dislike for me and people like me, I have the right to know what you really think. And none of that about "I don't hate FPS games" I mean what you REALLY feel.

I'm just tired of me and gamers like me being a scapegoat for every problem or perceived problem in the world, and being talked down to and having insults and innuendo for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Jannie said...

I'm serious when I say I almost cried after watching one of these videos. I'm sorry if that sounds too "nerdy" or "hysterical" or whatever but it's true. A Game Overthinker video almost put me in tears.

It was the one where he basically spent about ten minutes calling people like me criminals for liking video games he disagrees with. Saying the only people who play these games were thugs and racists and it's all just violent porn for them, basically.

I don't think sometimes, Bob, you realize how hateful it sounds when you say that. Do you know me? Do you know anything about me?

Well I'm not a criminal, or a thug or a drug addict or or a "redneck" or a racist anything of the sort. I've never been arrested in my life. I've never gotten a speeding ticket. I donate money to animal shelters to help feed cats because I loved cats ever since I was a little kid, I've even rescued several cats over the years and raised them. I've got a nice family, we're a middle class Black family who live in a fairly upscale part of Detroit.

I'm not a criminal. I'm not someone who deserves to be called that, but by calling people who like these games that, you're calling me that too. Because I like these games. I love video games, and yes, I love Halo and Cod and god help me I'll even admit to playing a few rounds of Horde in Gears 2 online. I know, so horrible, all those racists and terrible people.

But they weren't you see, they were friends of mine, people I've known for years. I know their families--I know one of them had just recently had a baby with his wife and we discussed it over the sounds of Locusts getting blown away. I knew one since he was a little kid, and now he's fifteen and he loves Gears. He's a wonderful kid by the way, I should know, I babysat him since he was in diapers. But we're all just criminals and racists and thugs to you so I'm sure you find that completely impossible.

I'm sorry if this is all sounding hysterical and sentimental, but I just want to put that out there. I'm not a racist, I'm not a thug or a lowlife or a drug addict. I like playing shooters. I'm unashamed of admitting that.

I have never begrudged people like Bob the right to play mascot games, nor have I ever associated with anyone who did, but I find people like him think people like would somehow take away their precious childhood memories if given half a chance. I have childhood memories too Bob.

The first system I got was a NES, back in 1990. One of the first games I ever played was a Mario game, but I've just never been a Mario fan. I'm sorry. I missed the boat. But I have a right to exist too...don't I?

Well, anyway, I'll just leave this particular discussion at that. I'm putting that question out there and I genuinely would love to hear some kind of real answer. I'm sorry if I'm a buzz kill or whatever. I'm not trying to be, and no matter what you and Aiddon and Sylocat and whoever may think, I'm not a bad person. I just don't feel you have the right to treat me and people like me this way, to say things like that and who knows, maybe I'm all wrong. Maybe it would make gaming better if people like me dropped out of it and we all just played mascot games day and night. But I know if I said the same about you, I'd be called a bigot and I'd have it coming.

Twinmill said...

Jannie, your post...

was an amazing read.

I do think it's an age thing. I mean, I'm from a different generation than Bob, and, about the time he was playing Zelda, I was playing Halo and Vice City. How sophisticated those games are can be debated, but, nomatter what, I'll remember kicking alien butt with the friends on my street in the last good years of my childhood.

I really hope that I don't have Bobs view towards FPS players, towards the next generation of gamers. I really hope that none of us do.

I've tried to complicate it before, but I honestly believe that if you take away the nostalgia, Zelda can be argued against just as much as Halo can, both in the games themselves, and the games that followed... then again, it's a game, and it's probably possible to argue just as harshly against a game like Skyrim.

MovieBob said...


First things first: I don't 'hate' any games. I have my individual/personal issues with certain franchises, creators, genres and CERTAIN aspects of CERTAIN communities surrounding CERTAIN genres, but nothing I do on this show - save for that one episode where I had to talk about that bastard Anders Behring Brevik - comes from a place of hate.

I don't want the FPS genre to go away. I think that the genre, as it exists right now, is having a net-negative effect by being so dominant in the medium, but by no means am I looking for it OR it's fans to to removed from the picture.

Secondly, while I don't dive into the comments too often I DO read them; and you are typically among the regular commenters I look forward to reading because though we obviously disagree you're obviously extremely intelligent and eager to defend your viewpoint and I generally find I learn more from (smart) people who disagree with me than from those who agree. As such, I'd like you to stick around and continue being a regular viewer/commenter... so I hope you take this next few paragraphs to heart:

I think you MAY be taking some VERY general opinions, jokes and story-points in these episodes "personally;" which is not in any way how they were intended. And please, don't think that I mean that in a "silly girl, you need to lighten up" way. Far from it.

The thing of it is, the nature of an opinion show like this - and I mean even APART from the skits and story bumpers - makes a certain amount of generalization a necessary part of assembling a "narrative" for the commentary. Simply put; it breaks the flow of the show to constantly be stopping to say "I'm only talking about these specific people/games/etc," so sometimes you employ a shorthand you assume the likely audience will be familiar with and get the broader meaning of.

It occurs to me, reading your post here, that I may have relied too heavily on such "shorthands" in relation to FPS games and the online-multiplayer communities connected to them; and in doing so given off the (incorrect) implication that I hold the entire genre/fandom responsible for negative aspects that, however widespread, are not representative of every individual person within. (I won't spoil it, but part of the "bigger point" of this now-unfolding "RetroThinker" story-arc is to address this very issue.)

And while I'm not going to appologize for having my "fun" at the expense of the "fratboy douche" culture that makes up so much of the public face of certain modern gaming genres; I could perhaps have take more care to remember that - for a lack of a less maudlin sentiment - every game is somebody's favorite. And if that carelessness on my part has caused you or anyone else (however unintentionally) to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome... then I appologize, and hope you'll take me at my word that your discomfort was not my intention.

That having been said... have you considered doing any blogging on your own? You clearly know what your talking about, and to be perfectly frank the #1 thing the gamer-culture desperately needs is more voices in the conversation (professionally, freelance, blogging-for-fun, whatever) coming from perspectives other than Generation-NES white suburban males like... well, like me. Just a thought.

In any case, thanks for reading/watching :)

Lez said...

Honestly, I agree with the Red Cross. To a degree.

Now I for one am a rather ignorant fellow when it comes to the wars that have happened around me. I don’t know anyone who has been in one or anyone who has been affected by them, so my intake of knowledge about them has been purely via the news. But I am not ignorant to the effects war can have on a nation or individual people.

Video games not only ignore all the rules of war but also all the rules of reality. This is partly why I don’t have an issue with them, they exist in a fantasy land where a bullet to the chest is going to cause a blood spray and health loss (that can be regenerated) but not ricochet around the rib cage shattering bone, causing internal bleeding, fragmenting into multiple pieces that will cause infection and possibly puncture the lungs and heart (IE immediate medical aid to avoid death).

The reality of war is something I cannot understand and probably something I would not survive to be able to tell to anyone (but then I might be wrong, the modern military team looks after their own and rarely loses men). But war now days have scale. To the public it’s something happening in another country, to the families of soldiers it’s a worry they might never see them again. To the civilians it’s a struggle to survive as they are given help or expected to survive (I have never read much on this subject so I cannot possibly write anything about it). Lastly, to the soldiers fighting, I imagine it’s about trusting your new family until it’s all over. Video games ignore the other factors in a lot of their stories, they focus on the core experience only giving you glimpses into what might be really going on. This is not just limited to FPS games; this happens in everything, HL2 never truly tells you what the 7 hour war was like or how the introduction of ant lions has meant the deaths of thousands and the destruction of agriculture. Experience all aspects of any given conflict would be information overload.

Now moving onto the problem of multiplayer. It’s not. It has no context it’s basically kids playing in the playground but with a harsher set of rules that are regulated by the omnipotent and invisible referee (who can’t improvise). The only way you can tackle this is to say “Nope, no more realistic depictions in fantasy settings” at which point the whole thing switches over to “Oh that’s not an AK, that’s a BK” (aka “near future”) and nothing has really been solved.

My bigger problem with games is how little care and attention is given to human life full stop. Even in society death is so downplayed that things just turn into statistics, rarely are the fallen ever given the true respect they deserve but by the people that knew them closest (but then this is just reality, people can’t morn the deaths of people they never knew).

It all reminds me of Germany actually and the gender double standard in old American brawling games. In Germany you can’t kill video game characters that look alive, so you get zombies. Back in the old days of Final Fight it was okay to beat up dudes, but then poison came along (the biker chick) she had to be changed to a guy as well because punching women in games was not okay.

But hey, I’m a massive hypocrite, I like FPS games and I write stories and design games that are just as dismissive with human life. It seems the worst thing that can happen to a living thing (death) is considered less taboo than other things in society, and it’s been drilled into my head by media, that that’s okay. It is a really uncomfortable subject.

Nathan said...

The character of the Retrothinker makes me disheartened on quite a number of levels. AS I'm sure many people here have, I grew up with video games. I got my first system at 5, an Atari 2600. I remember how excited I got when I got a Sega Master System for Christmas. Then again when my family got a Sega Genesis and even when we got the SegaCD. I remember thinking about how cool things were going to be. But, hearing Retrothinker go on, I now wonder why I didn't get that excited at the prospect of Motion Controls.

Bob, I think you've touched on a subject that's a little deeper than most people think about. Though I may be over-reading into it. In short, where did the little kid in all of us go? Did we let him get snuffed out by the march of modernity? I'm not sure I have an answer for that, but, it's certainly something to think about.

Biff said...


"while I don't dive into the comments too often I DO read them [...] I generally find I learn more from (smart) people who disagree with me than from those who agree."

Speaking for myself, I would be far more interested in giving you the kind of intelligent, negative critical feedback you appreciate from Jannie if I believed it would actually be received and considered.

You're responding to her now and that's great, but for several months Jannie has been posting lengthy rebuttals to your videos and it has seemed that she is "tilting at windmills" since there was no indication you pay any attention to them.

When I leave a comment on this blog it is because I feel so strongly about something you've done in the show that I want to tell you what I think. If I believed you would read a thoughtful 500-word essay on where I think your show has gone awry, I would write one. I haven't believed that, though, so when I comment it's short and scathing and I don't waste time being tactful or nuanced because only the other commenters are going to read it.

Since the Antithinker storyline, the attitude you've projected to your critics has been at best dismissive (ignore them) and at worst contentious (Straw Man; your tone in the first half of the Other M revisited video). You've demonstrated that this is what you want your show to be and you have no interest in listening to anyone who wants you to compromise that vision. So you should not be astonished that people who disagree with you find it pointless to seriously debate these points with you, and settle for simply venting their frustration.

The intelligent criticism you claim to appreciate is not going to automatically present itself like manna from heaven; it will come when you demonstrate your receptiveness to it. I'm not saying you have to respond to every negative comment or that you have to change the show to placate every single criticism. But you could indicate that it at least matters to you if people dislike things about the show.

Mads said...

@ Biff
Not everyone feels that way.

You might have fun writing scathing replies. I do too, if I've had a horrible day, just to experience some sort of catharsis.

But for some of us, that's not the modus operandi. I write comments on nearly all the blogs I frequent, which invariably leaves room for frequenting only 10 or so. Part of the reason I'm a commenter is because I want to encourage those willing to produce, because for whatever reason, I'm too bitter to find it in me to author things myself, and I doubt I'd be any good.

But even if the author doesn't bother with my replies...which is totally fair...they're also there because I feel saying something I think is right...providing an analysis or a perspective...has intrinsic value. Because it is a joy for me to write it.

I don't merely comment for the other commenters, or for Bob, I also do it for myself. And I would sure as hell hope that my comments are thoughtful and come off as meaningful, because that's the foundation I write them from. That's the more concrete motivation behind nearly every one of them.

Mads said...

but I will say this for discussions where the author of the blog takes part:
It felt good to see Bob respond to Jannie, and I think it adressed an important point.

Jannie said...

Well...that happened. I've had some time to clam down and I realize how shrill and angry that all was, and I'm sorry about that.

Believe it or not I do actually think of myself as a fan, for lack of a better word. I wouldn't watch the videos every time they come out otherwise. But I realize now maybe I'm too defensive.

And I'd like to apologize to Bob for being so over-combative, in more ways than one, and yes I was way too emotional and take things too personally. I do feel though that--perhaps due to a certain level of nostalgia and fetishizing older game eras--there are certain segments of gaming journalism that view whole groups of gamers as being somehow inferior or otherwise undeserving of their place in the community, and it's things like this that don't help. But perhaps I would make a better showing if I explained why I find this whole thing so perplexing.

Basically it's this: the Red Cross is either lying or interpreting the Geneva Convention in such a way that it would be impossible to produce even the most safe, sterile Mascot Game without violating it somehow.

I get the impression from a lot of the gaming press that some of these people have never played these games or even taken the time to read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia--like when people say that modern military shooters are all about "shooting Muslims", when the most popular one of all time, Modern Warfare 2, includes precisely zero Muslims outside of ONE level. That's not even hard to verify. It's so early in the game, you can find it on the first video of any YouTube let's play. But it's easier to just assume things about the game based on what, allegedly, "bro gamers" supposedly like...that or just make something up and hope no one provides even a cursory examination to see if that is the case (or the Ben Crenshaw Method as I call it).

This is an example, I believe, of the latter. The Red Cross says that these games somehow allow you to violate these rules of war, which would be more impressive as an argument if that were actually true. But I defy anyone to simply go on YouTube and type in "Let's Play Modern Warfare 2" or "Let's Play Battlefield Bad Company" and find somewhere, outside of No Russian, that makes or even ALLOWS you kill civilians. You can't because they don't exist. In point of fact the game goes out of its way to prevent you from doing so.

For example, in MW2, there are precisely three instances where civilians are present in the game, none of which you are forced to kill civilians and one of which you play as a terrorist so you're not bound by the Geneva Convention anyway.

In the first, you're tasked with escorting a convoy in Iraq, and you're told NOT to shoot ANYONE unless they shoot back...even though there are snipers on the roofs aiming AK-47s at you you're not aloud to so much as prick their skin lest you get a game over and have to restart the mission. The reason I say the Red Cross is at best ignorant of this and at worst lying is because this is the SECOND level of the game--a simple YouTube search would reveal this to anyone curious about it.

Now I've never played the original Modern Warfare, and I haven't gotten the chance to play MW3 or Battlefield 3 yet so maybe I'm wrong and these games have levels where babies are hung from meat hooks and you have to bash their heads in with bats to regain health, but I'm so doubtful of that I have trouble expressing it in words.

I'd actually like to offer a counter example, of a game where killing civilians really IS allowed and in fact encouraged:

GTA clones.

Jannie said...

Yes GTA clones, like Saints Row 3, Infamous, Prototype et al.

Not only is killing civies possible it is in fact encouraged on such a level that the game mechanics have been constructed around it.

In Infamous, killing innocents and draining them is how you gain Evil Powers and even regain life. In Prototype you get to eat people outright. And one thing Ben Crenshaw DID say that was correct was that in Saints Row 3 your main method of transportation is conjuring a helicopter from the ether and then kamikazie-ing it into a group of school children. In fact it's SO engrained in the gameplay that you actually get points for it in some instances, same for Prototype where you benefit massively from killing every living thing you see. Just Cause 1 and 2, ditto...only in Saints Row 3 you play as a washed up Bond Villain while in Just Cause you play as Jason Bourne's latino cousin Angel.

But here's the thing: GTA clones, while popular, aren't THE gaming genre that everyone is playing now, military shooters are. So if you, say, want attention and want to draw press to you and you point out that Saints Row three has a mechanic in it whereby you actually are rewarded for wanton murder, and your fast travel system is "hijack space shuttle and crash it into destination, killing dozens" no one would care because EVERYONE already knows how those games go.

You could argue those games don't count because they're not military simulations and full of unrealistic stuff like superpowers and a SWAT team with a mile long flying aircraft carrier and a fleet of armed space shuttles...but if that's the case then neither is Battlefield 3 or Modern Warfare 3 or Operation Flashpoint because the real military doesn't equip you with a healing factor and a squad of robot soldiers with perfect aim and infinite ammunition. I believe Red Orchestra was the only game where you get killed with one shot so maybe it would count, but again, no one plays WWII shooters now so...nope, not a word.

If the Red Cross wants to suggest these games are encouraging somehow the NeoCon belief that we need to "destroy Islam", they're wrong because that existed before 9/11 just in a different form. What they'd be talking about then is the usual conservative trope where they take nationalism and tribalism and deify it into a kind of religion onto itself.

This existed BEFORE 9/11 but the thing is, after that, it became somehow chic to say so in public. But even if you simply banned ALL video games of ALL types, it wouldn't make that go away. That existed as far back as the 1950s when we barely had stone wheels and rode dinosaurs to work.

And if they're suggesting it is somehow having an effect on the troops themselves--for example like that torture scandal at that Iraqi POW camp whose name I can't possibly spell--then they're simply wrong again because I seriously doubt that before they went over there and started stacking people on top of each other and electrifying their genitals they played through some Modern Warfare 3, unless they were all time travelers from a half decade in the future in which case I guess we should be more worried about the ramifications of time crime than how many people play Modern Warfare.

The point is, that, at best these people are incorrect and saying things that are flat out impossible to prove, and at worst they're lying to get attention for some reason that I clearly am neither unscrupulous nor disingenuous enough to understand. I do find it hilarious that, if that's the case, they chose to lie about something that can be disproved by simply going to YouTube and looking at let's plays for ten minutes.

Jannie said...

One more thing, I really would like to offer a small defense for what I can only assume came off as histrionics and rambling: I admit honestly I have been far too combative and defensive and I believe that I do maybe take things too seriously. Believe it or not I really do hate to be that "serious business" person who can never have fun, and I do take things very personally when I shouldn't, though I still do disagree with some aspects of what is regularly said about the segment of gaming I happen to belong to.

In my defense, maybe, I guess, being part of what is ALWAYS derogatorily referred to as "bro gamers" or "gramers" (a term I had to look up and did not originally know was a thing) and being seen as some kind of mouth breather who knows nothing about the world outside of Gears of War and COD, or the hypothetical thirteen-year-old swearing gamer on XBL, has made me take any kind of affront very personally. So I'm too defensive, and I'm trying to get over that, and I don't know maybe its for the best we can all clear the air and start over from fresh.

Anyway, this is getting into too long, didn't read territory so yeah.

BionTimeWorks said...

I don't like it where you say that multiplayer can't have any context whatsoever. Brink didn't do a good job at it but it did prove that it is possible.

Mads said...

@ Jannie

I don't think Red Cross are lying or trying to be manipulative.

You raise several points;

1: If you look beyond military shooters, things that would clearly be against the geneva convention take place all the time, and are encouraged

2: Several military first person shooters make it a point to uphold the rules of war, and when they don't, it's generally because they want to hit the ball out of the park by illustrating geneva transgressions and just how wrong they are.

3: Military first person shooters either aren't authentic enough, or they incorporate many ethics perspectives, so by and large, the problem doesn't really exist.

Something like that. To the first, I would say that it's not that GTA-clones aren't popular, it's that GTA itself is a parody and pretense game, and that this has been recognized by now. I believe the Vice City and San Andreas accomplished this, by being transparrent parodies of movies and television serials. By now, many years later, everybody knows that the games revel in being absurd, and illustrating absurdity, rather than being straight-faced violence simulators. Military Shooters, on the other hand, do not hold this recognition, whether fair or not.

To the second and third arguments, I would say that the problem is probably the very idea of gaming based on military conflict itself, where things are played straight-faced. This is clearly the case with modern warfare.

It might not be fair, because the storyline for both single and multiplayer doesn't involve killing civilians and so forth; but I think the problem is the idea of creating a game that tries for both authenticity and fun, whose only basis is actual war, rather than parody of fictional war. You can see how having fun with war might come accross as pretty darn callous to people who have been in actual warzones and dealt with the fallout. It glorifies warfare not as something to be revered about, or respect, but as something banale and enjoyable.

While that isn't directly against the geneva convention, you can see why and how it could give rise to a culture that won't respect the geneva convention. Treating war as a deeply serious, and not at all fun, subject, necessarily means you respect it more, which by extension supports the rules of war more.

Well that's my theory for their motivation. They're not going to come out and describe things like that, of course, because it doesn't sound particularly rational, and certainly not like something you can actually influence. It also seems to me that whoever prepared the material the red cross released might not have been able to see things clearly enough to even describe things this way.

So...yeah. It's a relevant subject, and I think it's worthy of discussion. I also think your arguments are good, I just don't think they take the red cross peoples unique perspective into account, and I think that, more than anything, is the reason they spoke out as they did.

Spongey Blob said...

@ Jannie

Now there's an interesting point. Not so much whether or not what is laughably called 'realistic' modern FPS's follow the Geneva Convention, which is an argument which would end with the IRC representative and the CEO of Activision stooped over, glaring at a TV screen pointing at things and nitpicking at each other, and more the games that happily LET you attack opponents with no provocation. Here's an odd choice for an instance where it's not only encouraged, it's actually required...

... Super Mario Brothers.

Of all the opponents in the Mario games, there are five I remember that actually pre-emptively attack you - Hammer Bros, Bob-ombs, those minibosses in SMB3, Bowser himself and his children, and they are... children. And the game revels in you murdering them. Kids. And also anyone in the game that isn't Toadstool or a Yoshi. And yet we happily let it happen. Why?

Because it's fun.

Sometimes, that's what games are meant to be. Cathartic, ridiculous bloodbaths that indulge our murder frenzy. Sometimes, it doesn't fit at all, and makes the game seem psychotic. I think context is the point, and I think that if the Red Cross just said 'Most modern FPS's don't take modern war seriously enough' which is true, but most THINGS don't take war seriously enough. It sucks, yeah, but do you think Apocolypse Now or Jacob's Ladder or Full Metal Jacket would even be so well regarded if they weren't the shining diamonds in the majoritive rough? I think that's what we have to consider - if every game ran on the same morality, or even the same anything; same logic, same rules, same mechanics, same atmosphere and context... would it honestly improve leisure time?

Do we need more anti-war games? Yes. Does every game need to be anti-war? I'm yet to see why.

Mads said...

@ Spongey

I think that's a bit disingenuous. Rarely is war ever portrayed as outright fun in movies. But in modern warfare multiplayer, it clearly is.

Linking warfare so closely with enjoyment is the problem Red Cross is going after, as I see it.

Wolfboy said...

@Mads - you're right, Spongey is being a bit disingenuous.

The difference between "mass-murder" sprees in GTA or inFamous (or even the Marios) is that those games are clear fantasies. There are demonstrably *not* superpowered lightning-mutants, heavily-armed helicopter-jacking motorbike jumping super-criminals or magical mushroom-fighting plumbers in our world. There are, however, a number of real wars fought with real guns.

Much as I find the repetitiveness of characterisation and gameplay in those games a massive turnoff, the Halo and Gears Of War games get a pass on this count too.

The point is, as people who actually *listened* to Bob would have noticed, not to pull down military shooters. The point is that because they purport to show actual soldiers fighting actual wars in our actual world, the question of how much responsibility they have for the worldview they put forward is much more relevant than it is for games that are more transparently fantastic*.

By way of illustrating my own position, I personally enjoy 1st and 3rd-person shooters immensely, but largely gave up playing multiplayer because of the culture online (and this way back in the days of the original Counterstrike). I've never really got into military shooters because the whole army-porn thing has never really appealed to me.

*In the sense of "being a fantasy".

Wolfboy said...

Moreover, I don't think having invulnerable civilians or non-existent civilians in military shooters addresses the Red Cross's point at all.

In a world where there were no civilians, or shooting one caused a soldier to travel back in time to the start of their mission, there would be no need for the Red Cross.

The fact that civilians by and large don't exist in these games means that they can be discounted as a consideration in the big-fun-good-times firefight. Multiplayer deathmatch would be considerably less fun if you had to worry about your bullets going through walls and perforating toddlers.

This is exactly the point that the Red Cross are making.

Mads said...

And I would say it's not just a question of fantasy vs. reality - modern warfare is designed around making the player simultaneously feel an experience of authenticity - "this is what it's like to fight for your life, in a war, as a heroic soldier" - and an experience of joy.

The game can be as unrealistic or as realistic as you can imagine, but if the aim (and accomplishment of the aim) is this sense of authenticity as you're playing, then that's a distinction from other games depicting violence.

Could the same argument be made for violence in games in general being linked with fun? And why is the criticism specific to military shooters and not to military movies?

Well, it's an issue with two distinct subjects. Firstly, why are military shooters different from military shooter movies and other media. Secondly, why are military shooters different from other violent videogames.

The first, as I see it, is as I said above: The viewer of a movie is not actively participating in a contest. There is no personal risk to him, no direct investment, that depends on the movie characters performance and ability to do violence. The player of a violent game will necessarily associate doing violence (within the game) with joy (outside of the game). No such bridge is in place with movies, making the issues distinct.

The second, is that war is an abstract phenomenon that the Red Cross deals with very concretely. They don't deal with criminal violence. They deal with what happens during that particular situation where it is generally recognized that ordinary law no longer applies. You are not a murderer if you kill an armed enemy combatant.

The red cross cares specifically about how this situation is seen culturally. To be fair, warfare is an incredibly important facet of human history, that has had further reaching concequences than everything else. It's a very big issue.

Any one act of crime is nothing compared to warfare, and while there's many societal mechanisms that govern crime and counteract it, warfare and warcrimes, and how it's comitted, is nearly all left in the hands of the perpetrators, and the only thing keeping them in check is their values and viewpoints on war.

So it seems that it _is_ the business of the red cross to care about everything that has anything to do with war, and it seems that military shooters are a distinct phenomenon from everything else, which then warrants a distinct respone.

Here's the thing: you can't make a game that goes for this military-soldier authenticity while simultaneously being fun, and then _not_ broadcast a fundamentally detrimental message. Nomatter how you package it and wrap it, this part of the message will _always_ be detrimental.

I think it's a conundrum without a practical solution; but at the very least, making people pattently aware of this misshapen portrayal may ensure that peoples respect for actual war will be reduced more rarely, and for fewer individuals.

I also think there is nothing immoral about the works themselves, and I think they serve an important purpose of providing people with catharsis and relief, the effects of which probably can't be quantified.

But is this specific aspect problematic, and is it fair for a human rights organization to open up a discussion about it? After making this argument, there is no doubt in my mind that it is.

flamebreak said...

Bob, I really hope you answer this question. Have you, in earnest, played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? I have, numerous times and it stands to this day to have one of my favorite (if short) single player campaigns of any FPS and to an extent, any game I've played with a narrative. Perhaps because the campaign itself is really the type of FPS I would think you would like. There is no bending of the Geneva convention (or outright breaking of it). In fact the game outright punishes you by making you restart a mission if you kill a friendly, or a civilian. The campaign itself was heavily centred, at least to me, on the horrors of warfare. In the second "Mission" (which really is just a cutscene from the eyes of a soon to be murdered ex-Prime Minister/President of X middle-easter country) has you driving through city streets where militants are executing civilians, whilst a bit of sombre orchestra plays in the background. If you take the time to notice and look around at what you see, it has the potential to be quite powerful. Then there is the famous "nuke" scene, that has all kinds of power. The characters were also wonderfully colourful inspite the fact they had little backstory. Sure it had the fun multiplayer (which to this day is still the best of the 8-game-long series), but the campaign, for those who at least played it. Was certainly a good one. Rent it Bob. Pop in in your 360 or PS3 (whatever it is you own) and just sit and absorb the campaign, notice everything. Don't just rush through it in attempt to "get it over with". Play it and enjoy it. If you disagree, then fine, but to me CoD4: MW is the FPS that combines multiplayer with a good campaign that isn't just gun-wank (in fact there is quite a limited selection on guns available to use)

Spongey Blob said...

@ Mads and Wolfboy

While I did kind of (emphasis on the 'kind of') address your points in an earlier post, looking over my previous post... I honestly have no idea what I was going on about. I think I was addressing more Red Cross's specific argument (war crimes should be portrayed in games) as opposed to their overall complaint (the levity with which war is portrayed) and I was being pretty dumb, and for that I apologise.

I DO get where Red Cross is coming from - it's hard to take war seriously when you play a silent robot who's apparently able to take bullets to the head and be down for about five seconds before coming right back up, but I think Call of Duty 4 at least gets too little credit, if only slightly. I don't know about later installments, but in CoD4 you do get a sense of at least the discomfort of the battlefield. Whenever you're shot particularly hard, you're stunned, the screen goes red and shakes, and it takes ages to get back to normal. That's not my idea of fun at least. And, while the repeated use of shock material in the games is borderline-psychotic when it's not just stupid, it's at least trying to portray war as a very nasty thing. It's part of why I prefer CoD to Battlefield - Battlefield falls into the trap of accidentally saying 'look how amazing we are at killing people' a little too much, such as that big pan shot of all those aircraft carriers, but I certainly don't think it's the creator's intent, or possibly their knowledge.

That said, I doubt Activision are really going to change their ways - what they've got is making them a lot of money, but judging by the discussion here, there's a lot of demand for less gun-happy games, so maybe Activision's loss is another's opportunity. I think gaming's own Full Metal Jacket won't come from the current war franchises, but someone just leaping in to fill the gap. In fact, here's an idea - use pretty much every single mechanic and control in Call of Duty, but three differences. One; you've just got to get from one end of a city to the other. Two; if you die, go right back to the beginning. Three; take the gun away from the player. Suddenly, you're the civilian. What better way to teach players about the horrors of killing innocents then putting them in the shoes of one? They've just got to run, and hide, and avoid hope they don't get hit in the crossfire. I don't know if that would work, but I think it's a start, at least.

Jay said...

I've lost all respect for the Red Cross. The video game issue is just part of their other problems. While they silence bloggers, I just don't want to give any money to them until they get their act together.

Spongey Blob said...

@ Jay

That's... unnecessarily extreme. No offense intended, but the International Red Cross is kind of odd with it's censorship, yes, but considering that it's an organisation that's saved more lives than I've drank energy drinks (and I'm a student), I think that's a sacrifice worth making. I'll complain when they arm militia groups, to be honest.

JodeciDeion:TheWon said...

It seems to me this RetroThinker is Sean Malstrom. They seem to have a similar point of view on past gaming. Also knowing how he feels about current gaming I know how the RetroThinker is going to feel. Great Episode keep doing your thing Bob. If they don't like it they don't have to watch.

Wes said...

This is a very intresting episode, I do sort of agree with bob that the gamers sort of overreacted when the red cross talked about it.

As for the Retrothinker, I hope that he gets a happy ending, maybe he will experience Minecraft. =3

Mads said...

@ Spongey Blob

I think I was addressing more Red Cross's specific argument (war crimes should be portrayed in games) as opposed to their overall complaint (the levity with which war is portrayed) and I was being pretty dumb, and for that I apologise.
I actually think it's completely fair to dig into their specific points, but the only thing it proves for certain when you find those flawed is that the red cross aren't very good at talking about specific aspects of games. They don't use a clear language, they confuse distinct issues for eachother, and they generally don't appear to understand games well enough to isolate the root of their concern. Which, well...probably isn't terribly controversial, or even something you can hold against them. They don't play at being medics in TF2, they're bloody well actual medics.

I think you're already on the same page as I am on this, so I'm just writing this for arguments sake, but the point is, their overarching sentiment really does come from somewhere, and I can both understand it and respect it. Even if they fumble something and have come out on the negative side when it comes to gamer PR, I think it's a valuable message, and I hope many people will hear it.

Anyway, I do agree that CoD gets a bad rap. It's singleplayer mode does try fairly hard to be Full Metal Jacket. As I recall, there's a particular sequence where you drop bombs from a safe spot in the sky, which illustrates just how horrible a means of war bombing is. A friend of mine was very impressed with the subtle way in which it conveyed its message about bombing.

Also, that game you're talking about? Already made, more or less. From about 2005 and onwards, there has been a massive surge in arthouse games of various kinds. The indie scene is typically where they originate.

The title eludes me but I can look it up if you want.

supercomputer276 said...

Given the lively debate going on in what I assume is every "new episode" post, it seems almost wrong that the only thing I feel the need to comment on is something I should probably keep my mouth shut about since it has nothing to do with the discussion. Namely, a plothole in the framing device.

Retrothinker seems to imply the episode was recorded in 1990 specifically. I'm sure there's more holes than the one I noticed concerning release dates and that I'm of the impression the U.S. gaming community wasn't actually aware that Japan had anything to do with gaming at the time. The one I did notice, though? He speaks about the possibility of 16-bit Kirby, even though Kirby's Dream Land wasn't released, even in Japan, until 1992.

Granted, this is a world where there are parallel universes and a sentient hay pile had a pair of humanoid children (it'd be interesting to know who the mother was), but still. These sort of things kinda bug me.

RockPlazaCentral said...

I don't understand why Retrothinker got upset when he stepped on Bomberman. It was lying on the ground in what seemed like some back alley. It was exactly where it belonged.

I understand that a fantasy depiction of war mixed with realistic weapons and brown-grey environments doesn't sit well with many people, but I love the present state of gaming and I am excited about the future of gaming.

Nintendo brought the dungeon puzzle solving outside in Skyward Sword. The controls are great.

I can play Super Mario on my handheld and my TV, Paper Mario is coming out for the 3DS, and I can make platformer levels on LittleBigPlanet.

Skyrim was a pretty serious game for the most part, but fighting dragons, shouting people off their feet, shooting flames from my hands, turning into a werewolf, and just wandering around a large landscape was awesome and so much fun.

Dark Souls brought open world exploration to its tough-as-nails gameplay while expanding its great series of hideous monsters. I love the cooperative online play. No BS--just helping each other.

Finally, there are so many amazing downloadable games. I loved The Bastion.

Jannie said...

I don't have a whole lot of time at the moment to comment but I'm going to address this whole thing on a more specific level in a couple of hours when I have some time freed up.

I have one thing to ask though:

@Wolfboy, IS that what the Red Cross is saying, because it doesn't sound like it. They said, as far as I know, that basically FPS games allow and encourage you violate the rules of war. This is demonstrably, objectively incorrect since most do not actually ALLOW this to be possible let alone encourage it. Now if they said that these games are not "realistic" enough, that's their opinion, but that's got nothing to do with the Geneva Convention. There IS no Geneva violation in these games, the games actively prevent it from happening. So either they're wrong, lying or both...which as I said wouldn't be the first time, see Fox News vs Mass Effect.

I also have some choice words about the alleged artistic merit of Apocalypse Now (hint: actual vets don't see it that way if you ever talk to them) and its value as a game design, if any, but that's for a later time.

Jannie said...

Ok so, back to what I was saying. I seriously doubt that the Red Cross is suggesting, as Wolfboy says, that these games should have scenes where children are killed by stray gunfire. What possible purpose would that serve? More so if their view is that these games encourage breaking the Geneva Convention, then here they're simply and demonstrably wrong. As I have said, and I'm not the only one here who has, these games make it almost impossible to kill civilians, and even in the one time I can recall where you COULD kill civies, the game didn't require or encourage you to do so, and you weren't even playing as a sanctioned soldier in any way shape or form so you're not even EXPECTED there to follow any rule of war.

But that's not why someone suggested putting all this malarkey into the game, breaking the flow of the game and siphoning the fun out of it. No the reason is this inane theory, and I have no idea where this came from, that somehow military games need to be "more Apocalypse Now and less Red Dawn". Forget for a moment that Red Dawn isn't some horrible blight on the world that can be used as a a pejorative in that way, even if it fucking was it STILL would scarcely change anything because, believe it or not, Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn are about equally "realistic" in their portrayal of war.

Oh, one is certainly more melodramatic, more maudlin, and more prone to fetishizing the moral failings of man by making every character an unlikable douche...but that's not a realistic reflection of war. If you actually ask a Vietnam vet what they think of, say, Platoon or Apocalypse Now or whatever most of them will tell you it's shit, because it's not at all a realistic or mature view of war it's just a more grim and gritty one. It's the same mentality that makes people think that Dark Knight is any more realistic than Batman and Robin, somehow, or that the Firefly is more realistic than Flash Gordon, again somehow. Dark and gritty and over-dramatic doesn't make it "realistic" it just makes it murky and ambiguous. It's a hipster's idea of "deep".

I've actually known people who served in Iraq who used to fume at me about how, after Hurt Locker, every late drinking trust fund baby who went to the movies that year suddenly thought they knew everything about serving in war. Actual soldiers view these movies quite poorly--its only the majority population whose only exposure to war is dramatic music cues swelling up as some actor delivers a line about how horrible war is in Vietnam (from a set, on a studio backlot) who think that this is in any way remotely realistic.

So no, even if we made a scene for scene recreation of Platoon you could play through like an FMV game from the 90s, it would make it no more "realistic" or reflect actual war any more so than Modern Warfare already does.

But all of that is just the usual "games must be art FIRST and entertainment a distant ninth!" nonsense that's polluted games for more than a few years now. The real problem here, and what the Red Cross is actually arguing, is that these games either allow or encourage breaking the rules of war. Neither is true, and in fact this can be easily proved by simply looking at some guy on YouTube play through the thing. So I don't see exactly why the gaming industry or community should even bother to respond to this, or at least in any way other than the way we would if Jack Thompson made such an obviously spurious claim.


Jannie said...

Basically, like I said, they're either purposefully lying (because military shooters are the currently largest selling media in history, and they want attention) or they're ignorant of the facts. Either way, they're wrong, that is an objective fact, and frankly I think they know it but don't care.

And any claim that games "need an Apocalypse Now" comes from a similar place of ignorance. Not to offend everyone, but we need to step back for a moment, remember that old canard "no soldier views an anti-war movie as an anti-war movie" and ask ourselves would making Apocalypse Now: the Game of the Movie actually do? It wouldn't sell at all, I can promise that, so at best it'd be there merely to satiate a few people who for whatever reason need or want games to be...what? More "serious"? More "grown up"? By who's definition of either? Roger Ebert? What precisely would be the endgame (no pun intended) of such a Quixotic undertaking, simply to look smart in front of the other entertainment medias? Well since ours is currently at the top of the heap and movies, books, tv and music are all far, far behind I think we can all kind of rest assured that they're snide remarks and lack of respect is more out of insecurity than us being behind, so why sacrifice fun and enjoyment on the alter of "srs bizness!" now?

I'm sorry but am I just not insecure enough? I see no reason why any of us should care if "gaming has its own Citizen Kane!" which by the way is another overrated, melodramatic movie which is passed off as somehow deep or meaningful despite having a glaring plot hole in the first few minutes, yet if you listen to some people, like Extra Credits for example, gaming just isn't complete until we cranking out some Oscar bait drivel every year like sausages.

How about this: movies aren't going to ever be taken seriously as a valid form of entertainment until the next high art drama starring Ryan Gosling sells 400 million dollars worth of tickets the first twenty-four hours like Modern Warfare 3.

But I digress. That's not what this is about. What this is about is that someone made a claim which a lot of people who NEVER have actually played these games will now take as fact because they will also never waste their precious seconds looking up a walkthrough on the internet to even confirm if it is true or not. This is seriously EXACTLY the same as when someone claimed that Mass Effect was a porno because it had a few seconds here and there of poor quality, late night TV level sex (yawn) in it. This is the same thing that happened when those kids shot up Columbine and suddenly it was Doom's fault because obviously killing a huge, floating head with one eye that spits fire is the same as killing a human being in real life. Then for a second there Power Rangers, of all things, was making kids violent.

Now apparently Modern Warfare is the cause of modern warCRIMES (hurhur). I guess I missed that part where they actually presented some evidence for this, but then again, I'm not surprised since the media is so ill-informed and certain sectors of gaming in general so prone to treating "bro gamers" like pariahs that of course it must be true. Except that it demonstrably isn't true and even a few minutes into the game this claim can be disproved.

Mads said...

@ Jannie:
Firstly, I want to link this:

Jannie wrote:
Basically, like I said, they're either purposefully lying (because military shooters are the currently largest selling media in history, and they want attention) or they're ignorant of the facts. Either way, they're wrong, that is an objective fact, and frankly I think they know it but don't care.

ICRC wrote:
In real life, armed forces are subject to the laws of armed conflict. Video games simulating the experience of armed forces therefore have the potential to raise awareness of the rules that those forces must comply with whenever they engage in armed conflict – this is one of the things that interests the ICRC. As a matter of fact, certain video games already take into account how real-life military personnel are trained to behave in conflict situations.
So obviously they know it, and they obviously do care to make that nuance known.

Jannie wrote:
The real problem here, and what the Red Cross is actually arguing, is that these games either allow or encourage breaking the rules of war. Neither is true, and in fact this can be easily proved by simply looking at some guy on YouTube play through the thing. So I don't see exactly why the gaming industry or community should even bother to respond to this, or at least in any way other than the way we would if Jack Thompson made such an obviously spurious claim.

No, that is not what they're arguing. They're arguing that games can (and sometimes already do) encourage respect for the rules of war and humanitarian interests in general, according to this:

ICRC wrote:
Part of the ICRC's mandate, conferred on it by States, is to promote respect for international humanitarian law – also known as the law of armed conflict – and universal humanitarian principles. Given this mandate and the ICRC's long history and expertise in matters relating to armed conflict, the development of these games is clearly of interest to the organization.
Which is an observable fact.

Here's my final point to you:
Does this seem like a respectful treatment of the subject matter of armed conflict? The gaming experience provided here is obviously action pumped fun. Modern Warfare 3 turns armed conflict into a mockery of the real thing. It's gleeful, and I bet the guy playing it was grinning all over his face.
The red cross never argued that gaming was causing war crimes, and you know it. But you know what, I'll gladly step up and argue that this type of game, by linking armed violence and base fun in this fashion, is undoubtedly eroding the respect and reverence with which some part of the player population would otherwise treat armed conflict.
And if people were more respectful of the subject of war, I bet the rules of war and humanitarian concerns would also be more important.

From there, it's easy to see why a respected organization such as ICRC would put its weight behind making the statements of the above linked faq….and I think you're completely unfair to assume that they're trying to grab attention at the expense of games.

Mads said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the game should be changed. I'm simply saying what it is and what it isn't. What it is, is the treatment of armed conflict as a sport that you partake in for fun. What it isn't, is a cultural experience that reinforces your respect for the rules of war, in spite of dealing with the exact subject matter that would make it relevant.

Both things are fundamentally ok, protected speech, and it probably does more good than harm by giving people a way to relieve stress and wind down. In fact, the general awareness it probably raises on the subject of war could easily make it a net good.

But the ICRC's reminder that there are certain problems with it, and that more could be done with it? That's also a good thing, and shouldn't be hammered down like you're doing.

Jannie said...

Well then I have no idea what all this about the Geneva Convention came from, because if that's the case then it completely changes what the actual argument was. I was under the impression, from what was said in the video and by others, that this had to do with the actual protocols of the Geneva Convention being violated somehow but if that's not so then clearly I was wrong. That's embarrassing, but that's my fault--that's what I get for not looking it up, so thank you Mads I was wrong and I appreciate you pointing that out to me, and actually I find I agree with them.

Though in my defense, from what some people said in response I get the impression none of us actually read the thing but you since people were arguing what is or isn't following the protocols of just war when they said that isn't an issue to begin with, in black and white.

If I understand it they are saying that some games, because they depict war, should take pains to make sure characters don't violate the rules of war, but then they go on to flatly say they think its not much of a problem to begin with:

"A few media reported that certain virtual acts performed by characters in video games could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this correct?

No. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games."

So yeah, the thing is, I don't think any of us (me especially) actually were aware of what was being said since at a glance I really don't see how this became about the Geneva Convention when it actually says basically that they don't feel it's being violated to begin with. Because even Bob seemed to be under the impression this was somehow about the Geneva Convention when it clearly isn't, and says so.

It's weird but I guess, or more I think, this is one of those cases where the information got filtered around the internet till it came to Bob who conveyed it to us and by going through so many channels the original intent was lost like a game of telephone. At any rate I concede that I was mistaken about the actual context of what had been said but in my defense so was everyone else apparently, looking at the comments made.

lordlundar said...

To everyone arguing About the Red Cross Argument (Moviebob included) You're argument is pointed in the wrong direction.

I'm willing to bet that like most people, Bob got this comment about the ICRC through conventional news media who has been hyping up the "war criminal" aspect to a considerable degree. The Cynical Brit also received his source of the article from a similar source with similar results. The ICRC was, shall we say not impressed. So much so that they contacted the host and directly informed him of the truth. There was no special conference on video games as was reported, it was just a regular meeting held on schedule and the topic happened to come up.

To add, the response wasn't that gamers are "war criminals" and need to be treated as such (once again as reported) but a statement of facts similar to what Bob surmised that if what was done in these games was brought to real life then yeah, it would be war crimes.

Finally there was no call for regulation or restrictions (and yet again as reported) but an ardent plea to developers that if they're going to try for realism that they constantly claim, to try for something beyond graphical fidelity, such as the legal ramifications.

The outcry and arguments about this is not about what the ICRC actually said, but how the more mainstream news media who somehow feel threatened by games reported it as another anti games rant. Stupid really.

Mads said...

@ Jannie
You give me too much credit =P ...I only looked things up when I read your last post and thought to myself "wait, some of that cannot be right, but I'll need to look over the evidence to be sure..."

Wish I had read it earlier, then I may have made better points to begin with.

Also in your defense, many media outlets were being unclear.

And be advised that the FAQ ICRC posted is a damage-control type thing. You'll note that it's posted significantly after the fact, and that the original community talks, which were supposedly informal, may have been just as boneheaded as you assumed them to be - I don't actually know for sure, because I couldn't find a summary of the during the brief time I spent looking.

So there's a couple of caveats, and the confusion is understandable...and the real issue appears to have been, journalists suck.

Hylian7 said...

I'm guessing this Retrothinker story arc will go in one of two directions.

1. "Older generations were better, newer generations suck."

2. "Old generations were awesome, and the new one seems bad at first, but is actually quite good."

I really hope case 2 is the case, because that simply just makes more sense. There are so many great things happening today that would absolutely blow Retrothinker's mind if he were a real person. Just think about the fact that you can play Super Street Fighter II ONLINE against opponents halfway across the world, get FULL GAMES for less than $3 on a Steam sale (and most of the indie ones would run on even crappy computers!), Nintendo is STILL at the top of it's game after all these years. We've seen the rise and fall of many different companies since Retrothinker's "time". Capcom and Atari aren't really who they used to be at all, but yet we have Valve being one of the best in the industry since 1998, consistently making good games. You can simply buy games and from your console or PC and have them download while you play something else! You don't even have to make a trip to the store. Hearing info about upcoming games is no longer "Wait to find out what we say in this magazine about it", but "Look on the internet, there's all these screenshots and videos of a new Donkey Kong Country platformer!"

This generation has it's problems and quirks, like day 1 DLC, nickle-and-diming Facebook games, Playstation services getting hacked, and the like, but can you really say the old gen was perfect? Back then getting help on a game was not as simple as looking something up on GameFAQs, you had to call a hotline or buy a strategy guide. Controllers kept you on a short leash close to the TV, which depending on your room could have been uncomfortable for you. For some games, did you get a used copy of it with no instructions with it? Well enjoy missing out on half of the storyline of games like Metroid, and not knowing what the hell is going on nor what some sprites are supposed to be. Now they can put these details in the game so you don't have to hope you got an instruction manual with it. Hell, some of these games come with a digital form of the manual.

Retrothinker's mind would just be blown by Super Mario 3D Land I'm sure. I barely mentioned the indie game boom. He would play Cave Story and think it was released the day after he was cryogenically frozen, when it was really released in 2004!

The best part? They don't forget the old generations either. Legacy PC games? We have those on Steam and GoG, so entirely new generations of players can enjoy them. Missed out on a bunch of NES and SNES games? Get yourself a Wii and go get them on Virtual Console! Have a hard time looking at games like Ocarina of Time just because you weren't around for that generation? The 3DS remake would be right up your alley, and still retains everything that made the game great!

Every generation has it's quirks and problems, but this one is still just as amazing as back in the 8-bit days. I hope Retrothinker is written to appreciate all the advances that have been made since his "time", and not just see the Call of Duties and Angry Birds flying about.

Salem R said...

How can the retrothinker know about kirby if the video was recorded in 1990? The first kirby game was released in 1992.

Smashmatt202 said...

Dammit, Bob, you need to get yourself some more people to help you out with these kinds of things. Having you play all the major characters is fine, but the Retrothinker looks EXACTLY LIKE the Overthinker...

...Maybe that's not a coincidence?

So, um, does Retro mean old, specifically, or is it just an off-hand for cool that nowadays only refers to a specific time period?

I WOULD be with Ivan on this, if I really knew what "retro" was...

Oh yeah, I get what's going on... Retrothinker is announcing stuff and acting totally excited about EVERYTHING that's going on. A very far-cry from gaming shows these days... You know, if they were ever on TV... Fucking G4.

I can't help but think this "Retrothinker" is just Bob's way of saying Gaming was so much more "fun" back then, and while I don't mean to kill his buzz, but I can't help but feel that's the nostalgia talking.


And OH BOY! Another episode where Bob goes up against military first-person shooters! Isn't THAT a nice change in pace! Although personally, I think FPS's deserve most of the flack Bob gives them, but it really is getting old by this point.

So, Red Cross has good intentions, but it doesn't seem to know how to go about fixing the problem...

Oh wait, I think I can see where this is going... Gamers are attacking the Red Cross because they have something negative to say about video games. And really, to anyone who DOES do such a think, SCREW YOU man. >:(

...Or woman, because I'm sure there are a couple of female gamers out there who are like that, too.

Yeah... Now Bob HIMSELF is sick of continuously going back to this point, just like everyone else, but really, this is something that HAS TO STOP!

Really, Bob was going to talk about Dizzy coming back? Say, when was the last "Who's your daddy?" episode? Hell, when was the last "fun" episode, instead of always talking about controversy?

Not that I don't like talking about important issues like this, but still, nice to throw in a fun episode every now and then.

Smashmatt202 said...

FLUTTERSHY! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, FLUTTERSHY, you're so cute! Bob, you HAVE to talk about Friendship is Magic sometime on The Big Picture!

Okay, hold on a moment, the Retrothinker is purposefully being wrong here, just so Bob can go on about who awesome the past was. The time of the video is supposed to be 1990, right? KIRBY DID NOT EXIST YET! His first game, Kirby's Dream Land, was released in 1991. Also, "16-bit Donkey Kong"? Does he mean a 16-bit version of the classic arcade game? Hm? And why no mention of Metroid or Kid Icarus or anything else? Get your facts straight, Bob, because it only serves to make you look bad.

Yeah, I remember back in the day when war was about "good vs. evil". Or at least I would, if I was old enough to experience World War II. Instead I was born after that... And Vietnam, and all those other crazy wars that weren't about "good vs. evil", and didn't have complete support from the citizens of America...

Say, Bob goes on about how Rambo is over the tope and a "fun" war movie, except... Well, that's Rambo: First Blood Part II. What about First Blood?

Oh yeah, my day was talking to me about Modern Warfare 3 the other day. See, he's big on stocks, and wonders if he should invest in the companies that makes these kinds of games. I honestly didn't know what to say. I DON'T want to support that kind of thing, but if they're making money, and that's all my dad wants, then I don't see why not...

Oh yeah, I remember when I was put on trial in Chrono Trigger, and I ended up getting in trouble for taking the necklace first before talking to Marle, AND for eating that one guy's lunch! It really made me think about what I was doing...

Boy, is the Retrothinker going to be in for a shock... Kind of an idiot, but his overenthusiasm is getting in the way of basic thought.

Man, if he's going to get shocked about video games, wait until he finds out all the OTHER huge advances... Like iPhones and smart phones!

Oh God... of ALL the games he had to come across! Bomberman: Act Zero... He's going to be in for something with that one...

Hunt77 said...

"So much different games to talk about, so much innovation happening every day, so much to look forward to, so much potential"

That pretty much describes the current gaming state too. If gaming no longer excites you there is nothing wrong with mowing on.
As for me gaming is still very exciting and soon we might be moving on to games being more creative and less constrictive within the confines of it's technical limitations, as Rage so nicely showcased like a teaser for the future. It's fascinating how a game with such an unfortunately bland setting could still be so unique through it's art direction. A good looking FPS on the chart of the black to brown specter, how bizarre right. This is but one of many gaming wonders this year and I am happy to experience it.

Excuse me while I go back to Skyrim, which I am trying to get to while swimming through the other games I wish to finish. So little time...


Smashmatt202 said...

Even though there's a lot to look forward too, it's a lot darker and grittier than the rose-colored time the Retrothinker's from. Culture shock alone will make him go nuts. But to see exactly what's happening at the moment...

Actually, he's from a time BEFORE Internet, so it's probably a completely foreign concept for him. And with DLC, it's going to be something he can't quite grasp.

Not to mention, there are bound to be people on the Internet to pop that overenthusiastic bubble of his, so yeah...

Hunt77 said...

I see your point, although you most remember how Bob looks at the past with his nostalgic filter, how can a nostalgic past measure up to the present unless the past was horrible.
There where games with grit back then too. Perhaps he is just blind to present colorful games because he has matured passed their appeal.
I think I remember Bob mentioning that he was not in on the Pokemon thing, which is a colorful series still going to this day, why is it that he does not embrace such games? Why does he not play RavingRabbids? And why has he never even mentioned Super Monkeyball? Or EliteBeatAgent?
Now we are of course entering the handhold market, something I do not follow, where there can be found a wast number of games for kids. But my knowledge of that platform is too limited to make a statement, however I can agree that there is a lack of games for kids on larger consoles.
However even if this was rectified it would surprise me a lot if me, you or Bob would be attracted to these games.

- RattleHunt

Karl Kablisk said...

Wow, first time I liked the storyline part of the episode. I think the overlap between the story and the discussion fit together overall better and you should defiantly consider that kind of harmony in the future. It was also very topical in the story portion itself instead of just being a written plot.

The discussion was good as always and I really do think the gaming community should discuss the issue maturely.

Markus said...

Story sucks as usual, but seriously, Bob: ENOUGHT WITH THE FPS HATE ALREADY!!! People enjoy playing online, and I'm one of them. Sure, I don't care about CoD anymore, but BF3 is probably the best multiplayer I've ever played.

Sure, I do think that the game's singleplayer should have been better (not that it needed one, considering that BF2 didn't), but that doesn't take away from how good the multiplayer is.

Antonio Black said...

A deep, thought provoking episode.
This, alongside "Setting Sun" is going on the list of my favorite episodes of the GO series.

Also, kudos for mentioning Metal Gear twice in one episode intwo different contexts.

And yes Retrothinker, 16-bit Donkey Kong WAS FUCKING AMAZING...but these days the first sequel to it (DKC2) would be top dog.

Good job Mr. Chipman.

Hunter said...

While I have the totally original opinion of not particularly loving the skit stuff, I'll admit, the last sequence really got a good chuckle out of me.

Clifford said...

I would love for them to make a genuine miltary FPS. That is to say, you spend the entire game in an army base, doing next to nothing, trying to pass the time, trying to cope with both the intense boredom, and the eventual paranoia from a freak roadside bombing that kills a friend of a friend, and from not having the opportunity to shoot any visible enemy.

As for the episode: I think you're writing off the modern FPS too soon and not giving them enough credit. FPSs, for all their brash, popcorn portrayals of war, do tend to explore the horrors of war and show the ambiguity of conflict (murdering civilians, playing as sinister, back hand SAS, slaughtering dehumanised white blobs from a gunship etc.). They are still monumentally crass, but they have grown up a lot.

For once, I'd love to hear Bob imply Mario encourages jingoism (unambiguous enemies, humourous portrayals of killing, international stereotypes etc.). It would only be slightly more silly than his condemning Hollywood style, dumb FPSs.