FPS' look for a new bogeyman

The death of Osama Bin Laden has the developers of first person shooters scouring the news media for a new bogyman.

Loading up Red River, the latest episode in Codemasters’ Operation Flashpoint series, proved something of an unsettling experience this month. The developers situated the action of their tactical shooter in Tajikistan - a some-time Soviet republic wedged between China and Afghanistan. Having been through a civil war through the Nineties, this no doubt appeared a sterling choice for a narrative predicated on US intervention as internal strife again grips the region.

The opening sequence had the misfortune of falling foul of fast moving world events. Preceding the gameplay was a cinematic cut scene which focused on the mystery that surrounded the whereabouts of one Osama Bin Laden, and which charted from his days in the mujahideen battling the Red Army in Afghanistan right through to 9/11 and his subsequent flight deep into the mountain caves of Tora Bora. A week before the game’s release date however, a special forces team had shot and killed the al-Qaeda leader in a raid on a Pakistan compound. Global politics aside, the unexpected dispatch of America’s most wanted man no doubt caused the cut scene director to cry into his beer.

The bad guys of video games have traditionally focused on either wholly fictional characters or resided in past conflicts long since concretised by history. The Medal Of Honor series, which dominated game charts for much of the last decade, was pretty surefooted in its focus on the Nazi storm troopers of World War Two, whilst a slew of other shooters have kept the PEGI ratings at bay by focusing on the green gore which spurts from the shotgun wounds suffered by legions of zombie undead.

Battlefield 2 changed all that by situating its action in the near present and, since the controversial Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare went multi-platinum, the bad guys who menace our virtual worlds have become increasingly closely linked to the events of its real counterpart. Homefront, with a back story written by Apocalypse Now alumni John Milius, extended the power dynamic of North Korea into a terrifying visceral invasion of North America. Countless titles have sent troops to Afghanistan, Army of Two reflected western fears of China’s increasing economic dominance, and the recently released SOCOM: Special Forces situated its action in the Straight of Malacca, a strategically critical shipping channel that sits between Malaysia and Sumatra. Slated for November, the astonishing looking Battlefield 3 is set on the Iran/Iraq border in 2014, while the third in the Modern Warfare series is rumoured to be changing direction entirely, dropping its marines into Paris, New York and, inevitably, Tehran.

All of these shooters focus on creating a sense of realism for the player, through photorealistic graphics, news interstitials that set the tone of games that attempt to reflect the inherent dangers of doing battle in non-traditional environments, and similarly formidable opponents. Sometimes however, the complexity of geo-politics in the 21st century moves much, much faster.

Words by Kingsley Marshall


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