Protection for gangs, clubs, and nations
causing grief in human relations
it’s a turf war on a global scale
I’d rather hear both sides of the tale
see, it’s not about races
where your blood comes from
is where your space is
I’ve seen the bright get duller
I’m not going to spend my life being a color.
If you’re anything like me, you play the annual Call of Duty and Battlefield games without falter.
I play them every year and, admittedly, I have a lot of fun.
There’s something about run-and-gun, guts-and-glory gameplay that is highly addictive and exciting. I find myself not only anticipating these games, but also craving them. There’s something about them which is more than just fun—they are borderline hypnotic.
It’s almost like you lose yourself when you play them. You blend into the chaos. You can, if you allow it, become a part of the battlefield.
But there is something deeply disturbing about this… don’t you think?
These games, beyond being violent, are teaching us something very particular about the problems of warfare. Indeed, while the combat is modern, it falls on the same ancient stereotypes which have driven violent media for decades.
Those Russians and their secret plans to dominate America, incite financial collapse, and bring about the Fall of Capitalism for the Rise of Communism. Those Chinese and their armies of hackers who will steal your data and wreak havoc on our infrastructure. Those Muslims and their jihad against the West, bringing U.S. to our knees through international and homegrown terror.
What are we to do!?
These scary narratives, while not overtly apparent, are coursing through our videogames and broader media all of the time—blurring the lines of what actual warfare means in reality.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the Call of Duty and Battlefield games. I’m not here to protest them. In fact, I’m excited for whatever comes next. But, I think we deserve more.
My favorite narrative in these games recently comes from the Black Ops storyline. Particularly, the character Raul Menendez: Messiah for the 99%.
Who is Raul Menendez?
Raul Menendez is the leader of Cordis Die (Latin: On the Day of The Heart), a revolutionary anti-West movement set in the near future.
The U.S. General warns, “He’s like a celebrity now…people in America idolize him…they’ll wake up tomorrow and realize that their hero has wiped them out. We have the most advanced technology to track him…and he’s just disappeared! He doesn’t need his own weapons. He’s got ours.”
So… “Where the Hell is he?”
As Alex Mason, you are tasked with tracking down and, eventually, taking out Raul Menendez. But as the story progresses you begin to learn why Menendez is who he is, is where he is, and does what he does.
YouTube user TheJFKGamer has compiled an interesting video documenting Menendez’s rise and character profile. He is, in my opinion, the scariest villain we have seen yet.
This is mostly because it’s hard not to sympathize with his motives. And in a turf war on a global scale… I’d rather hear both sides of the tale.
The Battlefield games are usually a little less nuanced than the plotlines in Call of Duty. Though they’re still fun, typically they feel like “geopolitical madlibs”. In them, you might be fighting generic hordes of Chinese people or Muslims or whoever else fits the bill.
This caricature of various nationalities, races, or causes is facile in its painting of a faceless and common enemy. They are non-white, non-American enemies and, as such, are easy to demonize.
Advancing in droves, these nameless enemies are slaughtered on mass. It’s hard to remember they are even human in the first place. There is even a recent study which suggests violent videogames can leave people “morally immature”. Ultimately, there’s just something sort of odd about wasting massive amounts of human lives in the name of global warfare.
Presumably, if they were real, they would have names. They would also have unique faces (which they typically do not in these games, likely due to hardware restrictions). They would have families. They would have histories. And maybe, just maybe, they would have a good reason to fight for their cause.
A series that I think has recently blurred the lines of warfare quite well is Killzone.
Strangely, the franchise is frequently critiqued for having a “silly” or “ludicrous” story. That might be true, as most games typically have silly and ludicrous stories. But this critique misses some of the finer points of what’s really happening in these storylines.
It’s true, Killzone is indeed guilty of some of the same faults as Call of Duty and Battlefield—there are generic droves of enemies which come at you one after another only to be sprayed by bullets and taken down over and over again. But what sets Killzone apart is that it actually explores the vagaries of warfare and conflict and its impact on the nameless masses within the storyline.
The latest Killzone game, Shadow Fall, does an excellent job of showing some of the stranger points of violence and loyalty. As the conflict between the Helghast and Vektans rages on, we have to face a test of loyalty that gets into interesting subject matters involving race and identity.
Set several decades after the conflict in Killzone 3, Shadow Fall takes place on the planet Vetka, where Helghast and Vektans live side–by–side. Because of the way things went down, there is still a privilege afforded to certain types in certain places. Helghast, in Vekta cities, are certainly a subordinate class or race of people. Vektans had destroyed the Helghasts’ home planet, Vekta, but allowed them to live “peacefully” on their own planet. This is cause for celebration but also, understandably so, a source of tension that continues to boil. Our hero Lucas Kellan is raised by the Vektan military to be a Shadow Marshall, an elite supersoldier who maintains Vektan stability and peace between the two nationalities.
Rogue paramilitary group “The Black Hand” seeks to disrupt the established Vektan order and maintain racial purity, national identity, and Helghast supremacy in a totally separate society.
After a terror attack on the main Vektan city, all Helghast are deported to New Helghan. This is on the other side of “The Wall” which ultimately divides the Helghan territory on Vekta from the Vektan center of power.
Kellan goes undercover, moving in with all of the refugees infiltrating the other side of the wall. He meets a Helghast agent named Maya Visari who goes by Echo, a biracial Helghast/Vektan who brings into question Kellan’s true loyalties. While on the other side of the wall, Kellan sees the way the Helghast live—which is not well. They live in squalor reminiscent of any war-torn or impoverished place here on Earth. Without spoiling too much of the plot, just remember one thing: things are not always as they seem.
Echo is an interesting character because she blurs the lines between Helghast and Vektan in more than just a literal way. Beyond being biracial, she is also nationless—unappreciated by both sides. Whoever stands to win, she loses. Kellan comes to learn this and also appreciate it. Shadow Fall does a good job of showing the messy side of international conflicts and also points out that enemy lines are not quite as simply drawn as we like to admit.
Killzone has done this before. While the stories have always had a fair amount told about the Helghast enemy forces, the PS Vita game Killzone: Mercenary also allows you choose sides. Set between the conflicts of Killzone and Killzone 2, you are playing on both Vekta and Helghan (two disparate planets at war).
As Arran Danner you are sent on a mission to rescue ISA Admiral Alex Grey. You do indeed save her, but as the story goes on…once again, things are not quite what they seem. The lines are blurred and you can be recruited by either side. You are a mercenary, after all.
In general, Killzone isn’t the best franchise on the market. Sure, there are problems with its gameplay and perhaps this analysis might make the story sound like it is more involved or deep than it actually is. But what I am trying to say is that Killzone at least tries to tell us something more about warfare.
Without there actually being any Earthly nations, it seems there is something more human about it.
Combat driven games are a dime a dozen these days. They seem to dominate our market. So can we at least ask that they try a little harder?
I’d like to think we can.
Someday, it is my dream we will see games that tell real stories about war without whitewashing them. Without making them into jingoistic, borderline racist propaganda. Someday, I think we will see games that tell the truth: War is Hell.
War is not a subject to tread upon lightly. In fact, it ruins people’s lives and ends nations—sometimes forever.
I am reminded of the saying from the play War Horse: “War takes everything… from everyone.”
In times like these where there are indeed many major conflicts on the world stage, it seems reckless to paint a caricature of races of people and nations that demonizes them in a way which is unbefitting of reality. Do Americans even know who these peoples and nations really are?
Raj Patel, an economist, teacher, and author once said, “If war is God’s way of teaching geography to Americans, then recession is His way of teaching us a little economics.” Without getting into the latter, it seems like sometimes the former is true indeed.
Might we someday get games that actually teach us the why rather than merely the how—as in, how we annihilate the enemy with our superior military apparatus? There is always a reason why we have to fight the other side; it is not simply that they are an Axis of Evil, or corrupters of Truth, Justice, and the American way.
Raul Menendez was the Messiah for the 99% because he was saying something, presumably, 99% of peoples all around the world could relate to. Why did they idolize him in America? What was it he was saying? It is also true that at least in the story of Black Ops II, Menendez was an international terrorist who was secretly working to overthrow the West.
But who is Raul Menendez?
A villain? A hero? Perhaps both?
The song quoted above, Black or White by Michael Jackson, says it well: “It’s a turf war, on a global scale. I’d rather hear both sides of the tale.” Don’t spend your life being a color.
Cordis Die is the other side of the tale. It is the side that tells the story from the vantage point of the enemy. We don’t need anarchy, we don’t need global conflict, we don’t need false images of fake enemies to know that War is Hell. Raul Menendez is wrong, but so are the unjust causes which thrust his movement into reality.
In my opinion, we can encourage the makers of Battlefield and Call of Duty to blur the line and nuance the conflicts they so willingly exploit.
Call of Duty is indeed less guilty of this than Battlefield is. At least they try to create a narrative and mythos around a future series of events which does not cast the nameless Russian or Muslim as the enemy combatant anymore. But I want to see them pushed further. I want to see them show the Way of the Heart. On that day, they Rise.
In the words of Raul Menendez, “Come my friends… Tis not too late to seek a Newer World“.