What Ferguson Can Teach Us About Video Games (and the media in general)

This post was inspired by one of the most ill-conceived articles I’ve encountered, courtesy of Polygon. I’m not going to link to it, because fuck that site for running such a piece, but it was essentially a piece of Watch_Dogs advertising posed as commentary on the events ongoing in Ferguson, under the incredible title “What Watch_Dogs Can Teach Us About #Ferguson” (to which the correct answer is, of course, not a fucking thing, you fucking cretins).

BUT! It did make me realise that there’s certainly something worth discussing on the flip-side of that headline. Which is to say, just what the democracy-flouting, culpability-shirking, demonising actions of the militarised police in Ferguson, Missouri highlight about the problems in the media generally, and video games specifically.*

Because for all that Polygon’s ill-thought-out article (as well as a tone-deaf Kotaku article discussing the way in which militarised police were ‘damaging the image’ of games like Battlefield) is next to worthless, a major element of both of them – that the events in Ferguson resemble a computer game – is one worth considering. They’re just looking at it from the least useful angle.

The thing is, Ferguson does resemble a lot of computer games. Too many computer games, in fact. A ridiculous proportion of big-budget computer games throw the player into exactly the role you can see the Ferguson police assuming: that of the authority-wielding, gun-toting, white (probably American, certainly western) hero; fighting predominantly non-white terrorists and/or criminals with extreme prejudice. Whether soldier or policeman, your Justice is assured, your Authority undeniable, and anybody challenging either of those things is Bad and deserves no quarter.

That’s the accepted narrative, whether you’re playing a Call of Duty, a Medal of Honor, or an awkwardly-timed Battlefield: War On Crime Edition. Or, indeed, if you’re a news outlet where peaceful protests become “riots”, where speaking out against police abuse becomes inappropriate, where protest becomes shameful.

It’s a powerful narrative, and it’s pervasive; when you’re immersed in a culture which glorifies the bravery of white men quelling dangerous non-white elements with violence, is it really any surprise when a tooled-up policeman starts to see all challenges as threats and overreacts to a perceived threat with disastrous consequences? Is it any surprise that his boss then sees the large, public response to that as a further threat, as a sign that something Bad is happening and must be quashed, with the Just Authority of the police employing all measures of suppression and enforcement as they see fit, where any who threaten your actions, even by reporting on them, become guilty of a criminal act and valid targets for attack?

No, it’s not a surprise. And the people responsible for crafting these narratives – in the news, in movies, on TV, in video games, anywhere – need to think long and hard about that. We keep repeating these narratives – of the Good White Authority Figure and the Bad Non-White Rebel – and we help to convince people that these actions, these disgusting actions, are not just acceptable, they’re justified.

*because that’s the medium I’m most aware of, not because I think it’s any more relevant than other media to the issues highlighted.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger – or why anger at Hitman: Absolution’s advertising campaigns is misplaced

Over the past day there has been a brief controversy over an advertising campaign put into play (and promptly removed from play) by Square Enix and creative agency Ralph. Much has been made of the campaign – which offered fans the opportunity to craft a virtual hit on their friends via Facebook – for encouraging cyber bullying, and in particular for its disturbing choice of said target’s identifiable features, including “shit hair”, “small tits” and “tiny penis”.*

Similarly, a long while before the game was released, IO Interactive were roundly criticised for a CG trailer released for Hitman: Absolution which showed a variety of women, all dressed up in latex nuns’ outfits, attacking Agent 47 only to be brutally executed by him, with dramatic slowdown and close-up shots of his most vicious attacks.

I’m here to say that the criticism of these two separate campaigns is misplaced. Not because the adverts were inoffensive: they patently were not. No, I say that the criticism was misplaced because these adverts were perfectly representative of the game they sought to advertise. The ever-brilliant Leigh Alexander wrote a piece in response to the more recent campaign about how she wished that marketers would start caring about the video games that they chose to represent. It was an excellent article, and relevant to a very many adverts for games – but not, I feel, this one.
No, the problem with the advertising campaigns for Hitman: Absolution stems from one source, and one source only: the nature of Hitman: Absolution itself.

Continue reading ‘Don’t Shoot The Messenger – or why anger at Hitman: Absolution’s advertising campaigns is misplaced’

Liveblog: IGN Live Presents: GTA V Trailer #2

Yes, it’s that moment you’ve all been waiting for: IGN is gifting upon us half an hour of glorious commentary on the build-up to the next GTA V trailer! What exciting insights will they have to offer about this not-yet-revealed trailer that they know nothing about? Why would anyone spend half an hour watching nothing happening? Is the horrifying, bright green ASDA advertising plastered all over their site for UK visitors actually for real? Find out in this EXCLUSIVE LIVE BLOG.

Continue reading ‘Liveblog: IGN Live Presents: GTA V Trailer #2′

Multiple Deployment Options (or how to alienate your fanbase before your game is even out)

this kind of ******** only serves to make me less hyped about the game than I was before

Unfollowed. See you all for the GOTY edition next March, or whenever.

**** you, I’ll rent it instead

These are a selection of responses taken verbatim from a popular games forum, immediately following the announcement that yet another hotly-anticipated game is being released as a variety of different packages, offering differing, exclusive content to the customers of different retailers.
Continue reading ‘Multiple Deployment Options (or how to alienate your fanbase before your game is even out)’

Review: Discworld: Ankh-Morpork

Well, I kept that a secret from you. Not only am I a super-cool computer gamer, I also have a taste for board games. So much so that I’ve started writing for the lovely site Caution: Small Parts. I’ve already written a little rant for them (about why Memoir ’44 is Bad and You are a Bad Person for liking it), but thought this had a slightly higher chance of being of interest to readers of this blog. It is, as the title might hint, a review of the board game Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. Is it any good? Only of interest to Discworld fans? Not even that? If you’re at all curious about the game, you can read my review here.

Preview: Warlock: Master of the Arcane

I don’t often write previews, it must be said. They’re always difficult to judge – do you assume that the developers will fix certain flaws, and so gloss over them, focussing on the potential qualities of the game? Or do you draw attention to those issues you spot, in the hope that the developers take note – or, at the worst, that your readers will have had forewarning – but at the risk of killing interest in the title prematurely? It’s a difficult balance to strike. Still, having spent a good while trying out the pre-release of Warlock, I thought it only fair to put together a preview of it for Gamedot. If you’re interested in 4X strategy games, or just want a sneak peak at one of Paradox’s upcoming releases, you might want to take a look.

If not, well, you’ve always this picture of the game to look upon instead:

Review: Unity of Command

Unity of Command is a wargame. It’s also absolutely, incontrovertibly brilliant. And I don’t just mean for hardened wargame veterans. Interested? You should definitely take a look at my review for Gamedot. Go on!


(it’s a more exciting game than this makes it look)


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