[This is a response to an interesting post over at Bitmob yesterday about comparing games to the film 'Saving Private Ryan'. In other words, does a game live up to the emotional impact--the lessons about violence--that such a great film accomplishes?]
**This was previously posted for my column as the Milwaukee Video Game Examiner here**
There are a lot of ways to evaluate games--mechanics, AI, immersion, freedom to define your own character, weapon design. . . . Yesterday Omar Yusuf over at Bitmob shared an evaluation of his own: how does the game measure up to the film Saving Private Ryan? [I would interject the comparison to Band of Brothers instead, but the point is basically the same.]
As he writes:
Steven Spielberg's opus established a filmmaking grammar of violence that left most moviegoers aghast toward the tangible horrors of war.
This becomes even more relevant considering the amount of game criticism devoted to violence in video games, including my current favorite: The Case for More Violent Games. The idea here is that games should affect the player--make them think about the horror of war. And the desire to keep their buddy alive.
Another interesting point Yusuf makes is the need to design campaign levels that feel like a real, lived in city--which entails multiple paths of attack. Too many military shooters rely on funneling the player down linear paths (something I forgot to mention in my Modern Warfare 2 review). Even Bad Company 2 barely exploits this with the town in Russia at the game's beginning. Being able to plan my own attack means that the consequences (death of the player or valuable NPC allies) is entirely due to my screw up.
Still more is the point that real war is often based on mere gimpses of the enemy--not constant room breaching and shtogun wiedling. This should be up to the player--and he's wrong about never really seeing Germans in Ryan. As some have written about Far Cry 2, it should be my choice to kill from a distance or get up close and personal.
The best point is that war is about unit cohesion. He mentions how Bad Company 2 outshines Modern Warfare 2 in that department--something I wrote about back when both games were brand new. That's true of the multi-player side, but both games really lack on the campaign side (MW2 because its special operators really wish they were 007 and BC2 because the characters are meant to be comic relief--I think).
Modern military shooters in general fail the Ryan test--quite spectacularly. In fact, the only game that comes close (in my experience) is the very well-executed story in Halo 3: ODST.
Very interesting topic--one that will keep me thinking about the games in my library later tonight when I should be trying to sleep. At least none of them are an Arab shooting gallery.
Does this "test" sound like a good way to evaluate games? Add in the comments!