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Midway's Smith Talks 'Subversive' Iraq Settings For BlackSite

Speaking as part of an in-depth interview published on Gamasutra today, Midway Austin's Harvey Smith has been addressing the covertly political storyline of
Speaking as part of an in-depth interview published on Gamasutra today, Midway Austin's Harvey Smith has been addressing the surprisingly political storyline of BlackSite: Area 51, discussing a "subversive" plotline which includes parallels to the Abu Ghraib and Walter Reed incidents. Discussing the fact that the game starts out with a level set in Iraq, Smith explains further (including some revelations on the game's plot that may be 'story spoilers'): "When I first wrote the one-page BlackSite story, it ignored things like, "Sure we want to steal some of the breakables from Stranglehold. We've got vehicles, [and so on]." We eventually did squad command and this interesting squad morale feature, and I think those are cool. But always in the background, I was like, "Look, I'm really fucking angry right now. Everything I read pisses me off." You can do this two ways: you can be super heavy-handed and propagandize -- and I wasn't interested in that -- or you can try to organically weave something through the entire work. If you do that, you run the risk of minimizing it so much that nobody notices it." He continues, explaining of the political elements to the plot: "I think that we've actually done a pretty good job of not pushing it down your throat, and yet not letting it vanish either. It's very much there. The game starts in Iraq. You're Aaron Pierce, this Delta Force assassin, essentially. Something happens to one of your squadmates in Iraq. You're looking for weapons of mass destruction that aren't there, of course, and then you move into small-town America. At that point, you're U.S. special forces operating on American soil. It's subtle stuff, but moving into the first mission where you're about to be briefed, you're going past people and cars and checkpoints that have been quarantined. They're going, "Hey, you guys can't do this," and somebody else is saying, "The hell we can't."" Finally, Smith notes of the underlying story behind the government-themed first-person shooter, which updates an arcade lightgun game released by Midway in the '90s: "Then it just gets more and more subversive from there as Pierce figures out that the primary enemy in the game, which is being called an insurgency operating on U.S. soil, is really wounded American soldiers from Iraq who are being disappeared by the government, taken underground, and experimented on with regard to this "Army of One"-type program. So we go into the Walter Reed allusions, and the Abu Ghraib allusions, and we try to do it in such a way that won't make people vomit or whatever, but at the same time, it's definitely there. The whole theme is, "Who is the enemy? Look at the enemy -- do I look like the enemy to you?" One year, somebody's a freedom fighter, the next year they're a terrorist." These comments came part of a larger interview in which Smith, formerly of Origin and Ion Storm and a high-profile game design theorist, took wide-ranging looks at quality of life and the future of the game medium.

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