Last week I wrote about how videogames influenced my political outlook. This week is a continuation of that theme, with the focus this time how videogames inspired my writing, and building upon what I was learning in my lecturers and supplementing my reading list during my time at university.
One notable example of this was whilst I was studying the relationship between the media and the portrayal of warfare. During this time I happened to play Spec Ops: The Line and and began to notice parallels with what my lecturer was discussing. When it came to deciding what my research essay for that module was going to be on I had no hesitation in expressing my interest in exploring the concepts present in Spec Ops.
Even though I knew I would have plenty to write about, I hadn’t anticipated that the game provided a pandora’s box of content ready to be explored. By the time I had finished planning, I had enough notes to fill a dissertation. During subsequent replays of the game and interviews with the game’s lead writer (Walt Williams) and other people’s analysis (such as Brendan Keogh’s excellent Killing is Harmless) I felt I knew the game inside out and therefore had no difficulty in applying it to other political and sociological theories.
The one that struck me the most was the idea that videogames had become so immersive due to their interactivity that the lines between fiction and reality were becoming blurred. What’s more was that war (as found in the real world) was starting to emulate the digital copies of warfare. Resulting in the copy becoming a simulacra in which one can no longer tell the difference between what is real and what is fake.
When Wikileaks released footage of US helicopter pilots firing at civilians Julian Assange commented how the footage was just like that out of a videogame. This comment deeply impacted me, because he was right. It was not made to deride videogames, but to highlight how war has changed, these pilots were not treating the situation with the utmost seriousness that it deserved. Furthermore the footage looked as if it came from a recent Call of Duty, so much so that if one were to look at the two images side by side quickly they wouldn’t be able to automatically identify which one was real.
This difficulty in determining real from virtual has now come to the stage where even news channels are unable to tell the difference. There have been numerous occasions where a news segment accidentally uses footage or a screenshot from a videogame thinking it was real. Just recently in the US during a segment on child soldiers, the header image used was a promotional still from the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Previous examples have included an ITV documentary which included footage from Arma 2 which confused footage from the game that showed a helicopter being shot down as coming from the IRA.
I have found the evolution of realism in videogames, either via technical means of narrative (which is something that Spec Ops excels in) to be fascinating. So much so that in addition to my 6,000 word research essay on Spec Ops: The Line’s depiction of warfare that I have also written multiple times about the importance of immersion and the the relationship with violence and warfare in videogames. It is something that I now find myself continually going back to as the topic is still advancing. If it wasn’t for videogames, I would have stopped writing the day I handed in my last dissertation. I might enjoy the activity of writing, but videogames provide the inspiration to do so, and when combined with my interest in politics has given me a base to work from.