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Video Games, Politics, and Science
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James Lileks talks about playing Halo and the upcoming Halo 2:

I remember in the months after 9/11 I played Halo, and enjoyed the basic simplicity of the concept: the hordes were coming, and consarn it I’d best do my part to keep said hordes from getting to earth.

Turns out I was the bad guy. From an Entertainment Weekly profile on the Halo sequel and its writer-director, Joe Staten:

Die-hard fans will notice that the core gameplay in Halo 2 remains largely unchanged. The most impressive new feature is the ability to wield two weapons at once. But the biggest step forward is that Staten's story about an invasion of Earth is now told from the perspective of both the humans and the Covenant aliens. Since Master Chief was already well established, Staten and his father, a professor of theology, developed a set of religious beliefs that could explain the Covenant's actions in the sequel. They zeroed in on the idea of the Halos — 10,000-kilometer-wide ring worlds — as utopias, safe havens in a universe filled with terror.

Clearly, there are political and religious dimensions to Halo 2 that were absent from the first game. ''You could look at [the story] as a damning condemnation of the Bush administration's adventure in the Middle East,'' admits Staten.

And with that statement, all desire I had to play the game – which, believe me, was substantial – just drained away. So the Covenant is the US Military, then?

He also says:

This beautiful, dramatic, fully-immersive polemic brought to you by the fine folks at Microsoft. Next up: Max Payne comes out for nationalized health care, and Doom 4 argues for federal funding of stem-cell research.


So anyway, I haven't played Halo, but one of the running trends in video game plots, especially first-person shooters, isn't political, it's their view on science.

You've probably heard me bitch about how much of SF is basically a rewriting of Frankenstein (see, oh, anything by Michael Crichton). How many friggin' cautionary tales do we need? How many times must the hubris and recklessness of the scientist be the lynch pin for a SF story or novel?

Or video game?

From Resident Evil to Doom to Deus Ex, it's all about conspiracies and reckless science. The last game I finished was Doom III. Hapless Marine gets transferred to Mars station where scientists for a big greedy corporation are mucking around with dimensional portals and...yup, things go horribly wrong. This gives you the opportunity to run around the station with a hefty and diverse arsenal and blow the shit out of demons and the undead, all with wonderfully elaborate graphics.

But the message is basically, science-minded thinkers playing god fuck things up. Meatheads with guns set things right. I wonder how many anti-war folks play Doom for hours on end without ever actually thinking about the subtext of the game.

So anyway, I just bought Far Cry last weekend. I'd heard it was well-done, though I didn't know much about it. I basically thought it would be a nice change from the science-gone-wrong plot of Doom III. FC takes place on an island, and I assumed I'd be spending my hours fighting mercenaries, possibly a group of modern sea pirates who harry international shipping lanes for profit, and who have kidnapped the beautiful lady you were acting as a tour guide for.

Oh, hell no. I soon find out, after loading it up and playing for just a little while, that the island is basically a Dr. Moreau rerun. The whole story is just about another secret cabal that's creating "Tri-gens", genetically-modified primates, to sell them to governments as supersoldiers or some shit. Of course, things have gone horribly wrong on the island, and I'm spending a good deal of my time fighting pumped-up super-chimps. Lovely.

I know there has to be conflict, but couldn't I, just for once, fight people motivated by something simple (like good old-fashioned greed) instead of the damned offspring of a science project gone awry?

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