The last time that I invested more than 20 minutes in a video game was in 1991. I stayed home sick from third grade that day and beat Super Mario Bros. (No. 1) straight through (no warping).
Now, more than a decade later, I might as well be 60 years old to account for my complete ignorance of the latest in video gaming technology. I held on, though at a considerable distance, for a few years after my 8-bit Nintendo victory, but in 1996 Nintendo-64 came out and I realized that I had far less of a stomach for 3-D video games than I do for roller-coasters. Apart from about a week-long, crush-induced and clearly feigned interest in Bond last winter (oh the shame), video games and I have existed in very different worlds.
So maybe the gut reaction I felt against the commercial for “Conflict: Desert Storm” that I saw during this weekend’s Saturday Night Live was an overreaction. The game is Gulf War inspired; the player(s)’s mission begins on Aug. 2, 1990, the day that Iraq invaded Kuwait. Most of the game’s missions involve securing and “neutralizing” territories in the Persian Gulf. This X-Box game, brought to us by Pivotal Games, has been touted for its graphics and visual effects, its multiplayer accessibility and artificial intelligence capabilities.
What’s been amazing to me as I’ve read reviews of this game is the application of the unbiased, scientific tone (to be fair, the expected tone) of the reviewer to a game that is about destroying Saddam Hussein, perhaps now more than when it first came out.
Take this excerpt from ign.com, the largest gaming site on the Internet: “As (the sound effects) stand now, you can tell the difference between the American and Iraqi heavy machine guns for example but there still seems to be a lot of emptiness in the audio department.”
But the commercial that I saw for this game surely didn’t make any claims about its audio capacities. Instead, it presented the game to the reviewer as such (paraphrased): Would you like to kill Saddam Hussein? Do so by proxy with your purchase of “Conflict: Desert Storm!”
The commercial is so aggressive and egregious, so genuinely surprising, that upon conferring with a friend of mine I found that, at first, he had even thought that the commercial was a joke – the first time that he saw it, he had been watching Comedy Central.
The people at Pivotal Games, I feel fairly confident in venturing, aren’t too upset about the impending strike against Iraq. Or if they are, they’ve made the proverbial lemonade with one hell of an advantage-taking advertising campaign.
This is an amazing sociological phenomenon. So much of the appeal of this game, at least from the marketing end, is now wrapped up in the common man – yes, man – taking Saddam Hussein a little too personally and seeking catharsis through animation. The challenge now: What can there be possibly left to do to further trivialize American military action? How can we make it even more appealing to the oh-so-crucial 12-24 year-old male demographic? Show me a lower lowest common denominator.
Whether you’re supportive of the war – especially if you’re supportive of the war – it’s time that we started taking it a little more seriously. We have a lot less at stake than the real people who live in those computer generated houses, and for every President Bush’s “He tried to kill my father” comment, there are a lot of people (including American servicemen and women) whose lives have been cheapened.
Maybe the best way to react to misplaced trivialization is by one-upping it. I was happy to find that the good people who supported the “Buy Bush a PlayStation” campaign have reached their goal of $370.
Enclosed with the PlayStation 2 game console, copies of “SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs” and “Conflict: Desert Storm” (as well as an extra controller for Mr. Cheney’s use – bought when donations to the campaign exceeded the goal), was a letter addressed to the President:
” … It seems to us as though you are more interested in playing commando than in fighting in a war with actual human casualties … We ask that you accept these gifts and use them, rather than the lives of Iraqi civilians and our U.S. servicemen, to fulfill any militaristic fantasies.”
If Conflict: Desert Storm is someone’s idea of making international politics and the nuance of foreign entanglements accessible to the masses, I’m glad to be content with my Super Mario Bros. memories; memories of when the object was to defeat Bowser (a character not based on any real foreign leaders, I hope) and rescue the Princess – sans the (again from ign.com) “nice touches animation-wise, like the soldiers writhing in pain.”
Johanna Hanink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.