Well, here we are -- the last official blog post of the semester (at least until I post those two old ones that I missed). It's a little sad -- I don't like change -- but also a bit of a relief. Vacation is coming soon! Huzzah!
So let's get on with it. I just want to start off with some thoughts on Kuma War, and we'll see where things go from there. Anyhoo... so Kuma War was that interesting little video game reenactment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I believe. The preview that we watched in class advertised how the player could be "right there" in the heat of battle; how the player could take on the role of an actual soldier and carry out actual orders. Now, it's definitely a neat little concept for a video game but I couldn't help but feel a little discomforted while I watched the advertisement.
The game seemed like a prime example of identity tourism, something that we discussed at length after having read the cybertyping article a while back. And while Kuma War doesn't seem to push any examples of overt racism or anything, the whole idea behind the game feels like a case of false advertising. I mean, the game offers the player the opportunity to engage in something "real" -- but what is "real", exactly? Does a virtual simulation -- a replica, you could call it -- of some real-life event count as real?
KW reminded me of NBA Street, which we looked at a few weeks ago. As Lisa Nakamura argues in her article: just because the player takes on the stereotypical role of the black basketball on the streets of the ghetto, does that mean the player has some idea of what it actually feels like to be a black basketball player on the streets of the ghetto? Or is there some kind of illusionistic identification going on here? Nakamura argues (and I agree) that playing this sort of video game might lend itself to some false beliefs -- not just because the roles are stereotypical (and hence often caricatured and untrue), but also because the game touts itself as realistic and capable of actually offering the player this particular form of the "black experience." Virtual blackface, as Nakamura might say. The player is donning the virtual "skin" of this black character, but that doesn't mean that they are actually assuming the identity of the character. And especially when it comes to a game that promotes itself on the grounds of its supposed realism, this discrepancy between what the game says it can offer and what it can actually offer is a case of false advertising.
That's the sense that I got from Kuma War. Though the game goads players into believing that they're somehow experiencing this mediated form of the "real", the gritty, the raw, the players are assuming identities that a) they aren't "really" assuming in the first place, and b) they probably shouldn't be assuming at all.
That second point is a slippery slope, though. Tying this post back into our discussion on news media: does this "interactive" form of the news have its drawbacks? I'd say that it does, even though these drawbacks are my personal opinion.
First of all, are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan something that should be turned into a game? Is this disrespectful? (But here is where our discussion of the schism between "work" and "play" comes in: video games are associated with play and frivolity, but does that mean that just because something is in video game form it can't be an object of emotional gravity and serious consideration? Am I being ignorant by assuming that turning the wars -- and all of the tragedies that come with them -- into a "game" is inherently flippant and irreverant? Maybe I totally am.)
But then what about all of the other war games out there? Are they disrespectful, too, for turning the World Wars and other such conflicts into video games? Where does one draw the line? Does the gameification of the current wars seem disrespectful just because they're, well, current? It reminds me of something that Stephen Colbert once said on his wonderful show: that comedy = tragedy + time, and after a certain amount of time has passed, it's okay to approach whatever disaster in whatever potentially distasteful way you choose:
Colbert: Knock, Knock.
Audience: Who’s there?
Colbert: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906
Audience: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 who?
Colbert: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 killed 3,000 people. [pause] Maybe too soon.
Also, I had a question about how the video game goes about being informational. I mean, the creators of Kuma War tout the game as something like a legitimate news source, but how does that mesh with the inherent interactivity of the game? In order to be truly informational, doesn't the game have to stick by the absolute, linear historicity of real world events? So isn't there only one possible "route" the player can take? What happens if the player character does something that didn't actually happen? What if the character dies? Wouldn't the game be bending history in order to cater to its very video-game-ness and all of the non-linear possibilities that come with it? Where does one draw the line between the video game's portrayal of history and the actual history? Might this negatively affect those who expect the game to be some kind of legitimate news source?
Anyhoo, I'm starting to ramble to I'm gonna stop here. But it's been really fun, guys, and (for the most part) I've really liked writing in my blog and reading all of yours. 'Til next time!