Within hours of U.S. president Barack Obama announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden last Sunday night, an astute observer of the progress of the War on Terror ventured to speculate on the impact of Operation Geronimo. “So, I guess this means there’ll be a ‘Kill Osama’ level on Black Ops 2.”
Whether or not the predictions of this sage — OK, it was a relative, posting on Facebook — regarding the contents of the next Call of Duty sequel turn out to be accurate, we now know that, in a general sense, he knew of what he posted.
Laden with potential
By this past Saturday, May 7 — not even one full week after the world received the news about OBL — Kuma Reality Games released a playable “episode” for its first-person-shooter, Kuma War, aiming to recreate the US Navy SEAL mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Leaving aside the inherent bad taste of Kuma’s stunt, it does mark a kind of victory in the battle to rule the popular imagination.
Movies just got 1-upped by video games
“It was like something out of a movie.” That was the clichéd response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Almost ten years later, the clichéd reaction to the first reports of Bin Laden’s demise has gone something like, “It sounds like something from a video game.”
Indeed it did, at first: the Navy SEALs, the night mission, the stealth helicopters (bonus: the stealth helicopter crash & evac detonation), the 40-minute firefight over the walls and through the multiple levels of Bin Laden’s fortress, the close-quarters climax shootout with the “boss” (optional: “armed” or “heavily armed”).
Then, within six days, a little-known video game company pumps out a narrative version of the event, even as Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow scrambles to rewrite her screenplay about the hunt for the Al-Qaeda chief, which at the very earliest could begin production sometime later this year.
Timing-wise, video games have just won a gold coin in the battle for the public hivemind.
Games have been skirmishing with movies on the economic front for most of the past decade, and some will claim the gaming industry is winning — as long as you count only cinema box office revenues vs. video game sales and leave out DVD sales, cable rights, and the other reserve troops of the film industry. You can find a decent-if-dated analysis in the Slashfilm archives.
For the better part of a century, movies had all-but cornered the market on our daydreams. Decade after decade, generation after generation, scenes from great and not-so-great films have served as cultural touchstones and common conversational reference points. Last year’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (and the comic book that spawned it) dared to draw its countless cultural references almost exclusively from gaming tropes and references, signaling that gaming culture was already sitting close to the heart of popular culture.
Kuma’s Bin Laden release punches through the ribcage of today’s headlines and shows that pop-cult heart to the world — while it is still beating.
The potential for docu-drama style gaming seems almost limitless. While an Osama-cide FPS level seems like a one-note joke, an immersive videogame exploration of amoral intrigue and betrayal inside Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, peppered with auto-rickshaw chases and armored personnel carriers, could make Grand Theft Auto look like Mario Kart. Meanwhile, Evacuation of Fukushima would surely make for gripping real-time-strategy gameplay. Hell, just slap a new label on Big Buck Hunter, and you’ve got an arcade-ready version of The Biography and Political Philosophy of Sarah Palin.
Right now, though, it’s lucky for the gaming side that it can crank out a quicky product in less than a week. The initial, distorted tale of the Abbotabad operation that first made the news rounds had all the hallmarks of a fun Sunday afternoon in front of the X-Box, but the more recent, more accurate reports about the assault on Bin Laden’s hideaway tell a different story. Seventy-nine commandos versus one armed terrorist? A “fortress” furnished like one of those houses on Hoarders? A “stealth” helicopter that may only have been a Blackhawk with an after-market spoiler? And big bad Bin Laden falling in a hail of justice without putting up any kind of fight?
Sure, competent spycraft, careful planning and training, and overwhelming force have produced an unqualified victory, with neither military casualties nor unintentional civilian harm. But if you’re talking about gaming, I’d rather break out my trusty Commodore 64 and play Lemonade Stand.
Because in real life, no one gets a chance to re-spawn.
Image courtesy of bigdigo.