by Vanessa Tottle
My life is like a Doom painting right now. Don’t confuse that with a Doom painting. Sometimes field work is being hunched over a 70 million year-old skeleton before going back to camp, fighting the elements around a campfire, and telling a story you’ve told a thousand times before as if for the very first time while you drink hot coffee like it’s Ambrosia of the gods. It’s that feeling you get in a book when you exist in a world that isn’t anything like the four walls around you.
And sometimes field work is taking an ancient jeep back to port, fixing the jeep because it breaks down halfway there, getting told your associate’s boat is delayed a week, which is great cause he has all the petty cash, going back to camp, fixing the jeep because it breaks halfway back, getting a call that says your associate is in town and where are you, fixing the jeep again so you can go back to town the next morning and get him, finding out once you get there he got his own ride instead, and stopping on the road as you pass him trying to fix his driver’s truck, which looks like the result of an unholy union between a dump truck and a VW bus, and has a flatbed filled with the only kind of goat in the world to which you’re allergic. Maybe it is more like a Doom painting.
The point is, sometimes I come back from the field content to nest in bed with a good book about fairies getting along splendidly, and sometimes I come back from the field clawing open the latest technological marvel that lets me headshot 10,000 bad guys who deserve it because they wear uniforms that have green instead of blue and drive trucks that look like VW dump buses. Call of Duty waffles back and forth between being a franchise about reinforcing patriarchy by eliminating third-world nobodies who look at us funny and reinforcing military-industrialism by saving the world from megalomaniacal dictators who now look like Kevin Spacey but don’t even come close to existing in the real world.
It’s a bad franchise, but it scratches an itch, and I probably got that itch from those fucking goats. Something funny happens in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, though. Call of Duty exists in an awkward valley between gameplay mechanics that tell you “shoot everything” and artists who want to make social statements by how they design the locales you’re about to blow up. Whenever they have a good message about who you’re shooting and why, they undermine it by having you shoot everybody by the end anyway.
Luke Plunkett at Kotaku details one moment in a sequence in Nigeria, where you’ll see, “This house is not for sale beware of 419,” scrawled across the sides of houses. This references real-life tactics used in Nigeria designed to warn and organize against local scammers.
It’s a brief instance that will be overlooked by most players, since many don’t even play the single-player component, but artists in games make statements just like artists in any other medium. It’s up to players to recognize these moments and echo them, so that artists in a medium at war this very moment realize making social statements – no matter how small – can be a good use of time and resources that paying customers appreciate, understand, and support.
Now go read Plunkett’s piece. I’m very tired, so I’m going to finish out the single-player before going online, hearing, “You’re a girl, how big are your tits??!?!!” a million times from other players and saying, “Not as big as my score,” as I shoot them in the face, which carries its own metaphorical value.