Saturday, 7 February 2015

Why the new 'Battlefield' Bothers Me

by Robert Merriam

For those unaware of what any of this is I will try to explain without sounding patronising, though I cannot promise I will manage either of those things. A first person shooter or FPS is a game played from the lead character’s perspective, the world is seen through their eyes and 99% of the time those eyes are staring down a gun. The specific objectives differ from game to game but one aspect is universal: you the player are going to be shooting things...a lot.

‘Call of Duty’ is a popular example along with ‘Halo’, ‘Resistance’, ‘Half-life’ and ‘Battlefield’. It is one of the most popular (perhaps the most popular) genres in videogames occupying 20% of the market (according to Unsurprisingly, the market is rapidly becoming saturated and game developers are looking to change the settings of their games to gain an advantage. The ‘Call of Duty’ games have been trying to re-invent themselves for a few years now with mixed results and now ‘Battlefield’ is looking to do the same.

But where ‘Call of Duty’ changed their setting to a high-tech futuristic one ‘Battlefield’ is opting for the streets of present day America with the player controlling police and criminals in what the marketing describes as “an explosive urban fire fight”. I have a few problems with this. To be clear I don’t believe that videogames make people dangerous; there will be those who say that the fact that you can shoot police in ‘Battlefield Hardlline” will encourage people to do this in real life just as they do every time a new Grand Theft Auto comes out; there’s nothing new there. The problem I have with what I've seen of the game is the depiction of the police themselves.

The ‘Battlefield’ series has always been a war game and although the developers have changed the setting they have done little to change the format in that its still mainly concerned with shooting people. This is perhaps understandable, the formula hasn't failed them so far but depicting the police as a heroic military outfit mowing down legions of criminal bogeymen in a totally un-ironic fashion is a little worrying.

In fairness to the creators, the director of the game; Ian Milham has commented saying:

“I think some people do some math there that we’re not really intending to do… We didn't say, ‘We’re gonna take cops and make them like soldiers.’ But if we wanted to do soldiers, we would've just done it… Specifically we’re trying to make a TV cop drama more than we are a realistic simulation.”

Which is...interesting. 

But it seems to me that if you don’t want to make police personnel like soldiers you shouldn't put in a game called BATTLEFIELD. The developers seem to think that it’s not a problem because the fighting in the game is clearly hyper-real but is it? It’s not like everything is rosy for the police in the USA; the riots in Ferguson have showed the terrifying results of a police force that thinks it’s an army. We've seen police fully clad in body-armour, backed by armoured vehicles threatening un-armed protesters at the point of automatic weapons and they didn’t look like the good guys then.

This is obviously a complex issue and one that deserves examination from both sides, not some kind good vs. evil dumbing down for the sake of a profitable shoot ‘em up. And there is no reason that a videogame couldn't confront these issues, but ‘Battlefield Hardline’ is almost certainly not going to do that. 

Here’s Ian Milham again:
“We didn’t want to make it about the moral choices. It’s a triple A shooter. It would be a rather clumsy way to address those issues”.

Why yes, Ian, I’m glad we agree.

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