Get to the Choppah!

In a day largely wasted on playing bits of games I’ve already played more than once before, I ended up going through some of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 again. It’s one of those games that it’s easy to slip into and just keep chugging along – it rarely gives you a reason to stop. Like all the best (or at least most addictive) games, I suppose.

Anyway, I got to the sequence where you have to make a run for a rescue helicopter in Brazil, running across the rooftops of the favela. Just like the first time I played through this sequence, and despite knowing exactly what to do, and despite the game being pretty helpful about what to do, I fell off a rooftop to my death while heading for the chopper. Death and a smug quotation were by reward (you know, like “you can’t get ahead while you’re getting even” or whatever – yeah, thanks for that).

I hit the jump the second time through, but that the experience of failure during a highly cinematic moment is kind of interesting – it is in lots of different games, in fact. Unlike other time I die in games, where it’s just a kind of par-for-the-course death related to learning or being a bit stupid, dying during a set-piece like this, particularly one that relies only on my spatial navigation, heavily underlines how contrived the world is in every way, spatially, performatively, dramatically.

It’s even more ironic to fall down in the chopper-run because just moments before you’re ostensibly doing exactly the same thing with your team (getting to the chopper), only to be forced by the game to fail a vital jump, and thus forced to see your teammate desperately lunge to catch you, and then forced to go through the heart-pumping run through the favela to get your absolute last chance to get to the choppah. I mean chopper. This big set-up (or perhaps “frame job”), in which control is briefly whisked away for dramatic effect, makes my “real” failure to get to the helicopter in the “real” attempt to run the rooftops even more surreal and emphasised.

What is most poignant, I think, is the game’s refusal to acknowledge my failure to make that final dash in any way, I just get an ignominious death screen, like any other time I die. Yet, clearly, this moment of death, running with arms outstretched toward a final salvation only to trip on a corrugated iron roof and fall to the thud of a cracked skull and a missed chance, clearly this moment is of great significance. It’s not uplifting in the way that the “correct” outcome is, but I can’t help but feel ever so slightly irked by the game’s dismissal of significant negative events in the narrative.

Obviously, I don’t quite know what I would expect them to have done differently, but this blithe turning away from failure, as if it were too distasteful to even consider unless it’s part of the elaborate set-up, irks me. Almost in the way that people who become upset with the feeling that real soldiers’ sacrifices have been trivialised in some way. My dramatically significant moment, my real failure, was taken away from me, while the cheap impostor of the game’s “failure” smirks on.

It was an epic fail, damnit.

29 November 2010
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