Be Still, Be Still

I’ve played a bunch more of the single-player campaign of Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) now, getting toward the end of it with a big session the other day. Part of what this means is that I’ve now been through some sequences in the game where The Russians are attacking the US and, in particular, blow the shit out of the White House and various monuments and so on.

Thus, you find yourself shootin’ Russians in and around the White House, able to see the Washington Monument and other structures, all a bit bombed out and damaged. Now, this may be very stirring to the average American, I really can’t tell what the effect would be in that case. It may be that the crazy rhetoric of the game along with the scenario of laying down your life on the steps of the White House is all very emotional and intense.

But not for me, and, I suspect, not for many others. The key thing that doesn’t happen in MW2 is reflection, and I feel you kind of need that to get much of an emotional kick out of the scenario. There needs to be a pause for awe and dismay, but there’s no such pause in the game, just the endlessly pointing white arrow (your next objective) and a shitload of dudes trying to kill you, obliging you to kill them first.

The obvious point of comparison, and I’m sure it leaped into a lot of people’s minds, is with Fallout 3, which depicts a similar landscape of destroyed Washington DC. Frankly, Fallout 3 could practically be the aftermath of the war depicted in MW2. The key difference, however, concerns the relationship you have with the “scenery” in each game. Fallout 3 is a game which encourages and even enforces long periods of contemplative walking or standing around. It’s a wasteland out there, after all, not a lot happening. Sure, a molerat might try to chew your leg off while you contemplate the ruins of the Washington Monument, but more often you’re left to think about it, to experience the architecture on its own terms.

Whereas in MW2, the statement the architecture potentially makes is rather lost and becomes one of two things. Either it’s a nice background you barely look at, because you’re busy not dying (or dying, in my case), or it’s a form of “combat geometry” – something to be navigated around in order to best do your killing. A pillar at the front of the White House isn’t a pillar, per se, it’s something to hide behind and cautiously circle.

Likewise, in Fallout 3, you at least have the option of putting your gun away and thus clearing the screen to simply look around. You even move faster in this setup, so there’s some encouragement to engage with the world in ways other than at gunpoint. Whereas in MW2, as far as I’ve seen, you literally never put your gun away if you’re standing on your own two feet. It’s as if putting away your gun would somehow erase you as a person in the world of the game.

Oh… wait… it would.