War, Propaganda and Racism

When we think of propaganda many may conjure up images of Nazi Germany and Soviet Union war posters. It seems to me that overtime propaganda has evolved from these simple posters to now interactive digital videogames. Not having lived in the era of WWII, I find it hard to discern whether some of the first person shooter videogame today actually have a propaganda agenda, but the trailer for Homefront that Mark showed in his ‘Racism’ lecture screamed propaganda.

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I stumbled upon another trailer for Homefront, the trailer is crafted in a way reminiscent of early war propaganda videos probably to increase the realism of the games story. Needless to say, the trailer makes the message pretty clear that the bad guys are the North Koreans.

 It seems that many war type first person shooters today pit the player as an American soldier fighting against an enemy bent on causing destruction in the world. In Homefront this enemy was the North Koreans, however in countless first person shooters it seems to be the Russians are the most popular choice to be vilified while the Americans are painted as the heroes.

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The Call of Duty series is notorious for depicting the Russians as the enemy. In the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series one of the main antagonist is a Russian Ultranationalist terrorist orchestrating conflict in the Middle East. In Modern Warfare 2 there is a level called “No Russian” in which the player is put in the role of an undercover American CIA agent, joining a group of Russian terrorists to shoot up an airport. The player can either choose to shoot civilians with the terrorists or just walk through the level and watch the massacre unfold as the AI controlled Russians enact the airport massacre. The player cannot kill the Russians otherwise they fail the mission, a mechanism used as the Russian terrorists survival past this level are an important catalyst for the rest of the games plot. The level caused so much wide spread controversy that the level was omitted from the Russian PC version of the game, while the player failed the mission if they killed any civilians in the Japan and German versions of the game.

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Many other games have followed the trend in painting the Russians as the enemy, namely Battlefield 3, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Army of Two, to name a few recent games. With videogames now becoming a large entertainment industry rivalling the film industry, it is clear that videogames are fast becoming an influential media medium in the world. 

With ideology deeply embedded into game narratives, videogames run the risk of desensitizing the masses of people that play these war videogames, subconsciously changing their way of thinking about different countries and cultures and feeding cultural stereotypes, raising the eyebrow as to whether these videogames can be used as possible tools for propaganda. These types of videogames also bring up the question as to whether these videogames are racist. With the United States being the country that spends the most on videogames with an estimated $14 billion yearly spend, it is understandable that videogame companies tend to depict the protagonist as a typical American soldier in order to cater to the American videogame consumers. On the flipside, it begs the question as to why game developers tend to use the Russians, Middle Easterns and North Koreans as enemies. With game developers striving to make their games and narratives more realistic, it seems that developers try to incorporate historical and current elements into their games. The Soviet Union’s role in the Cold War, the war in Iraq and the current building of nuclear weapons of mass destruction in North Korea seem to be a basis to depict these nations as the enemies from an American perspective.

Taking this course has made me question that despite the entertainment value of these games, maybe there is a sinister meaning behind it all, maybe these games are trending towards racist and propaganda or maybe it is just good old videogame economics. 

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