Byline: Peter Suderman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The first thing players who spin up the new video game Homefront will see is a stern-faced Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton describing the sinking of a South Korean ship by a North Korean submarine. In a series of flashy, graphically stylized sequences, the game goes on to depict a nightmarish future in which an expansionist North Korea has come to rule not just its neighbors in Asia, but vast swaths of the United States.
But while the game's semi-realistic, sci-fi invasion scenario is rooted in present-day political fears, Homefront - like a number of popular military shooters - is ultimately driven more by urgent battlefield necessity and survival than by any political ideology.
Just as Hollywood has been inundated with movies about American military engagement in recent years, the game market has been crowded with war-themed shooters. But in sharp contrast to films like Lions for Lambs, "Syriana "and"Redacted "military shooters have often been astoundingly successful. (The last two entries in the"Call of Duty" series, for example, set game-sales records).
Unlike Hollywood's conflicted anti-war stories, the games tend to be free of political ambivalence, crises of conscience or dovish moral awakenings. In many ways, these games have filled a void left when Hollywood abandoned both the nationalistic war movies of the post-WWII era and the brawny action films of the 1980s. Like those movies, modern mili
tary shooters paint war as both exciting and necessary - and they're decidedly less squeamish than today's politically correct Hollywood fare about casting foreign enemies as villains. In Call of Duty: Black Ops, for example, the commies are the bad guys, and your first assignment is to assassinate Castro (at least you think it's him).
Don't misunderstand: The games aren't sneaky propaganda cheerleading for America-as-world's-policeman. Instead, they tend to justify their digital armed conflicts in simple and largely non-ideological terms: You, the player, are being shot at. That requires action and engagement in return. To survive - and continue playing - you must shoot back.
This is true even for a game with an implicitly cinematic lineage. Homefront was written by filmmaker John Milius, and the story leans heavily on the American occupation scenario Mr. Milius envisioned in the 1984 film Red Dawn. In the game, invaders are North Koreans rather than the film's Soviets, and the setting is futuristic rather than present day. But the overarching concept is the same.
In terms of game-play, however, Homefront takes its cues almost exclusively from the recent, highly successful wave of military shooters - games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Medal of Honor - that promise to drop players into what are often advertised as highly realistic depictions of war zone combat.
That highly structured game-world combat, though, is less realistic than it sometimes seems. In his 2008 essay Just Less Than Total War, University of Central Florida English professor James Campbell made the case that historically driven, war-based shooters like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor don't actually intend to re-create the experience of anything like an actual war; they seek, instead, to simulate the experience of war movies. …