Sunday, March 1, 2015

War is a Game - part 1

concept art
[updated 4.24.16]
   I worked on a certain military/war-themed video game franchise for 7 years. Overall, it was a great job experience with awesome, talented people. I learned a lot, I grew the most in terms of skill during that time (Ah, I remember fondly when I used to weld an actual pencil. Slowly, photobashing became a necessity). Since the close of that studio, I think I've changed in other ways, personally. Maybe chalk it up to getting old but I think about the state of the industry, and the portrayal of pro-war themes in general in all forms of media. I mean, I like blockbuster movies with military machoism, and games were becoming more like movies, which made an even better playing experience. The product we created, was -- like many games -- a war themed shooter that was fun, fast-paced, and exciting. I loved to keep up with the latest platforms and games. But the tried and true -- almost Pavlovian -- structure of destroying something and getting immediately rewarded for it, I'm sure at some point fatigued me -- as many critics I think felt and feel also.
   During my time there, I wasn't really concerned what the game was about because I concentrated on the art. I've studied for countless hours how implosions work and watched 9/11 footage over and over, and it still upsets me. Violence sells, and that is, I guess, where the jobs are.
   The sensationalist mainstream news certainly knows violence sells, war sells -- "If it bleeds, it leads." Frankly, I'm fed up with the war news cycle. And pro-war themes has become so saturated in everything that surrounds my peer group. A casual glance at concept art forums -- though the artists do have undeniably awe-inspiring artistic skill -- almost every piece is war themed. Yeah, it's great eyecandy with soldiers in crazy armor and huge-ass guns, hot chicks with huge-ass guns, creatures with huge-ass guns, dystopian scorched earth landscapes, ruined cities (where I could almost certainly tell they are photobashing with 9/11 WTC photo ref), crazy military vehicles with huge-ass guns, etc. It's probably because so many concept artists have jobs that are in video games, and so many video games are about war, and so many hopeful concept artists are trying to build a portfolio to appeal to these jobs. It's a cycle. A machine. I daresay, a military industrial complex in itself.
    And I'm all for capitalism. I'm all for free speech. I'm for art. Be part of making those types of games if you want. It's a free country.
    But speaking for myself, the research into the realities of war is just something that nags at me. War is a central topic that affects everyone, a hub to many spokes. I.e. Militarized police now [1, 2,3], a paranoid surveillance state in the TSA, NSA, and things like the "PATRIOT" act, where losing civil liberties and searching haystacks within haystacks has been completely unnecessary [1,2,3]. Blowback from all the babykilling dronebombing and preemptive attacks, where they figure "offense" is somehow in the name of "defense" [1,2,3]. Wars over oil really isn't helping the climate change issue (and the DOD is one of the worse polluters) [1]. The government seems to call certain religious extremist militants their pals when they are rebel freedom fighters and we have a common enemy [1,2] at the time, but become upset when the extremists turn on us, and they inherit or get US weapons in one way or another [1,2,3,4]. And then sometimes the terrorists are delisted anyway [1,2] and not labeled "terrorists" anymore, just because of, y'know..."politics". This is a childish game! A big joke on you, the taxpayer! but a joke that's really not funny. There ain't no threat [1,2,3]. Statisticly you are more likely to get hit by lightning, drowning in a bathtub, and any number of things than by a terror attack [1,2]. Crime is down; paranoia is up [1,2].
    And our soldiers, having done heroic things and horrific things, come back and wonder what the hell is it all good for (good god, y'all). High suicide numbers [1,2]. WMD's were a lie [1,2]. Torture was a lie [1,2,3,4]. The perps of 9/11 are done with [1]. At some point you'd think hundreds of thousands are enough for the 3,000 lost [1,2]. And, we don't get upset when our allies behead people [1,2]. The only "reason" to continue war is to show our military strength and superpower-ness, can't appear weak, gotta posture. But for all the advanced technology and weaponry, comparing dick size just does not deter the "enemy" -- not "charlie," nor jihadists, nor the primitive Ewoks. Why fight on their turf and fall into their trap -- literally their punji traps, their IEDs? Do our so-called "leaders" not understand this? Have we not learned from Vietnam? From the...any number of countries from north Africa to the middle east? It just does not make any logical sense to keep repeating the same things and expect a different result. It's an unending war for war profiteers and not about defending our soil, or else our troops would be here, on our soil. Really, as MLK puts it, money wasted on militarism could at least have been wasted on "programs of social uplift."
   You can write your congressman and senator, but all you'd get back is a standard response of what they think and going to do anyway. The president will just find a reason to go in anyway [1,2]. War seems like the most undemocratic thing at times, we don't have a say in it. So what can the average American do to protest? In the Vietnam era, there used to be something called anti-war movements [1]. There were draft card burnings, a protest to say they are not participating and perpetuating the war. A few years ago, on a film set I met a location manager, and when we talked about politics, she mentioned her boss was anti-war and that their company would not work on films that are pro-war. I thought that was interesting, and I was kinda shocked actually, I've never heard of such a thing. To make such a statement.
    The entertainment arts still has value, though. The fantastical/sci-fi or historic conflicts in the "Romantic" sense is still enjoyable to me -- it's escapism. But what just doesn't sit well with me are things that are a little too close to old pro-war political lies and archaic machoism values. And perhaps that's why I've decided not to have the concept art from my old aforementioned job in my portfolio section of my website. Here, on a blog, I decided not to run away from it, but use it as a visual aid to my soapbox. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. Here is its place in my history. So, what will the future look like?

[To read more, click for part 2, part 3]

 

(above) video game concept art. circa mid 2000's.
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video game concept art. circa mid 2000's.
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video game concept art. circa early 2000's.