Thursday, March 31, 2011

Outside the Bit: "Gaming in the Cold (War)"

Hello, dear readers! I know that you are used to hearing my unique brand of... how shall I say it... commentary. As much as I enjoy it, AND I DO, it occurs to me that you all might enjoy hearing from someone else from time to time.

That is what our newest feature, "Outside The Bit" is for! Outside the Bit (OTB) is when we give a guest contributor the controller for 8BitVS, and let them loose on a game-related topic of their choosing. They will entertain, inform, and dazzle you so that you are fresh and ready for some bad photoshop, and informed opinions when I return! As they say, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder".

This week's contributor, Warza, is an old friend of mine, and an avid gamer. We met in New Zealand a long time ago, and found that we had a great deal in common in regards to our love of gaming. A prosperous friendship ensued. In my estimation, his insights are sharp, and his opinions, interesting.

Bet you didn't know that old BitNick lived a while in New Zealand, did you? See? OTB is bringing us all closer together already.

Give him a warm welcome, and let The 8-Bit Show begin!


Gaming in the Cold (War)

By Warza

Last summer, for lack of anything better to do, I went on a gaming binge. I bounced from console to console with the giddy rapacity of a 3rd grade sugar fiend let loose in a candy store. I played my PC, I played my Xbox 360, and I even blew the dust off its venerable daddy, the original 'Box.

I dutifully waded through the staples of video game achievement. I shot and fragged. I completed objectives and beat missions, and of course, I earned points. And after I had played through a significant portion of my game collection, something hit me.
I had been playing: Battlefield: Bad Company 2, where a plucky American squad battles Russians all over the world for no other apparent reason than that they are bad. World in Conflict, a beautiful PC game wherein you call airstrikes in on Soviets who have invaded Seattle because they are bad. Freedom Fighters, a New York plumber organized a resistance to fight for freedom against bad, bad Soviets who have invaded New York.

I even played Red Alert 3 for a little while, until I realized that I DON'T hate myself, and I DO deserve good things in my life, so I stopped. The story of that game is told in cutscenes; a coalition of freedom loving Allies fight evil Reds because they are bad (at acting).

In every game I was playing at the time, I was fighting Russians. I mean every single one. When I realized this, I felt like Bruce Willis discovering that he was dead the entire time at the end of "6th Sense."

I could add to the above list, which is by no means complete by the way, such titles as Goldeneye 007, Operation Flashpoint, Ghost Recon and the modern warfare iterations of the Call of Duty franchise. In these games if they have a Russian accent, you shoot first and ask question later. Or don't ask questions. They wouldn't understand you anyway; they don't speak Freedom.

Crysis and the newly released Homefront are two games in which you don't fight Russians. Instead, the Soviet's red boots have been filled by the North Koreans, who are rapidly becoming the new cut and paste baddies. I can think of one recent blockbuster release, EA's Medal of Honor reboot, in which you combat a non-apologetically non-socialist enemy ripped from today's headlines, the Taliban. Heard of it? Now, heard of it lately?

In short, if you are playing a modern shooter and fighting enemies from this planet, you are fighting commies.
So what makes them such great antagonists? The same thing that makes Starcraft such a joy: faction balancing. It turns out that the half century arms race that our country engaged in with the USSR is a great process for balancing armaments and weapon loadouts. The Soviets rivaled us, ruble for dollar to beat our tech, and we dumped copious amounts of our capitalist cash into R&D to beat theirs. We have the M-16, they have the AK-47. We have the M1A1 tank, they have the T-89. We: M2 troop carrier, They: BMP, and so on. You get the point. The diametric opposition is just beautiful.

In addition, communists make great villains because they are evil. I mean, twisted and freedom hating to the core, and just plain mean! In the world of video games the Reds are always invading and plotting and executing plans in which the goal is the total subjugation and destruction of the American way of life. All they want is to drive into America's heartland and pave over a baseball field to build a monument to the Party and the Proletariat, and maybe desecrate an apple pie or two. (Senator McCarthy warned us!)

Soviets in Seattle? Something tells me they
didn't just drop by for Starbucks.
And that's what makes this so hard to admit. I discovered as I played my games, the games where the Cold War USA/Russia tension was replaced by all out conflict, that I liked playing as the Russians, MORE.

I had my first inklings of this when playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2. There's an option to change the voices speaking actual Russian into the generic Russian accented voices we're all familiar with from the movies. And I refused. I like the Russian. I can still tell when the voices are warning me of a sniper, and it just sounds more... what? Rousing? Musical?

Oh, and don't get me started on the AK-47. It has actual wood in it. Those wood accents bring some character and charm to the firearm that the M-16 totally lacks.

Cold and Metallic.
Don't stick your tongue on it in winter.

It's like it's saying, "I'm inviting and earthy. I'm natural. Come hold me and strike down your capitalist pig enemies with me. Come on, we'll do it together... comrade."

Ah, much nicer. Now, this is a piece you can curl up with next to a fire.
What a great sounding word, comrade. If there's something we lack in America today, it's that sense of comradeship. That sense that we're all on the same team, and in all of this together. Can I help it that I choke up a little during "The Hunt for the Red October" when the whole crew, together, spontaneously bursts into singing the Soviet anthem, and Sean Connery looks around and declares, in a Scottish/pseudo-Russian accent, "Let them sing"?

Comrades helping comrades...
Does it get more neighborly than this?
Now, I love America, so don't run off and report me to the Un-American Activities Committee. I still like football... and apple pie. All I'm saying is that there's things to like about Russia too. Video games have given us a window into a conflict that thankfully never was. In that process I got that chance to imagine getting into the head of our one-time enemy, and realize that yes, maybe we all can just get along.


  1. Excellent writing, a fine post, Warza. It was hilarious at the points it needed to be, informative and persuasive. I loved reading it! I hope to hear more from you soon!


    P.S.-- You better explain the New Zealand thing, one of you, or people are going to think you were part of the Red underground movement to take over New Zealand. ;)

  2. maybe all of these commies appearing in our video games isnt a coincidence...i mean, look at movies and books too, russians are everywhere! Like the new movie Salt, or the book War and Peace (ive never read it, but im pretty sure it has russians in it).

    i think we are being subliminally trained...for what? freedom, thats what.

  3. This topic caught my eye because I was just reading IGN's review of the Rush n attack remake (they did not care for it much). I remember playing the original one on a weekend rental a zillion years ago, and mostly recall thinking it was not anywhere near as good as Contra - but the title and content fit nicely with your article here. :)

  4. @Chalgyr

    It is rather interesting that Warza covered this topic right when Rush N' Attack was coming out. Funny enough, that is actually one old game that I never got the chance to play! I suppose, however, that it was a decent fit to finish out your week with a touch of red, Chalgyr!


  5. I really enjoyed reading this.
    I thought it was very informative, as I didn't even really think about something like the AK-47 having wood parts.

    Also, what'd you think of Freedom Fighters? I have a friend that really liked the music in the game, and suggested that I give it a try...but I never did.

  6. @coffeewithgames

    I liked Freedom Fighters a lot. In its day it did some really interesting things in the world of squad combat, a world that no one else was really touching at the time.

    Sadly, last summer when I was replaying it, I discovered that like cream cheese in the Sahara, it didn't age well.

    The music is still great though!

  7. that was a very fine read my friend.. keep it up with the "Outside the Bit".. good stuff


  8. What are you trying to say, Dustin?! Just can't wait until you get another rest from me? :)

    In all seriousness, though, Warza did a mighty fine job in 8BitVS's first OTB feature. Very cool, comrade. Very cool...


  9. ha.. you know you're my hero, nick :)

  10. Well done! I've thought about that, myself... It's like we can't come up with any other feasible enemies for videogames anymore. What if we tried shaking things up a bit, videogame industry? Why not give Chad a shot at the antagonist's limelight? Oh wait. We'd be shooting black people, and that'd be racist. My bad.


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