Army of One
Whoever said that every boy can become president probably didn’t have what Miniclip.com has in mind for players of Bush Shoot-Out!. That being said, players have the chance to take on the role of the 43rd President of the United States for a few minutes while he kicks the asses of a horde of ski-masked terrorists.
Miniclip is a UK developed site specializing in “free games and shows”—most of which consist of apolitical, no-brainer, mini-games intended to amuse the casual gamer. While flash games like Robot Rampage and 3 Foot Ninja 2 are intended to be silly fun and have extremely high quality production for a simple flash product, Miniclip has hosted quite a number of satirical games and animations as the US elections approached, including The War on Terrorism and Hip-Hop Debate.
Which brings me to Bush Shoot-Out!, a relatively simple shooter (mouse over the bad guys you need to shoot and click away) with really excellent cel-shaded style cartoony characters and environments that I think underscores Miniclip’s approach to satire as a gaming experience.
The fascinating thing about this little game is how little it speaks satirically but how much it plays satirically, offering something that standard satirizes bound by a purely narratological format (books, theatre, film) cannot do: this game allows you not to simply interpret and acknowledge satire but to experience satire.
The entirety of the narrative component of the game is told through cut scenes. These cut scenes are brief and non-explanatory. In the first mission, simply called “Oval Office”, we see an unnamed terrorist group sneak past a Secret Service agent on their way into the White House. Cut to Bush working in the Oval Office dressed in a leather vest, cuffed jeans, cowboy boots, and a belt buckle stamped with a lone star. Upon catching wind of the break in, he presses a large red emergency button, and grins as an automatic rifle emerges from his desktop. Mayhem ensues.
None of this cut scene contain any dialogue. As noted, the origins of the terrorists and their identities remain nameless. All we have to tell us the story of these events are the above mentioned images and the gameplay itself.
Bush crouches under cover of his desk in the oval office, a press conference podium in the second chapter, the fountain in front of the white house in a final chapter, and blows the hell out of a veritable river of terrorists.
While cut scenes move us along towards the final chapter, “The Escape”, they continue to offer no additional explanation of the plot, but it isn’t there that our “story” gets told.
It is the realization as we play that Bush is a one man army. The player unloads on rapidly emerging, seemingly countless and unrelenting enemies. Despite the brevity of the game, the sheer number is overwhelming. The message is clear: our president chooses to fight such villains alone. He is a one man army because he has chosen to stand alone against them.
Well, not exclusively alone. In the second chapter, “Cross Hall”, Bush’s co-star Condoleeza Rice appears for the first time in the game and with the first piece of dialogue, “George Sweetie! Don’t worry. I’ll cover you as you cross the hall.”
After fighting barely containable forces, the player realizes that an ally is appreciated. Fighting this war alone is fast-paced, frantic, and leaves little room for thought or error (you can lose points for killing running Secret Service agents). But, that help arrives from within as it were. Bush receives aid not from the outside of the White House but from within his own cabinet in the form of a lean, well muscled Condoleeza Rice.
Ironically, this reprieve isn’t much of a reprieve for you as the player, since you have to take on the role of the double uzi wielding Rice as well to battle the terrorists. The Army of One approach to terrorism is still emphasized throughout the remainder of the game especially in its final and most difficult chapter. It is the only one that I had to replay because the evildoers were are a bit overwhelming even on easy difficulty, but, as noted, this notion seems related to the satirical approach of the game—Bush stands alone against overwhelming odds.
The game features two endings. At first, I thought that the “bad” ending was the only ending possible. After defeating the terrorists outside the White House and fending off several attack helicopters with an RPG ironically named the Minifaust 2003, a brief cut scene of an unmarked white van wired with explosives speeding towards the White House precedes your last challenge.
Tagging the van is difficult and took me four attempts to do so. If you do not, it smashes into the White House, blowing it up. Bush’s hand emerges from the rubble with a single thought: “I think war is a dangerous place.” This final narrative piece confirms the sense you’ve had as a player throughout the game: being a one man army isn’t such a hot idea.
The alternate “good” ending is equally interesting. As Bush pulls himself erect after blowing up the van, the screen splits to reveal one of the downed terrorists lying nearby. A trickle of blood flows from both men, both equally wounded by the exchange. Then, the terrorist himself begins to rise and go for a gun. Again, Bush’s actions match his and, with the now clichéd “poke fun at the poor Texan grammar of the Commander-in-Chief” approach to Bush satire, Bush springs backwards for a weapon himself, crying, “I think they misunderestimated me,” and shoots the terrorist dead.
Both narrative endings serve only to emphasize a satire emergent in the gameplay itself. As simple and straight forward as this game is, its sophistication in terms of using the medium and interactivity to serve its goal of satirizing American policy bodes well for those of us interested in seeing games treated as a serious art form. Whether you are on the right or the left, it is heartening to see that games can do more than viscerally amuse us but can also allow us as players to experience the ideas that the developers wanted to get across.
Mchluhain is right: the medium is the message.