Warring Terrorism, Soviet Style
Reflecting a shift in American foreign policy from containment and reaction, to pre-emptive war mongering, the video game industry has demonstrated its patriotic support with the release a number of war games. While commentators cite a post-September 11th climate as the basis of widespread support for the U.S. military, it is important to underscore the desperate ways in which popular culture fosters support for the military. Although EA Sports and the sport gaming continue to dominate the world of video games, war games have begun to dominate the marketplace (Napoli, 2003).
Freedom Fighters constructs an “alternative history,” to which the United States loses the Cold War to the Soviet Union. It offers its players the opportunity to imagine New York City under foreign control. Having developed the Hydrogen bomb first, the Soviets successfully conquer Europe, and the Middle East immediately following World War II. Unable to stop its encroachment, because of Soviet numeric and technological superiority, the Soviet Union encircles the United States by the millennium, taking control of Mexico and Cuba. As the game begins, the Soviets have their sites set on the United States, launching an assault of “Communist invaders and their engines of war.” Soviet flags fly the streets of New York, “reddening” the once beautiful downtown skyline. Tatiana Kempinski, the large-breasted blonde Russian bombshell, has replaced Tom Brokaw at the news desk, offering propaganda rather than news.
Facing an end to freedom and democracy, Freedom Fighters allows you to assume the role of Christopher Stone, a plumber turned “guerilla leader,” who holds the power to change the course of history. Stone, the embodiment of white working-class masculinity, maneuvers through this dangerous “world of treachery,” carrying out missions in an effort to liberate buildings (succeeded through raising an American flag).
Whereas these past games rely on racist stereotypes and play on American hatred toward Arabs as the source of fun, Freedom Fighters takes a different path to elicit support for Bush’s 21st century military-industrial complex. Freedom Fighters relies less on the racist imagination or desire to kill Arabs, but on white male fantasies of saving and defending America’s soil. Reminiscent of Rambo films, Freedom Fighters constructs an environment where you, as the lone wolf, have the power to save America from the evils of Communism. Equally important to this narrative structure is Stone’s white, male, and working-class identity. Stone, as described in the game’s manual, is a “normal New York working man.” As a product of an Irish rescue worker, who would just as “calmly put a handbag thief into the hospital,” and a Native American mother, who taught her boys “the old-Indian ways,” Stone embodies an imagined “American” icon, whose identity may be his greatest asset.
Although Stone’s intellect and power is all America needs to win back its freedom, he does receive help from a series of peripheral rebels. Isabella Angelina, a “threat to New York men” because of her smile and eyes, guides Stone, while The Kid, one of the few named characters of color, warns Stone of danger through graffiti and his extensive knowledge because of “issues with local authorities” (read, he is a criminal). So whereas Freedom Fighters differs in its construction of the enemy, from Arab terrorists to white Russians, its reliance on stereotypes and its validation of working-class white male identity is all too-common within the virtual world of video games.
Playing on the rhetoric of America’s war on terrorism, the connection between Freedom Fighters and contemporary foreign policy is clear; the enemy is merely “the axis of evil” in Russian-face. The visual components of the game, from the Statue of Liberty to the American flag, elucidate its function as American hegemony. At some level, this game seems to be in a time warp, as if EA did not receive the memo about the end of the Cold War. Yet despite a Soviet enemy, the game seems all too appropriate for our historical moment. The rhetoric embedded within Freedom Fighters, and its emphasis on liberation, protecting America’s freedoms and democracy resonates with the ongoing ideological projects of the war on terrorism. Its ability to offer its players a scenario in which America faced occupation and play through anxiety, fear and anger toward the foreign other, further situates Freedom Fighters as yet another cultural project eliciting support for America’s warring efforts.
The bulk of recent games, like Desert Storm (I & II), America’s Army, Splinter Cell, and SOCOM: Navy Seals, transport its players into a foreign military theater, into the dangerous times of war, to battle endless hordes of Iraqi soldiers and dangerous Arab terrorists. These games allow players to feel as if they are “defending the country,” (Napoli, 2003) and enables them “to get out [their] frustrations.” The power of these games is not solely in the ability of its players to virtually occupy and conquer foreign lands, in the ability to transpose one’s fears/hatred into constructed sites of combat, or the imagined ability to cause mass carnage on a grand scale—“through a carpet bombing”—but in the promotion of the war industry (Stallabras, 1993).
Given the historical moment, in which war sits at the center of the national consciousness, where support for foreign policy merges with entertainment through a number of mediums, Freedom Fighters is yet another war game that offers its players the ability to consume state violence, patriotism and xenophobia. While offering a different scenario, Freedom Fighters follows suit with the recent wave of games, all of which allow its players to transport themselves into a battle zone, into the dangerous times of war, always defeating the enemies of freedom through individual hard work, community and American ingenuity.
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Napoli, Lisa (27 March 2003). War by Other Means. New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2003 from the World Wide Web.
Stallabras, Julian. Just Gaming. New Left Review, 198. Retrieved 8 July 2003 from the World Wide Web.