There’s something very cathartic about shooting terrorists, and I’ve spent many hours doing so.
John Botti, Producer of Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror
While not originally intended to be, Fugitive Hunter is a terrorist hunting simulation. Or, more properly put, perhaps, Fugitive Hunter is a bargain priced-piece of wish fulfillment shrink-wrapped and stickered at $29.99 for the Wal-Mart set.
The game was initially previewed as an fps in which players would track down undesirables on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and, after causing some wanton destruction fps-style, apprehend and collect bounties on those criminals heads. Rumor has it that the game was not going to be released due to a publisher backing out on this earlier version. The focus of the game changed as the War on Terror began, though, and Black Ops, the game’s developers, revamped the premise, adding the game’s War on Terror subtitle.
In the game’s current incarnation, you play a one-man army named Jake Seaver, a freelance bounty hunter working for a federal taskforce called CIFR (Criminal Interdiction and Fugitive Recovery). After a botched attempt at capturing Osama bin Laden (yes, that Osama bin Laden) in 1999 in which all of Seaver’s squad was killed, Seaver has chosen to collect some bounties and get a little payback for his crew… and, since his ultimate target is bin Laden (bin Laden is the final boss in the game), a little payback for America.
This cowboyish mentality is reflected even in some of the game’s level design. One of my few moments of pleasure in playing the game was stepping off a helicopter into one of the games environments, a militia hideout in Utah, and feeling suddenly like the Man With No Name. Your initial foray into this level is a walk up a dusty street, gunning down shooters out of saloon windows. Yet, the Seaver character is not an avatar of mere lawlessness as the tattoo of an American flag on his right forearm testifies to, we are playing a bounty hunter that is patriotic and ultimately a noble American. Who else but John Wayne—cowboy and patriot—would ride out in a posse to hunt down a villain like bin Laden? (Consider George Bush’s own promises that invoke the Western spirit of capturing bin Laden “dead or alive.”)
Honestly, though, this is an fps that offers little in the way of innovations to the genre. There isn’t much in this game that you haven’t seen in Doom II. But, what it does offer gamers is the opportunity to live out the War on Terror from a simulated first-hand perspective. The most attractive move for American consumers on Black Ops part during their revamp of the game was to change the name of the final boss character from the fictional Abdullah bin Yasin, leader of the Al Say’f terrorist organization, to Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda.
While gamers have for years played historical re-enactment of former events through board games like Axis and Allies and Three Days of Gettysburg, this is a strange time in the development of interactive “historical” reconstruction. Games grow less like historical “what ifs?” it would seem and more as Eddo Stern, a member of C-level (a technologically savvy artists’ collective), puts it in a recent online New York Times article, more “documentary.”
Documentary filmmaking has seemed to make historical events more alive and more present. Perhaps, because film seems so much a part of our present experience and to replicate our experience of reality, while books grow to seem more and more like artifacts of the past that are linguistically remediated “glimpses” of history (but that really lack our primary perceptual way of gathering information about our present—sight). History is in the past, in books. Film is in the present—it’s the “news.” Hence, the producer of Fugitive Hunter and president and CEO of Black Ops Entertainment, John Botti’s allusion to the cathartic experience that this game provides for current events.
Botti’s allusion to Aristotle’s explanation of art’s function (particularly in theatre) seems reasonable in a sense. In some way, games like Fugitive Hunter are like Shakespearean drama (though, I shudder as I suggest a comparison between Shakespeare and this particular game because, as I alluded to earlier, this is by no means a great game), history and its celebrities seemingly “come alive” before us in a historical “what if?” situation. Of course, the dominant difference between the theatre and video games is the level of interactivity of the audience. In Fugitive Hunter, we play the “historical celebrity roles” and experience tragedy and triumph not as objective catharsis as Aristotle would suggest but more personally.
If this idea of how we relate to current events and history through media and art is somewhat the case, what this otherwise second-rate fps offers is a chance many Americans would like to have—their own private history in the post-9/11 era.
But, again, Botti’s own words—from his Director’s Commentary in the special features section of the game—explain that desire and any reason to play this game much better than I can: “So, if you wanna go and kick the crap out of the al Qaeda guys… if you wanna burn ‘em… if you wanna blow ‘em up… if you wanna smoke them out of their holes, go ahead and play Fugitive Hunter.”