Treyarch was capable of achieving what Infinity Ward did with the airport scene, but they chose the route of less resistance. It’s understandable, Steve Doocy of Fox and Friends bashed Modern Warfare 2 for allowing you to “be a terrorist and kill people“. Jane Roberts, the president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, stated that “The consequences of terrorism are just abhorrent in our community and yet here we are with a product that’s meant to be passed off as a leisure time activity, actually promoting what most world leaders speak out publicly against,“, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
With repercussions from media outlets and politicians, there’s no wonder that the video game industry is playing safe and avoiding controversial issues. But I feel like Treyarch missed a really good opportunity to advance the gaming industry, much like the plot focused level “No Russian” did in pushing the limits of what game developers are allowed to do.
I can imagine the level in my head right now – a bunch of silent grunts sitting in a helicopter, getting ready to deploy next to a village suspected of Vietcong activity. At the bottom left of the screen, text appears:
South Vietnam, outside of the Village of My Lai.
Search and Destroy mission by order of Lieutenant William Calley
Area suspected of Vietcong operations
Mason and Charlie Company Deployed In Area
March 16, 1968
…with the appropriate blackout of all the words, with exception for the ones in red bold; South Vietnam, My Lai, Mason, March 16, 1968.
If you don’t know the significance of the date and location, it’s when and where the United States military had committed one of the biggest war crimes in history; the My Lai Massacre. Charlie Company and a number of US troops had been patrolling the area next to My Lai, sustaining casualties because of traps and ambushes set up by the Vietcong insurgents. From the order of Lieutenant William Calley, Charlie Company was directed to a small rice farming village suspected of Vietcong activity. Their orders were to search and destroy members of the Vietcong, and even though there wasn’t any evidence present that suggested enemy activity, soldiers opened fire, killing around five hundred unarmed civilians. Only three weapons were found in the village.
I was hoping that Treyarch could have made a level in My Lai that not only pushed the boundaries of what the gaming industry is allowed to simulate, but that they also focused on a theme that no one is innocent in war. The Russians are constantly presented as the antagonist in video games with fictitious settings – Battlefield: Bad Company and the Modern Warfare franchises to name a few – when in fact the United States has committed some atrocities of its own.
Even with World at War, the player is introduced to a Japanese officer who orders a subordinate to kill a marine in the Pacific campaign, and in the start of the Eastern front a morose song plays as Nazi soldiers exterminate the rest of the Russian conscripts. It’s like the Dresden bombing runs never happened, where thousands of tons of explosives were dropped in a cultural metropolis that was merely suspected of producing arms for Germany.
Not only do I think that Black Ops had the opportunity to provide a new perspective on the cold war, but it also could have brought to the American public’s attention of government and military conspiracy, seeing how the event at My Lai was never reported until a Vietnam veteran named Ron Ridenhour revealed information in a very long letter to Congressman Morris Udall of Arizona.
I don’t wish to kill Vietnamese civilians just for the fun of it, if there is any to gain, nor do I intend to bring ill to my nation’s military and government. I was hoping that Treyarch could have made a level that addressed to the public a history lesson that still holds some value to this day, presented in a medium that is capable of immersing the consumer in ways that a news periodical or textbook could never accomplish. An experience that no one would forget, so that the mistakes of the past can always be remembered so that we don’t repeat them in the future.
My only hope now is that if a developer were to stumble across this article, they would remember to not repeat the same mistake that Treyarch made in the past, so that gaming can progress as an industry in the future.