I promise this will only be brief, since I don’t want to exploit tragedy.
This week, during Gamescom, some new footage of Battlefield Hardline was released. It’s trailer footage, single player, and there was a lot of buzz around it.
Battlefield Hardline is a game that puts you in the shoes of law enforcement officers, enforcing laws with brutal tactics. You shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. You stop criminals with the bullets from your guns and little regard for procedure.
This week, unarmed teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Understandably, the community was devastated by this unjustified murder, and peaceful protests against the extra-judicial use of lethal force were soon organised. This got out of hand when the Ferguson police decided that these upset, grieving people were unlawful and, instead of defusing the situation and acting transparently to deliver justice for Michael Brown, the police instead moved in with full riot gear.
Tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds were all deployed against peaceful protestors – and journalists. Soon we saw shocking imagery of fully kitted out combatants training laser sights and sniper rifles on protestors from the tops of tanks.
The police in Ferguson brought in tanks to calm the situation.
Against American citizens.
A militarised police force employing weapons designed for warzones in urban America, all to subdue a perceived criminal population – who were, in reality, peaceful protestors with the right to demand accountability for an unjust action.
In the midst of this tragedy, this loss, this pain, this outpouring of grief, and this display of rampant police militarisation in America, a game called Battlefield Hardline released a trailer about a rampantly militarised police force violently subduing criminals, full of exciting music and heart-pounding action.
I’m all for freedom of expression, and the pragmatics of organised and paid-for marketing campaigns, but come on. Have a little tact.
There is a culture of glorifying violence in video games. The best selling game franchises of all time involve guns, armies, war, battle, and crime. Give a character a gun and they are a hero to be celebrated. Give a character a badge and they are in the moral right, regardless of their actions. In the world of video games, the good guys are good and the bad guys are dead.
I don’t mean to say video games cause violence. There is no proof of that either way. That’s not what this is about.
No, what this is about is decency, restraint, and a stupid, juvenile obsession with being a good guy with a gun.
Video games, people who play video games, have the potential to be so much more than that. There are stories to tell, experiences to show, emotions to share, that go so far beyond “shoot the dude and win”.
But on a week like this, where we see a blockbuster piece of supposedly escapist entertainment glorifying something that is, in actuality, horrendously occurring right now, it’s hard to feel anything but sick.
I am angry at what is happening in Ferguson, and I am angry that video games have an ingrained culture of glorifying the worst parts of what is happening in Ferguson.
Most sites – us included – posted the Battlefield trailer. Not all sites, but most. There is a global audience for this sort of thing after all. We aren’t all affected by the tragedy that occurred – is occurring – in Ferguson Missouri. Heck, I’m in Australia. I probably wouldn’t even know what is happening in Ferguson was happening if it wasn’t for my following Americans on Twitter. We have a global readership to serve, and a responsibility to get information out there – for everyone.
But I still can’t help but feel a little gross that, while we celebrated the newest hype trailer of the next big gaming product to feature cops with guns, an innocent boy was being killed by a police officer and a town was being threatened by its own law officials with weapons designed for warzones.