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The Uncanny Valley and the Middle East
Posted on Saturday, May 31 2008 @ 22:22:46 PST

For me at least, COD4 is the first console FPS fast and fun enough to justify hearing an occasional online Chad letting you know that you're a gay homo.  Even when you do get fed up with [S1UT]BEAST69, the next rank is always so close that you can't stop playing even if you want to.  The Metal Gear Online beta was also pretty entertaining and tough to put down, especially with the looming end date and the fact that no matter what it was freaking Metal Gear.   Both games led me personally to neglect phone calls, exams, papers, tangible humans or the fact that it was 5 AM.  And dumb Konami put MGO out during finals week. 

Anyway, both games run into that Uncanny Valley of creepy realism, for example when you're pinned down behind a burning van in the vague "Middle East.".  30 Rock relates the problem to sex, but I think it's more of a concern with War.  It feels ethically worse to get your jollies from acting out something reminiscent of the Iraq war than from acting out with something reminiscent of Lindsay Lohan.  Maybe that's an unfair comparison. 

The point is, both of these games set the realism level unsettlingly high.  People are yelling and dying all around you and it can make for some immersive, great "oh-****" gameplay, especially in the COD4 campaign mode.   At the same time, a lot of us kids have real buddies in real Iraq, and while Liquid Ocelot isn't going to mess with their nanomachines or whatever the hell is going on in MGS4, playing these games can feel a bit like making light of the real world. 

I'm not trying to equate sex to violence and I'm not saying these games are brainwashing murder-simulators.  I'm also not saying we should boycott games like this--I'm planning to play MGS4 so hard that I may actually go blind.  Venturing into the uncanny valley and bringing up these kinds of issues could be an argument for games as a serious political artistic medium.  With that, though, it becomes important to keep the real world in mind. 
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