In this second post responding to “A Matter of Authenticity” (see part one), I extrapolate Greg Goodrich’s statements about videogames as a representational medium. Despite the dubious claims to realism in previous Medal of Honor games, Goodrich’s characterization of what they were trying to accomplish with Medal of Honor: Warfighter does some interesting ontological work.
His initial claim–”There is nothing real about a video game. Absolutely nothing”–is obviously false. Videogames are just as real as another object in the world. In context, though, its clear that Goodrich is trying to separate his game from the live military operations it references.
Goodrich rejects outright the idea that a videogame can offer a “real” experience of battle: “[players] are not going to know what it is like to be in combat or to be shot just by playing a video game, its just not going to happen. Ever.” Because of this fact, Warfighter is not “realistic” but aspires to “authenticity,” by which he means the game features “authentic weapons and battle chatter and gear and locations and storylines and plotlines.” In other words, the game strives to present an “authentic” scenario even though it cannot offer a “realistic” experience.
I’m not sure how much analytical mileage we can get out of Goodrich’s semantic parsing. Separating realism from authenticity in this way depends on also separating gameplay from representation–a point McShea calls out as well–which is a much hairier issue than Goodrich acknowledges. Practically, however, Goodrich’s comments make a space for gaming that is distinct from though related to its subject matter: “Combat is combat. Games are games. And we are an entertainment product.” This raises a new question, what then is the relationship between playing Warfighter and actual war fighting?
Goodrich again walks a fine line addressing this issue. The game conforms to the shoot’em up style of the contemporary triple-A FPS, but while players are “having fun, they’re experiencing it,” by which I assume he means the authentic war scenario. Goodrich claims that his game puts players “in those boots. And while they’re in those boots, I can tell them a story of a human being.” Comments like these leand toward contradiction, like he’s saying Warfighter isn’t realistic but it is an experience of war.
But isn’t that true? The US has been at war for years, wouldn’t playing videogames in your basement be an “authentic” or even “realistic” experience of that unending war? We can talk about the military-entertainment complex here, but Goodrich himself paints a much simpler image of a gamer setting his controller down for the night and thinking of the men and women who “lay it all out on the line for me, on my behalf, that give me the freedoms and the rights to play this videogame.”
I haven’t played Warfighter, so I don’t know if the game succeeds at its goal of “authenticity.” Regardless, the exchange between McShea and Goodrich demonstrates the need for more sophisticated ways of talking about videogames as a representational medium. The virtualities that appear on screen both refer to the world and are of the world. “Realism” then is not merely a function of its verisimilitude, but involves the game’s own participation in the realities it represents.