THE BAT-SHIT EVOLUTION OF THE MODERN WARFARE SERIES

November 30, 2011

HULK RETURNS TO THE WELL OF VIDEO GAMES!

THIS TIME TO SMASH THE BAT-SHIT EVOLUTION OF THE NARRATIVE AND THEMES OF THE MODERN WARFARE SERIES!

http://badassdigest.com/2011/11/29/film-crit-hulk-smash-hulk-vs-the-bat-shit-evolution-of-the-modern-warfare/

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31 Responses to “THE BAT-SHIT EVOLUTION OF THE MODERN WARFARE SERIES”

  1. lysistrata said

    First of all, thanks for this. I’ve been extremely uncomfortable with Modern Warfare and the video game war aesthetic for quite a while, but FPS games leave me cold and sometimes I’ve written it up to my own bias — it’s good to hear this from someone who’s a little more articulate, and doesn’t have the same beef I have with the gameplay itself.

    I’m glad you brought up the subject of gaming’s Citizen Kane, because it comes up from time to time in the conversation about whether video games are art and I think the way people talk about this says a lot about the state of video games right now.

    I hope you can meet me halfway here, because I’m just an amateur game designer and while I watch a lot of movies and do my best to process them on an intellectual level I’m certainly not an expert and I’m sure I’m not ready to stand toe-to-toe with film critics on ground as well-tread (and a film as deep) as Citizen Kane. I’ll readily admit I might be completely misinterpreting it, and I’d love to hear what I’m missing if I am.

    That aside, what impressed me about Citizen Kane was that it was a story that essentially HAD to be told on film. It’s not enough to me that the movie made extensive use of deep focus and other ground-breaking cinematic techniques, but that it understood exactly why that was valuable to the story that it was telling — which is, as I understand it, about the tension between Charles Foster Kane the public figure and the unknowability of who he really is on the inside. So while the visual effects pushed the technological envelope, they did it in service of telling this story in this particular way, and as a result you have a film that’s almost impossible to imagine working in the same way on the stage or in prose.

    I think when gamers ask for the Citizen Kane of video games, though, that’s not really what they’re looking for. I think they just want a game that’s so good that there’s a consensus among critics that it’s the great, because for some reason that’d be legitimizing for this idea that video games are art. To me that’s a fool’s errand, and it seems to miss the point — to me, you can remove the actual gameplay component from any of these games that supposedly have good stories and nothing of narrative value is lost, and I think that’s almost as big a problem as the subject material.

    You said you grew up on video games, so I’m curious, have you ever played Chrono Trigger or Valkyrie Profile? I know the whole JRPG thing isn’t in vogue right now, but I really think these two stories work and would be damaged irreparably if you removed the actual gameplay — I’m curious what you think about that, and whether you think that’s even a discussion worth having when there are so many other problems with the medium.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK SORT OF REALIZED HULK LOOKING LESS FOR THE CITIZEN KANE OF GAMES, BUT MORE THE GLADWELL-ESQUE TIPPING POINT IF THAT MAKE SENSE?

      YEAH, HULK STILL LOVE THE JRPG MODEL TOO. CHRONO TRIGGER PRETTY DAMN GOOD. ONE THING IS HULK THINK THE JRPG MODEL ACTUALLY SUFFERED HUGELY WITH ADVANCES IN TECH. BY UPGRADING TO ACTUAL VOICE ACTORS, THE OKAY DIALOGUE (WHICH WE COULD ACT OUT TO BEST CAPABILITY IN OUR HEADS) BECAME BORDERLINE INSUFFERABLE. HULK MEAN GODDAMMIT WAKKA.

      BUT THE THING HULK LIKES ABOUT THE JRPG MODEL IS THAT EVEN THOUGH IT IS VERY LINEAR, THE STORYTELLING AND MORE IMPORTANTLY THE DISTINCTION OF THE STORYTELLING ON A MOMENT TO MOMENT LEVEL IS PRETTY GOOD ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

  2. vvp said

    A couple of things: the original Call of Duty was my favorite FPS growing up. It was developed by Infinity Ward, as was the first MW. They also did Call of Duty 2. After the release of MW and before MW2, there was a large shake up at Infinity Ward that saw it lose a lot of its talent.

    Both MW and Call of Duty did things for me in a shooter that no game had done before. Play the soviet section of Call of Duty, for instance. Or many things in the first MW game. When the talent from Infinity Ward left, the series just became pure junk, in both incarnations.

    Dark Souls is the first game since Shadows to really capture what games can be, for me. The difficulty is necessary for the experience of the game, as otherwise the direction the game took with the plot and characters would make no sense.

    I am also surprised about no mention of the Silent Hill games.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      YEAH THE INFINITY WARD SHAKEUP SEEMS TO BE DEVASTATING.

      HULK COULDA MENTIONED SILENT HILL TOO FOR SURE BUT HULK WANTED TO KEEP IT WITH COLOSSUS AND BIOSHOCK CAUSE HULK REALLY THINK THEY BEST EXAMPLES.

  3. Cranky Owl said

    Hulk, thanks again for a wonderfully thoughtful essay. I wholly agree with your thoughts on whether games can be art and where we are in relation to that, and spent some time thinking about whether games even *could* be part, as definitionally-locked as they are in, as you say, objective-based experiences. But I think we may have recently crossed that barrier with The Stanley Parable, a small mod/game for Half-Life 2. If you’ve played it, how do you think it fits into your thesis? If not… give it a try. I’d love to know what you think. I think this can be described as a game, in the true sense of the word, in which theme is the primary intended (and realized) aspect.

    http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-stanley-parable

  4. Charming Charlie said

    Hulk, would you prefer comments on articles here, or on badassdigest? I know your response will be measured and accepting of both, but which which makes you more money or best elucidates your audience?

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HERE HULK DEFINITELY GETS EMAILED EACH RESPONSE. ON BADASS IT CAN GET LOST IN THE SEA, BUT IT’S ALSO WHERE THE PRIMARY “DISCUSSION” IS IF THAT MAKES SENSE.

      SO COMMENTARY IN LINE WITH OTHER DISCUSSION? GO THERE.

      POINTED QUESTION SPECIFICALLY FOR HULK? GO HERE.

  5. Black Dougall said

    I’ll second what vvp said about the original Call of Duty series. It was fantastic and the opening sequence for the Soviet missions was incredibly intense (although heavily inspired by the movie “Enemy at the Gates”).

    Modern Warfare was also really well done with a semi-coherent story. The story in MW2 though was something I just ignored as it didn’t make an ounce of sense. To this day I have no idea what was going on. Also, each entry in the series seems to be attempting to outdo itself for sadistic violence in the cut scenes. This trend started around the time of CoD: World at War.

    Just wanted to take a minute to let you know that I came here through your Batman: Arkham City commentary. I very much agree with you about the level of sexism in the game. I would add that the thug chatter overall seems to be crueller and more sadistic than in the first game and I wonder if the creators weren’t attempting to “outdo” themselves.

    In any case I wanted to express my appreciation for your writing. Anyone who writes a column about Arkham City, Community and Downton Abbey has definitely earned themselves a fan here :)

  6. no one of consequence said

    “HULK DEFINES ART AS SOMETHING WHERE THE THEMATIC MESSAGES (EVEN IF THOSE MESSAGES ARE AMBIVALENT) ARE THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF THE PRODUCTS INCEPTION AND IDENTITY”

    Unfortunatly that is not the definition of art that resides in the dictionary. Twisting the definition of art to suit your point of view is beneath you Hulk. I say that because I care, because I like your thoughtful takes on cinema, and you don’t seem like a narrow minded prick.

    “Britannica Online defines art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” Yes, I just copy and pasted that from wikipedia, but it is the definition that has been making the rounds for the last two hundred years or so, so suck it.

    Your view of art is, understandably, skewed toward dramatic presentation where the audience is passive and have are viewing the artform with the expectaion of at least being told a story. A successful film can be said to have, at minimum, conveyed it’s point of view to an audience.

    Video games are going for something far different from telling a passive audience to just shut up and listen, they get the audience involved in the action for the purpose of having fun. “Fun” however is not as repected a product from entertainment as being told how and what to think, which is what “themes and messages” are for.

    Respectable art (up to this point in human existance anyway) has no interest in being “fun”. Even comedies are undervalued as an art form because fun and laughter are not intellectual pursuits. So there is an intellectual snobery going on here that is really belittling to a lot of talented artists that made the mistake of showing folks a good time, as if that’s an ignoble pursuit.

    The argument really isn’t about “are video games art?”, it’s about placing it in our collective intellectual cannon. It’s really about refinement. Literature, classical music, sculpture and painting will always be treated as intellectually superior to films, comic books and photography. Why? They’ve been around longer. The artists in those fields built upon the contributions of their forebears to refine their product over time.

    There’s also the cultural “push-back” emerging forms of expression recieve from those defending the status quo. Literature professors bemoan the effect movies had on writing. Painters essentially lost their minds trying to stay relevant at the birth of photography (see “cubism”). Now, film buffs are telling whoever will listen that “video games aren’t art” because video games began crowding their turf by trying to tell stories too. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    Relax, movies are so engrained in our culture and are such and easy way of coercing an audience that they won’t be a cultural anachronism anytime soon. Cry for the Victorian era-portrait artists… technology fucked them bigtime.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HELLO NO ONE OF CONSEQUENCE. HULK THANK YOU FOR YOUR POINTED COMMENT.

      FIRST THERE HAS TO BE ONE THING CLARIFIED. HULK’S PRETTY SURE THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH PUTTING FORWARD YOUR OWN DEFINITION OF SOMETHING FOR THE PURPOSES OF AN ARGUMENT. ESPECIALLY WHEN HULK MAKES IT SO CLEAR IT’S HULK’S OWN DEFINITION. AND WHAT’S SORT OF STRANGE ABOUT YOUR ACCUSATION OF “TWISTING” IS THAT IT’S ACTUALLY AN OFT REQUIRED-ACADEMIC PRACTICE. ESPECIALLY CONCERNING SUBJECTS THAT ARE SO ETHEREAL AS THE QUESTION “WHAT IS ART?

      AND HERE IS THE REASON HULK GOES WITH THAT SPECIFIC DEFINITION: WHEN HULK ASKS “WHAT IS ART?” HULK REALLY ASKING “WHAT IS THE MEANING OF ART?” IN THIS CASE INTENTION. YOU CORRECTLY SAY HULK’S DEFINITION ABOUT REFINEMENT, BUT HULK SAY IT ABOUT EVEN MORE THAN THAT. IT ABOUT CREATING A DEFINITION OF ART WITH THE HIGHEST POSSIBLE STANDARDS WHICH THUS CREATES THE BEST POSSIBLE ART. AND OF COURSE ART WILL FALL SHORT OF IT, BUT THAT’S SORT OF THE POINT. INTENTION.

      EVEN STILL A LOT OF YOUR RATHER POINTED COMMENTARY CAN BE COUNTERED WITH HULK’S POINTS ABOUT “ART” VS. “THE ART OF” IN THE REST OF THE COMMENTS IN THAT ARTICLE. STILL, THERE’S MINOR POINTS LIKE ASSUMING “FUN” AND “LAUGHTER” AREN’T INTELLECTUAL PURSUITS WHEN HULK AGREES WITH YOU THAT OF COURSE THEY ARE (THEY’RE ABOUT UNDERSTANDING AND CATHARSIS. LOOK TO SHAKESPEARE FOR THE PINNACLE OF THAT). WE’RE ACTUALLY NOT THAT FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER.

      HULK’S BIGGEST REASON FOR TRYING TO PUSH SAID REFINEMENT IS BECAUSE IT’S NARRATIVE CAPABILITIES ARE GETTING TO THE POINT OF AFFECTING PEOPLE LIKE ART, SO IT THUS NEEDS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY OF THOSE MESSAGES. THAT’S ALL.

      BUT AGAIN HULK THANK FOR THE POINTED CRITICISM.

    • Well, a lot of the Victorian-era portrait artists moved into other fields (including photography). Technology expands more than it fucks when it comes to art, I’d say. (For instance: have you ever seen Cave of Forgotten Dreams?)

      • no one of consequence said

        I was aware that some portrait artists changed the way they did business in the wake of the democratization of photography, and proabably did even more business as a result. It’s just asking a lot out of an artist to completely change disciplines in mid stream considering it was a steady source of income. Especially considering the years that go into developing such a specialized talent as painting.

        Photography did give painting the kick in the ass it was needing as an art, though. It just sucked a lot of the practicality out of it as a way of making a living.

        I shouldn’t have been so flippant about tossing that in though. I was being an ass. Please refer to the post below for my apology for poor attempts at humor, it applies here as well.

        No, I haven’t seen “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” yet. I would like to see it in 3-D, but missed it the first time around. I suppose I could watch it at home in glorious 2-D regularvision, but I’d be missing a lot of the point.

  7. NO ONE OF CONSEQUENCE said

    I’m truly sorry for offending you. I tried to put some humor in my writing and it came off, well, “pointy” apparantly.

    The only points I were trying to make is that the “video games are not art” mantra is looking anachronistic in it’s own time, and that denouncing a form of art as “invalid” is a defense mechanism more than genuine critism.

    As far as your definition of art and how it fits into your article: I should have used a less inflamitory word as “twisted”. I don’t agree with it, but I get what your are saying.

    Maybe I’m too inclusive about what is art and what is not. While I’m with you on the idea that art should have standards to attain and surpass in order to grow, I haven’t gotten on the “bad art is not art at all” bus.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      OH SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT. THAT LITERALLY THE FIRST TIME THAT EVER HAPPENED. SUPER BIG MISTAKE ON HULKS PART AND HULK ALREADY CORRECTED. RESPONSE COMING IN ONE SEC.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      OKAY. SO DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE POINTY THING, CAUSE YOU LITERALLY TALKING TO A 12 TALL RAGE MONSTER. AND BESIDES, HULK REALLY GOT WHAT YOU WERE AFTER AND HOW YOU DIDN’T MEAN TO BE POINTY WITH THE COMMENT AND THUS HULK’S “WE ACTUALLY PRETTY CLOSE” COMMENT.

      ANYWHO. THE WHOLE THING IS THAT HULK DOESN’T WANT TO DISMISS ANYTHING AS INVALID, BUT INSTEAD HULK WANT CLEARLY EXPLAIN HOW TO TAKE THE MEDIUM AT LARGE TO NEXT LEVEL, WHERE IT SORT OF ALREADY IS ON A CAPABILITY LEVEL BUT DOESN’T REALIZE. DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?

      AGAIN. HULK ALWAYS COMES FROM THESE “EDUCATION” PERSPECTIVES WHERE THE PURPOSE IS REALLY TO GET PEOPLE TO PROGRESS AND DO THE BEST POSSIBLE WORK THAT THEY CAN.

      SO IS IT A HIGH STANDARD? FOR SURE. BUT HULK DON’T THINK THAT’S MEANT TO BE EXCLUSIVE. IF ANYTHING HULK INCLUDES EVERYTHING AND WANTS EVERYTHING TO STRIVE TO BE BETTER. THAT MAKE SENSE?

      • no one of consequence said

        Not to run the whole “pointy” thing into the ground… I realized that I wrote my first ranty comment while wearing a Wolverine t-shirt and Call of Duty jammy pants. That sort of admission pretty much invalidates every thing I said on the subject. I should go back to lurking (and “no” I did not care for MW3’s idiotic story and I don’t enjoy playing online; I didn’t buy the damned pants… ugh, this isn’t helping – forget I typed this).

        To answer the probably entirely rhetorical question of wether or not you made sense: yes, I get your point of view. Do I agree 100% with Hulk on what art is versus what art should be? No, not really, but it would be boring if everyone agreed all the time anyway, right?

        Anyway, that’s a pretty small part of the overall article and getting hung up on it is my fault because I’m bringing a certain amount of bagagge from other discussions on games as art into what was really a well written piece on the regression of narrative in games and games publishers’ collective failure to respect their own medium as an artform.

        I hope that makes sense. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to clarify your point of view to an obnoxious commenter with shitty taste in pajamas.

  8. FanofHulkBlog said

    I honestly don’t understand the whole, “Are Video Games Art?” debate. For the same people who recognize a spray painted urinal as art, to deride a game on the basis of the functional elements is completely absurd to me. That is like saying a chair cannot be a work of art because you can sit in it, and that functionality removes form it artistic consideration.

    All modern video games, much like all modern movies, are not art. Just because I don’t consider Transformers 3 or Jack and Jill to be art that is not somehow incongruent with believing Citizen Kane or On the Waterfront are.

    Claiming games cannot be considered art because they have gameplay concerns is on its face absurd. Every artistic medium has similar concerns. The fact that many people at the core of the production aren’t artists or artistic is also irrelevant. Movie producers aren’t artists. Editors (both print and in movies) aren’t usually considered artists. Stunt men, casting agencies boom operators and gophers aren’t artists.

    I could see a legitimate debate on whether a game programmer is an artist, a stunt man or an editor for that matter. But video games themselves qualify as art on so many levels beyond just basics like storytelling, but such elements as emotional response and aesthetic beauty.

    Are they as powerful as literature and movies? Rarely, and they certainly haven’t hit their olympian heights. I fail to see how someone can understand how hundereds or thousands of people create a movie and understand it to be a work of art, and then believe what is ultimately a very similar process with video games cannot create a similar work to be wholly dishonest.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HELLO THERE. HULK THINK THERE MAY BE A VERY BIG MISUNDERSTANDING OF BOTH WHAT HULK MEANT AND THE INTENTIONS OF THE PIECE. THERE ANOTHER PIECE GOING UP ON BADASS ABOUT IT, BUT BASICALLY HULK NOT DERIDING THOSE THINGS AT ALL. BASICALLY IT SPEAKS TO THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PRODUCT THAT IS “ART” AND THE “ART OF.” HULK THINK WE REALLY HAVE A VERY SIMILAR VIEWPOINT ON THE BEAUTY OF THESE THINGS, BUT IN THE UPCOMING PIECE HULK EXPLAINS WHY THE DEFINITION IS SO SPECIFIC. IT’S LARGELY ABOUT WHAT THE HIGH STANDARD OF DEFINITION DOES IN TERMS OF CREATING A BETTER APPROACH TO THE ART. HULK THANK KINDLY FOR YOUR COMMENT.

  9. Exkaiser said

    Hulk, have you played Braid? What do you think about that?

    I think it ties the gameplay into the theme well enough, but the puzzles get so caught up in themselves sometimes that it halts the forward motion of the player.

    Great article, as usual.

    • Country_Bumpkin said

      Along the same lines, I would argue that the Oddworld games, or at least the first two ones, do a reasonably good job of tying everything about the game, from design to gameplay to story, to making a specific point.

  10. JuntMonkey said

    Hulk, please finish your half-written article on Red Dead Redemption. The game is in my top 2 despite the fact that I think the dialogue and cut-scenes are awful.

    Regarding what you said in an earlier comment about JRPGs suffering from technology – I’ve been saying that exact thing for a while now (though more regarding adventure games). Reading text is at least somewhat inherently engaging, whereas listening to poorly written, acted and directed cut-scenes is not. Tarantino can make sublime and engaging 10 minute long monologues because they are well-written, acted and directed. Kojima and Telltale don’t cut it.

  11. fgonzo97 said

    @Film Crit HULK, this is off-topic but I couldnt find any other way of communicating with you. basically its a request. I was hoping u could do an analysis of the film The Fountain. whether u tear it to shreds (cough* twilight) or praise it is not the point, the point is the analysis. is it a piece of art (according to ur definition above)? what do u think of it in terms of theme, visuals, ect. if u have already done so, then plz point me to the link. thanks. love ur blog.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      HULK NEVER WROTE ABOUT IT SO HERE’S THE SHORT VERSION. IT IS AN INCREDIBLE FILM. ODDLY ENOUGH, HULK’S CRITICISM A LITTLE WEIRD, BUT IT HAS A WEIRD HABIT OF REPEATING IMAGERY AND MOTIFS PAST THE POINT WHERE WE CONNECTED THEM, AND INTO PLAIN OLD “REPETITIVE” STATUS. IT COULD TOTALLY BE LIKE A 75 MINUTE MOVIE AND NOT BE ANY “LESS” PERHAPS EVEN SOMETHING MORE. BUT A 75 MINUTE MOVIE WOULD COME OFF A LITTLE WEIRD IN OUR 90-MINUTES STANDARD REQUIREMENT. EH. HULK NOT CARE. MOVIES SHOULD BE AS LONG AS THEY NEED TO BE.

      BUT AGAIN THAT NOT REALLY A BIG DEAL. THE MOVIE STILL GREAT. YOU PROBABLY UNDERSTAND MUCH OF THE ANALYSIS ALREADY, IT MOSTLY BASIC SYMOBOLOGY OF LIFE CYCLES, ZEN, DEATH, RE-INTERPRETING THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH, ETC.

      • fgonzo97 said

        thanks for replying. great to know u consider it “AN INCREDIBLE FILM” though I can understand ur criticism of it being somewhat repetitive with its images, but I agree its a minor issue and doesnt damage the film that much. I mean its not like I understood the film the first time I watched it (hell I’m not sure if I do now!) so I see why the director did that, may be he was worried that some folks (myself included) wouldn’t get it. sorry to disappoint u but I dont understand the terms u mentioned, partly because I couldn’t find an analysis of the film apart from some comments on IMDB, which is why I’d still love to read an analysis of urs, here’s hoping that one day you might do. thanks again.

  12. Sainthubbins said

    I have a simple question about art in general, that I would love Hulk’s opinion on. Take a piece of classical music. Is the writing of the piece art, or the performing, or both? How does this apply to video games? Can a video game be art without being played? If performing music written by someone else is art, does this mean that gamers are artists?

  13. Carter said

    I wrote a response to this piece. Basically I disagree with the premise.

    http://www.culturecrisis.com/2013/08/18/video-games-and-the-nature-of-art/

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