Destroy All Arabs!

M

ichael Abbott just wrote a fuming, righteous post about a new WiiWare game called Heavy Fire: Special Operations:

Teyon may choose to call Heavy Fire an “Explosive Arcade Experience on WiiWare!”, but a more apt description would be “Arab shooting gallery.” Whatever narrative or thematic values we may find in games like Call of Duty 4, however meager, are jettisoned in Heavy Fire.

Your job is simple: kill or blow up as many Arabs as you can. The game rewards efficiency. Pay attention. Where will that nasty Arab pop up next? Look! There he is! Shoot!! How many can you kill? It’s Duck Hunt in the desert.

Heavy Fire: Special Operations is atrocious. Nintendo should be ashamed for approving it as a WiiWare title. It crosses the line, not merely because it eliminates any semblance or illusion of player choice, responsibility, or contextual behavior. Heavy Fire turns a painful and bloody contemporary conflict – June was the deadliest month of the 9-year war in Afganistan – into the setting for an arcade shooter. It makes killing hordes of dark-skinned foreigners feel like a carnival ride. It’s despicable.

I share his outrage, and recommend you read the entire post, but Leigh Alexander rightly asks in the comments section:

Honestly, sexy design and a “nonspecific” setting couldn’t convince me that Modern Warfare 2 was any better than this. I would love if someone could articulate why they draw the line right here — is it just the words “middle east” on the box?

There are really two different things to be upset with here. In Modern Warfare 2, the “illusion of player choice, responsibility, or contextual behavior” it is just that: an illusion. It may be more realistic and engaging and feign artistic intent, but it’s still a murder simulator, just like Heavy Fire. Both of these games desensitize us to war and death. Only through trivialization and glorification can a society come to terms with the pain and brutality and senselessness that is War, and these games are both part of that historic narrative. While Heavy Fire may have more immediacy by trivializing current events, it’s just a more potent version of the same stuff that every other war-setting, human-enemy shooter provides.

Where I get mad, and what Abbott seems to really be mad about as well, is the line that this game crosses that Modern Warfare 2 (mostly) and other FPS/murder simulators do not: racism. Every Arab that appears in the game is an enemy, and every enemy is an Arab, shouting gibberish at you and waving their AK-47s in the air, just like on TV. The game is wholly disinterested in Middle East culture, except as a target. It treats Arabs like zombies, rotting flesh replaced with brown skin. It really is disgusting that Nintendo would approve a title with such contempt for a region of peoples.

Perhaps the saddest part of this game is that the racism is actually a part of that necessary coming-to-terms therapy that a society goes through to justify its horrific actions. We’ve been fighting two wars in the Middle East for nine years, and have been militarily involved in the region since the 1970′s, and there’s little sign that we’ve made progress, if progress is to be defined as bringing peace and making our nation safer. How can we as a people possibly justify this endless war? The only answer to some is that there just has to be something inherently wrong with Those People. Because if every last Arab isn’t our sworn enemy, what the hell are we still doing there fighting them.

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