I love propaganda.
No, really. I wholeheartedly love it when giant governments use enormous resources to try and fight a war of ideas instead of a war with guns. It's a hopeful sort of thing that led to stuff like the United States using Jackson Pollack paintings to show the folks behind the Iron Curtain that they were like so square man, and it helped in the freakin' Cold War.
Unfortunately, video games are not like other art forms, and fighting the war of ideas in this case usually means fighting it with the idea of way more guns. At least five, not inconsiderable powers have harnessed the might of the joystick in expressing their will.
United States Did you know that America invented not only the concept of a video game console, but the first-person shooter genre as well? It's true, and we did it all the way back in the 1970's. Shed a bald eagle-shaped tear, fellow gamers, because we're awesome like that.
That was the private market, though. The government saw that sweet, sweet pull of shooters and asked, "Since they're blowing each other away anyway, could we just make a military recruitment video game?" Indeed they could, and the result is America's Army, one of the most successful recruitment campaigns ever devised by the United States military.
Since 2002 this high-end FPS has not only been a free download intended to help wind down the number of washouts in basic training by giving an ever more accurate look at Army life, it's been a consistent critical success. Seriously, it was one of the top ten most popular online shooters up until 2007, and they're still making updates today. Even more interesting, departments like the Secret Service are considering following suit, albeit only for internal use. So remember, when someone tells you that the government can't do anything right, tell them they can make a better FPS than Homefront.
Lebanon A year after America's Army came out Hezbollah decided to give the idea a shot themselves in their campaign against Israel. Though it was a much smaller in scale attempt than ours (Let's face it, most things militarily are a smaller attempt than ours), Special Force and it's sequel still managed to find quite an audience in the Arab-speaking world.
It's not a great game. It runs on the inferior Genesis3D engine instead of the Unreal one like America's Army, and its design and graphics are nowhere near the quality of ours either. Still, it did sell out its initial run, and was playable in four different languages including English. The 2007 sequel was even better received, being closely based on the war Hezbollah had fought with Israel the previous year.
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Russia Russians are starting to get a tad touchy about the way they are portrayed in video games, which seems weird because as far as I know they've never said boo about Vodka Drunkenski. Anyway, last year some Russian lawmakers pitched the idea of levying fines for distributing video games that painted Russians in a negative light or that allowed you to command fascist forces within them. Oleg Mikheyev, a Duma deputy from the A Just Russia party specifically took offense at Soldiers: Heroes of WWII and Company of Heroes 2 when he proposed his fine.
Another development from the sudden interest in their game clout comes from the Russian Military History Society, who is being prompted and funded by the Culture Ministry to produce more patriotic-themed war games as official releases. The first of these is said to debut this year, unless this whole thing in Crimea turns out to be the result of Russia finding out making video games is hard and deciding to just blow people up the old-fashioned way.
China I'm simplifying this quite a bit, but in the 1970s, America sort of gave Japan the Senkaku Islands, a small series of uninhabited islands within a pretty close click to China and Taiwan that the Chinese government would really like to have back. Japan, does not want to give the Chinese government anything, and so there's this festering stew pot of anger over a string of tiny pieces of land where no one lives anyway.
One of the shots fired in this battle over the islands, metaphorically, is a game called Glorious Mission, yet another title inspired America's Army and backed by the People's Liberation Army. It's intended to prepare and simulate what a forceful taking of the islands might be like, and drew much criticism from outlets like The Blaze that were offended that the enemies were American soldiers. Apparently Glenn Beck's staff is unaware that America would in fact be the ones defending the islands if an invasion were to occur.
North Korea Finally, there's those loveable little scamps in North Korea. They have not, to my knowledge, managed to create their own FPS to show off how cool they are. In fact, creating their own anything seems to be an issue, as evidenced in this propaganda video their government put together.
In it, America is shown to be under attack, and New York City having been bombed. Sharp-eyed gamers noticed that the footage looked a lot like it was from Call of Duty. That's because it was. The North Koreans can't even bomb us correctly in a video game. We literally have to do it for them. Remember what I said about the war of ideas? North Korea's version of that war has them deciding the instructions on a claymore were written on opposite day.
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