Little girls keep popping up in scary video games. The innocent bright-eyed child appears, melts our hearts...then somebody dies. Bioshock, F.E.A.R., Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Haunting Ground--all feature apparently vulnerable young girls in a survival horror setting. The Aberrant Gamer has covered this unsettling phenomenon (dare I say cliche?) in two terrific pieces you can read here and here.
Well, I can report that our plucky little heroine has broken free from her confining horror genre bonds...only to be victimized yet again in a shooter game. This time, however, her presence is notable not because of her role in a game, but because of her appearance in an ad that self-consciously references the most controversial commercial in American television history.
The game is Midway's Blacksite: Area 51, a first-person shooter set in sci-fi's favorite Nevada locale, to be released next week.
Modern day fears come to life in a familiar, yet extraordinary setting in BlackSite™: Area 51®. A small American town is swarming with alien life. The government is desperate, struggling to contain secrets so terrible, they can no longer be kept. Everything hinges on the actions of Aaron Pierce, a former Special Forces assassin thrown into the most explosive moment in American history.
Standard narrative fare for gamers raised on Fallout, System Shock, or other world-at-end thrillers. What sets Blacksite apart, however, is its setting and its particular "subversive" ambitions. Blacksite is set in contemporary Iraq and small-town USA. Its designers make no bones about their political point of view:
The game starts in Iraq. You're Aaron Pierce, this Delta Force assassin, essentially. Something happens to one of your squadmates in Iraq. You're looking for weapons of mass destruction that aren't there, of course, and then you move into small-town America...Then it just gets more and more subversive from there as Pierce figures out that the primary enemy in the game, which is being called an insurgency operating on U.S. soil, is really wounded American soldiers from Iraq who are being disappeared by the government, taken underground, and experimented on with regard to this "Army of One"-type program. So we go into the Walter Reed allusions, and the Abu Ghraib allusions, and we try to do it in such a way that won't make people vomit or whatever, but at the same time, it's definitely there. The whole theme is, "Who is the enemy? Look at the enemy -- do I look like the enemy to you?" One year, somebody's a freedom fighter, the next year they're a terrorist.
A nation in fear. A highly politicized war. A government's motives questioned. Check. Check. Check. So how to advertise such a game? Why not hearken back 33 years to a time of similar fear and questioning and summon the most memorable political commercial ever to air on American television: the "Daisy" ad.
The "Daisy" commercial ran only once before being pulled by the Johnson campaign, but its impact was profound. Its narrative framework and apocalyptic message are clearly echoed in the ad for Blacksite: Area 51:
It's likely that only gamers "of a certain age" will make the connection, and I suppose it's possible the similarities are purely coincidental. Regardless, I'm intrigued by the game's ambition and its willingness to address contemporary issues in a contemporary setting. It remains to be seen whether Midway can make good on its thematic aspirations while still producing an engaging shooter. My guess is that one will be sacrificed for the other.
Oh, how I would love to be wrong on this one.