Give Tom McShea credit. At E3, the GameStop writer penned an 800-word editorial ripping the tone of Medal of Honor: Warfighter's multiplayer, saying features like regenerating health and respawning teammates trivialise the sacrifice that the game professes to honour.
In the tradition of a columnist showing up in the locker room after a particularly tough piece, he then went to Electronic Arts' upstairs suite to hash things out with executive producer Greg Goodrich over 22 squirm-worthy minutes.
McShea made a reasonable point in his editorial, and it's something a lot of people have found discomforting: an intense combat experience being presented in an entertainment product. Goodrich points out Medal of Honor: Warfighter makes no "realistic" claim -- it is simply "authentic" in terms of the tools, weapons, uniforms, dialogue and other supporting features depicted. "There is nothing real about a video game. Absolutely nothing," Goodrich says. "Combat is combat. Games are games. And we are an entertainment product."
McShea is holding Goodrich to a high artistic standard, saying that there are war video games out there that are compelling but not necessarily fun. Goodrich acknowledges the heft and substance of games like Operation Flashpoint and ArmA, but reminds us that "no one pays $60 to go to a funeral".
"A movie is an experience, you go there to hear a story and be introduced to a subject that may touch you as a human being and for a moment, think about that sacrifice," Goodrich says. "We take that same tone. Our intent is to say thank you, and our intent is to put somebody in these boots so they can experience that."
Goodrich says that Medal of Honor: Warfighter will also have a "hardcore" mode that strips out the regenerating health that bothered McShea so much. "We have not talked about it, so you just got an exclusive," Goodrich says. McShea asked why "hardcore" isn't then the default mode.
"We're at E3," Goodrich says. "Regenerating health and the modes we're showing ... this environment is very loud and to really punch through and get noticed from the GameSpots or the IGNs or the G4s, you gotta have those bullets and bombs for the dudebros. This is a very entertainment-focused piece of art that we're doing."
McShea argues that when Goodrich says "It's a video game", it's a diminishing term or a lower standard, and that's a fair point. But, Goodrich says, "that's the business we're in ... it's the medium of our time. We try to do the best we can with Medal of Honor: Warfighter, with those core tenets and give an experience to our audience and understand what these guys may be going through and living through.
"They're having fun, they're experiencing it," Goodrich says. "They're taking that journey. They're in those boots. And while they're in those boots, I can tell them a story of a human being."
I think I see where Goodrich is coming from. I had a professor who resented the "toy department" label that sports writing got, and believed that the sports section in fact has a special obligation to readers. That subject may be the only thing that a person chooses to read all day, and it may be the only context in which you could get them to think about issues of race, gender, social differences and problems, even economics. Goodrich's product -- which, yes, is a game that captures the attention of the dudebros -- may be the only venue in which they're willing to think more deeply about a soldier's job and his life.
To McShea's point, yes, if someone plays only the multiplayer, I don't believe it would be that thought-provoking. But to Goodrich's, if the appeal of multiplayer action leads that kind of person to a considerate singleplayer experience, and Warfighter sounds as though it will seriously offer one, then the game can make an honorable claim of fostering respect for duty.
A Matter of Authenticity [GameSpot]