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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 October, 2004, 07:23 GMT 08:23 UK
Playing with the traumas of war
Is the slew of Vietnam-based war games making us more detached from war and historical events, asks Daniel Etherington of BBC Collective in his weekly games column.

Screenshot from ShellShock
Are we forgetting the realities of war?
This year has seen video game developers shift their focus from WWII to 'Nam in droves, with the release of Battlefield Vietnam, Conflict Vietnam, ShellShock: Nam '67 and the re-tooled Vietcong iteration, Purple Haze.

It is a contentious area, but we are all weaned on imagery of war and it has been recycled like there is no tomorrow, from propaganda war films, to anti-war films.

Arguably, 'Nam is the most exploited war yet, having been filmed by TV news teams at a then unprecedented level and re-enacted for a slew of films, many of them highly-lauded like The Deer Hunter.

We are all so used to the imagery of the Vietnam War that, despite how traumatic the experience as portrayed in Platoon is, or how shocking the genuine footage is, it all just becomes a medley of iconic images to those of us with no personal connection with the actual events.

When this kind of imagery is combined with dynamics from games based in a WWII, or even science-fictional genre, it offers an accessible game experience.

Conflict Vietnam and ShellShock, for example, both riff on familiar imagery, or clichés, of Nam: naive newbies, counter-culture rock music, jungle ambushes.

But it does it in a way that is somewhat neutralised and detached from history's realities.

Normal now?

Effectively, thanks to familiarity with the imagery and game conventions, we can instantly feel at home in the situation offered by these Nam games.

Screenshot from ShellShock
Society has become so accelerated now that any real-world experience is exploited almost immediately, given the commercial imperative

This cannot fail to be handy for developers and publishers looking to successfully expand a new sub-genre.

Contemporary news imagery features new landscapes; deserts, sandy battledress, and Arabic fighters with RPGs.

I wonder whether the fact that war has become so synonymous with the US's so-called War On Terror, and the campaigns in the Middle East, means that the Vietnam War has reached some kind of threshold.

Perhaps it is now slipping into history where it can be talked about more easily and commercially exploited.

It is just ironic that we can also play games that exploit this desert warfare too.

Society has become so accelerated now that any real-world experience is exploited almost immediately, given the commercial imperative.

For us gamers, that means a variety of options for our next virtual tours of duty, ethical questions notwithstanding.

Conflict Vietnam is available now on Xbox, PC and PS2. ShellShock: Nam '67 is available now on Xbox, PC and PS2.


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