If thy Silent Hunter III review offends thee, pluck it out

The following letter and editorial reply were printed in the Feedback section of the September 6, 2005 issue of PC Magazine. The letter was under the title header, “THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY”.

As a World War II Navy submarine veteran, I found your review of Silent Hunter III (After Hours, August 9, page 141) particularly offensive. Considering the present world conditions, and the terrible loss of our men and ships to these destructive marauders, the listing of this application was totally tasteless, as well as offensive to the surviving relatives and friends of those lost to their marauding along our coasts.
Ted Breish
D.M. Conway (co-signed)

Reply:

We are truly sorry you and others felt offended by our choice to review this game. Please understand that our objective is to review popular products. We will certainly keep your comments in mind when we choose products for stories like this in the future—Editors

This letter recalled for me this thread from almost a year ago, in which we discussed the relative merits of wargames and being offended by them (the thread is, by and large, an interesting read). I’m not sure whether the guy who wrote the above letter is an actual WWII sub veteran, or if he is doing some snail-trolling. No matter, the letter made me think either way.

I’m finally playing through C&C Generals, or trying to, and in reading the manual it is just so–I was going to say weird but that’s too weak a word for it…off-putting? jarring?–to read the stuff about the GLA and see the references to terrorists and suicide bombing as part of the game.

My mother-in-law was telling me a story about her husband recently. He had gone to visit his son, and his son, by way of showing off, demo’d a video game for him. She didn’t know which game, but she said it was about Vietnam. Now, my father-in-law was in Vietnam; it affected him deeply. We’ve talked about it many times, no time more deeply than after we went to see Black Hawk Down as a family. He was silent for hours after seeing the film, until late that night when the two of us had retired to the back patio with cigars and single malt.

So his son was playing this game for him, showing him how cool or realistic it was or whatever, and my father-in-law watched politely for a few moments before asking him to turn it off. Ostensibly this was because the four [very young] kids were hanging around watching too, and he felt this was inappropriate, but I have to wonder if he didn’t find it offensive on a deeper lever.

And yet, as much as it affected him, he did not find Black Hawk Down to be offensive.

Why one and not the other?

In the thread linked above I theorized that intention was the mitigating factor, or a mitigating factor, but maybe not so much. Maybe whether or not something is offensive is simply a function of the offendee. I recall having to sign off on a sexual harassment policy at a new job. The policy clearly stated that the intention of the offender did not matter a whit. All that mattered in determining whether something was considered sexual harassment was how the person on the receiving end perceived it.

Anyway, a year has passed. This letter came up. I wanted to share it.

-Amanpour

I think it is because you observe Black Hawk Down. You do not actually, through your own actions, pick up a simulated RPG and through your own actions attempt to kill simulated Americans (hell, or people in general).

I do see a big difference between a game and a movie. On the other hand, I find the gaming thing interesting; it is only a relatively recent development, I think, where it would be wrong (at least for kids) to play war.

I think the difference lies in respect. Treat the subject with respect and people will sense it.

I’ve done military service, but never gone to war. I obviously can’t speak for veterans of war in any way, but even I get offended by game ads sometimes. Maybe it is on their behalf, or maybe just me as a human being. I can’t remember what game it was most recently, but it was some WWII shooter that promised to bring you the real experience of the war. Maybe it was the one you refer to, I don’t know.

However, to get offended because a game puts you in the role of a historical enemy seems absurd.

I don’t think it is just respect, however. I do not recall BF2 being overtly disrespectful in its advertisement or otherwise, yet there is something that bothers me slightly about gleefully blowing away Americans with my own deadly mouse trigger.

If you feel uncomfortable firing at a digital American soldier, would you also feel uncomfortable with, say, one of the GTA games? It’s very easy to find yourself killing innocents in one manner or another in those games.

Personally, despite having been in the US Army myself and having a baby brother deployed in Korea and the baby sister in the Air Force, I haven’t found myself stopping in the middle of Battlefield 2.

Maybe it’s because, as others have mentioned in comparisons to C&C Generals, BF2 is very even in it’s portrayal of the three factions, with little in the way of politics being brought up. Generals, on the other hand, positively swims in idealogical stereotypes.

I think you might have put the finger on it when you say “gleefully.” Doesn’t that imply something about the disposition of the game?

I’d say it’s driven by whether or not they agree with the way the matter is presented.

Vietnam presented as a noble but tragically failed adventure? Guy who fought there won’t like, guy who tried to stop the war won’t.

Vietnam presented as a clusterfuck, pointless imperial adventure? Other way.

I think two is accurate, which pretty much makes getting killed there a totally pointless waste of life. Which is probably why it angers people who were there so much when they were there; no one likes being told that, regardless of accuracy.

No, because the GTA games are caricatures. They are so over the top, they are far beyond the realm of believability. It is impossible (for me at least), to ever even slightly lose track of the fact that the “innocents” are jokey caricatures in themselves.

BF2 is a different story. It attempts to be far more realistic, and I think there is something about the very personal nature of a modern era first person shooter, where the troops are designed to look like what we imagine U.S. troops look like in the field, that creeps me out a little bit when I pump a few rounds into someone’s chest.

So for me, level of attempted realism and the personal dimension of the game has a lot to do with it. For some reason, I have less of a problem sending icons to their deaths than I do being in first person mode and shooting electron replicas of humans who are intended to look very human and very current.