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The invisible political commentary of Blacksite: Area 51

7:22 PM on 11.19.2007

Jim Sterling

Former Reviews Editor

The Brainy Gamer (via Electro Lemon) has a very interesting article up discussing the heady ideals of Blacksite: Area 51, Midway's latest attempt to bring the Area 51 label a decent game. By all accounts, the title is but a shallow one about shooting aliens and provides little of thoughtful substance, but according to lead designer Harvey Smith, its intentions are/were so much loftier, aiming to provide commentary on the state of the Iraq war:

It's very much there ... It's subtle stuff, but moving into the first mission where you're about to be briefed, you're going past people and cars and checkpoints that have been quarantined. They're going, "Hey, you guys can't do this," and somebody else is saying, "The hell we can't."

Then it just gets more and more subversive from 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.

The Brainy Gamer's writer expresses his disappointment at a message so subtle and interwoven that it actually isn't there at all. Aside from having the cajones to namedrop Iraq, it seems that Area 51 is very much just a game about aliens, and nothing more. He ends with frustration that games are not moving in the direction that Area 51 was promised to move in and I very much join him in his lamentation. More socially aware games, rich in commentary and provocative in message, are something I yearn for, and it's a shame that a game with such intent became a generic and shallow shooter.

Even BioShock fell way short of its deep, thoughtful promise. A game of supposed moral choice devolved into a very black-and-white, good-and-evil affair. In fact, most games claiming to be deep, engaging and shaded in grey turn out to be little more than shallow tarts in high-class dresses. Only Call of Duty 4's single player campaign has come close to an affecting and engaging socially aware experience this year, in my estimation. Other games could take a cue from it if they aspire to something greater than mindless monster fragging.

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