In Search of Real and Relevant Enemies: China, Russia, and Korea
Homefront. Six Days in Fallujah. Medal of Honor. Operation Flashpoint: Red River. These four games have several things in common. They are all shooters set in the present day, feature modern weapons, and require large budgets to produce and publish. However more than that they also share the fact that they each present either a current American enemy or a nation considered in some way threatening to the United States or her interests. The much talked about but never seen Six Days would have featured the Iraqi Army. Medal of Honor of course pits the United States against the Taliban. Homefront speculates what would happen if a united Korea invaded the Western United States. Lastly, Red River has the US Marines in Tajikistan opposite the Peoples Liberation Army of China.
This notion of having players test their gaming skill against present day enemies is nothing new. Shooters from the last console generation (Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and others) allowed players to kill Russians, Mexican rebels, and of course terrorists. There is something thrilling about taking a current headline and weaving it into an action game. For some reason, the excitement intensifies when you replace a fictional conflict in an imaginary country (Full Spectrum Warrior) or a speculative battle (Close Combat: First to Fight). The idea that this is either happening now or that it could happen sometime in the near future adds the sense of authenticity to the conflict.
Take Red River for example. Like it’s predecessor, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Red River features the PLA as the enemy force. Dragon Rising took place on the imaginary island of Skira after an elaborate tale that created a scenario where the US had to aid ally Russia against the Chinese. In the trailer for Red River, the Chinese are again painted as aggressors who have their own agenda to fulfill by securing their border with Tajikistan. The Chinese are to be feared because they field a large, modern army and the will to use it against the Americans. So like the latest Tom Clancy thriller, the player can now experience possible real-world events in foreign lands that allow the United States to combat a fierce and possibly real enemy. In fact, the scenario in Red River does not seem all that plausible. The same for Homefront, but given the condition of current US relations with both North Korea and China and the size of their respective armies, some clever writing can now produce a gaming thriller. Plus there is the added benefit of not telling the tale of a current US war and thus avoid the controversies that swirled around Six Days and Medal of Honor.
The list of possible US enemies is short: North Korea, China, and Russia. Who else can field an army to match the United States? Recent titles Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Battlefield Bad Company covered the Russian angle, including an invasion of the United States in Modern Warfare 2. It is interesting to see how a former Cold War enemy still appears threatening years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Old fears of communism live on as these three nations continue to present a military threat (at least in the game world). The communist nature of China and Korea allows game publishers to skirt the race angle by reminding us that these nations are always aggressive against their enemies. However they do that because they are enemies of democracy and freedom, not because they are people of color. In a world where the main US adversary is a shadow network of terrorists, game developers and writers need to create enemies who are dangerous while at the same time somewhat realistic. The easiest way to do that is to draw upon old fears of communism and the modern version of Yellow Peril (even if the writers do not voice this fear). It serves as a reminder to that the United States does not entirely trust these other nations. We know that while things are fine now but they can deteriorate at a moment’s notice. And because these countries are so powerful, to lose their good will means to invite armed conflict.
In the case of Russia, often times some old party member seeks to reinstate the Communists, while both Korea and China seek to settle old hatreds by securing their borders and the surrounding territories and thus present a launching point for war. All these scenarios become possible since these nations continue to be demonized by American government and media: Russia and North Korea for their aggressive political and military might and China for its economic power. In turn they become natural choices for virtual conflict.