Gaming in Search of the Un-British Ideal

Posted in _blackbox by Bobsy on the August 27th, 2010

Yaaaay Britain. Booo everywhere else.

“It’s shocking that someone would think it acceptable to recreate the acts of the Taliban. At the hands of the Taliban, children have lost fathers and wives have lost husbands. I am disgusted and angry. It’s hard to believe any citizen of our country would wish to buy such a thoroughly un-British game. I would urge retailers to show their support for our armed forces and ban this tasteless product.”

- Liam Fox MP, 23 August 2010, on the then-unreleased Medal of Honor

Dumbass has a point. Medal of Honor is pretty un-British, being a Swedish-made and US-published game which lets you play as fake Taleban as well as fake US Marines. Why, just yesterday I was berating a playground full of children playing Army for daring to depict opposing forces in their make-believe conflict, right before I was tackled to the ground by a mob of frenzied parents.

But Alice is just teetering on the edge of the rabbit hole – poor Dr Fox is clearly unaware of how deep this vicious strain of un-Britishness goes. I, on the other hand, am a staunch defender of truth and stuff, which means I am unafraid to brave the vilest recesses of unpatriotic gamery that has blighted Blighty’s shores in recent years. How am I able to do this? By becoming one of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, from this moment forth, I am un-British. And I am on a quest for the un-British Ideal.

We begin in the dark times, that age we call history, and Empire: Total War. It’s hard to imagine a more un-British game than this. In it, you can take control of one of 12 factions from the world of the 1700s. Shockingly, almost all of these factions are distinctively un-British – the only un-un-British nation being, in fact, Britain (The 13 Colonies don’t count, for obvious reasons of treachery).

Not only that, but it is entirely possible for players – children, perhaps – to take control of an un-British faction and lead them on a campaign of conquest and bloodshed against Britain itself. It is possible, if you are so inclined, not only to not invade Britain, but also to invade Britain, even as the Islamic Ottoman Empire. And this is precisely what I did, all in the name of un-Britishness.

Camels, camels, best of all the animals. Especially when they're armed with rifles.

My un-British Horde landed on a typically rainy day, and was promptly met by His Majesty’s finest. Yes, they were resplendent in their fine red coats, but we had camels, so who’s the moral victor? Camels, guys! Not only that, but we outnumbered and outgunned the enemy, our lines of infantry were strong, and despite the battering we took from the downpour of patriotic British rain, we held our ground. After enough volleys, the British troops began to fall apart, and fled like the cowards they so obviously were. It wasn’t enough to save them though, and by the end of the day British bodies lay on British soil. Oh, our brave boys, etc.

Even the dear ol' Union Flag's turned yeller. Cowards!

On this day we remember the fallen and the veterans of imaginary wars. Those who fell against the Strogg, stand up and be counted. Victims of the Combine, you will be remembered. Red Team, Blue team, both are honoured today.

With the king’s army thoroughly routed, Ottoman conquest of the British Isles could begin. Marching on London met only token resistance, and within a year the country belonged to Istanbul. I think I’ll have Christopher Wren put minarets around St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ll call it Hagia Sofia Junior.

The sheer un-Britishness of this game is obvious. It shows a distinct lack of respect for all the poor souls who lost their lives in a bloody war that didn’t happen because I just made it up. And anyone can recreate these imaginary events! Harmless children’s entertainment, or a tool of the un-British?

Conquering Britannia with foreign armies is all well and good, but what if I want to take my campaign against the Union Jack to a more personal level? Well, the anthology of un-British gaming has me covered. Step forward Assassin’s Creed, a uniquely historical game which combined the free-roaming exploration of the medieval Holy Land through some distinctly post-medieval parkour moves, as well as a goodly bit of bloodshed involving the local colour.

Here, playing as a member of the order of assassins, you are tasked with violently ending the lives of various folks in the midst of the Third Crusade. It’s a mixed bunch, to be sure, from angry Saracen merchants to angry medieval doctors and angry fat lepers. In fact most of them are pretty narked off, for one reason or another. Including the game’s big bad, angry Robert de Sable.

Now, I know what you’re about to say. “But wasn’t Robert de Sable an Angevin?” you’ll say. But consider that he’s BFF with his king, Richard the Lionheart, who was also Angevin – he spoke French, hung out with the French, lived in France and treated England like a great big offshore bank account – and he was as English as you’ll ever get. So Robert de Sable’s British because I say so, and therefore he’s marked for death.

Nooo! My internal organs! How did you know they were my weak spot?

Job done, and I was feeling considerably more un-British now that I’d got imaginary blood on my imaginary hands. To be honest, I was starting to feel like I could get into this sort of thing. And god bless the games industry, they don’t make it difficult to find some new and exciting way to fight the digital British.

It was time to step out of the dark pages of made-up history and into the bright, shiny made-up present. Here, the Brits are out in force once again, as I visited the sunny shores of Counterstrike, infamous online shooter where players join teams of counter-terrorists and counter-counter-terrorists, also known as terrorists.

Joining a game, I was immediately presented with the option to join either team, and then pick a uniform to show my colours. A glance at the models for the counter-terrorist team identified my target: the mighty SAS, secretive warriors of Britishness, they who travel the world to be professionally unpleasant to various foreigners who may or may not deserve it. My imaginary bullets were marked for the SAS folks, so I quickly defected to the terrorist team, dressing myself magnificently in beard and nerdy headband.

What I’d forgotten is how utterly crap I am at Counterstrike. It’s been something in the vicinity of a decade since I last played, and time has only dulled my un-British reactions. Nestled within my server of choice I eventually spotted an SAS player, but he’s a canny opponent, and managed to leave me cheerily ventilated with a persistent hail of Anglo-Saxon lead. After several rounds of utter defeat, a thought begins to form in my treacherous mind: what if I were to switch teams, become the SAS man myself, and let my own ineptitude lead him to a bloody death? Such a disregard for the traditional British value of good old-fashioned fair play comes naturally to me now of course, but before I could put it to the test I got lucky, when a few stray bullets of mine accidentally collided with my target.

Technically, I killed this guy once - he killed me a dozen times. So, yeah. Go me.

Is this the best that the special forces can muster? Slumped now in a lo-res decal that was supposed to represent his blood? Well, potentially not, since he was being played by a French teenager with a squeaky voice, but this in no way diminishes my triumph. Nope. Not a bit. Once again, I had exposed this otherwise innocent and family-friendly game as yet another work of the un-British.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was the smash hit of gaming last November, laying waste to the multiformat charts with the fury of a racist hippopotamus spotting a young interracial couple on safari. It does a pretty good job of portraying a number of spiky British characters throughout, but my now-finely-honed assassin’s brain quickly identified the growly-voiced Captain ‘Soap’ MacTavish for an untimely death, for having not only a ludicrous nickname but also a ludicrous haircut. Gaming’s crusade against the British had just found its next victim.

Now, there’s plenty of opportunities to shoot Soapy MacSoaperton in his big Soapy face, but the game inevitably decides this is ‘friendly fire’, that it ‘won’t be tolerated’, and ends the game there and then to ask you to try again, properly this time. Friendly fire! Does this man look in the slightest bit friendly?

God, just look at him. He looks like he lives in a cave under the Milwall stadium, emerging only at kick-off to feast on hooligans.

Many game characters have this annoying kind of contractual immortality that allows them to make it to the end of the game unscathed, and when shooting at Soap he’ll just stand there taking a beating while the screen fades to a snarky game over. So how to take him out once and for all?

This would be an opportunity to enact the plan I’d come up with in Counterstrike. There’s a point where you get to ‘be’ Soap himself, during which he ends up getting stabbed. Lying there with a massive bit of military cutlery jabbed in your chest, the idea is that Soap pulls it out and gets on with all the growling and killing. Luckily for me, this isn’t the only option. I decided to leave the honking great piece of silverware where it was.

Soap meets his death. How very un-British. By now I was starting to really get into all this, but I was becoming antsy for some destruction on a much, much larger scale. Sure, Empire let me brutally subjugate my homeland, and Counterstrike, Modern Warfare 2 and Assassin’s Creed had allowed me to pick off its subjects one by one, but if I continued in this manner it’d take bloody ages to wipe the British Isles clean of human existence. It was time for some heavy weaponry.

Step forward, Defcon.

There are few games – short of those involving Death Stars – with body counts to match Defcon. It’s a classic game of thermonuclear war, with six of your favourite continents (Antarctica and Oceania don’t get to join in, and Asia is divided in two) happily lobbing ICBMs of love at one another until everyone’s dead. It’s a game where nobody ever truly wins – topping the scoreboard simply involves losing less terribly than everyone else. It’s all presented in a stark, 1980s-films-starring-Matthew-Broderick visual style, yet this abstract simplicity lends an eerie sense of poignancy to every nuclear strike. There’s no earth-shattering kaboom when a missile lands, just a quiet, far off rumble, and the politely-delivered information that 5 million people are now dead.

It can sound a bit crass and insensitive on the first telling, and perhaps it is, but there are very few people who have played Defcon that would contest that it’s the single most powerful demonstration of the horror and futility of nuclear-powered mutual destruction.

This... is the Evergreen Forest

So let’s destroy the UK. In my scenario, Europe and Asia were poised on the brink of war, and a chain of ICBM bunkers were scattered around Iran and its neighbours. Man. Perhaps Terhan was developing weapons after all? Live and learn. Except, of course, we won’t live.

All of Europe was there for the taking, but my sights were firmly set on Britain. With 60 long-range missiles ready to pound This Sceptred Isle into faintly-glowing dust, and a whole bunch more ready to be delivered by a fleet of stealth bombers, things weren’t looking too good for the motherland.

Quiet, peaceful, serene.

That is, until Bert Raccoon wakes up.

Slowly, gracefully, in a perfect arc, my missiles pounded Great Britain over and over. First London, then Manchester, then Glasgow and finally Dublin. Wait, Dublin? Oh man. In my haste to carve a giant crater in the Atlantic I’d just clicked Dublin as a target without thinking. Is accidentally nuking Ireland particularly un-British? I have a sneaking suspicion it’s quite the opposite. A question best left for the scholars, perhaps.

And that, friends, was that. What had once been Great Britain was now an incandescent mulch of molten earth and plutonium. The immediate fallout had, as collateral damage, engulfed the northwest corner of France, but this was of no-concern to one as un-British as I. And, potentially the sheer volume of irradiated material being flung around Earth’s atmosphere was destining the rest of the planet to millions of years of harsh nuclear winter and human extinction, but whatevs, man. Didja see that explosion? It’s what we un-British do.


Now that there was a great big gap in the Earth’s crust where Britain used to be, my un-British work in annihilating the British people from the planet was seemingly complete. But in the very hour of my triumph, a thought struck me. As thorough as I’d been in my campaign of destruction, what if I’d missed someone? What if there were a few straggling survivors, roaming free even now? What if… they were to breed? The British would return!

I was having none of that. Behold my final weapon in the un-British Crusade. Privates.

Recently released, this cartoony platform-shooter was devised as an educational title for British teenagers, to help them learn of the horrors of unprotected sex. Commissioned by Channel 4 and distributed entirely free to UK residents, it combines the most base of potty-humour with sneakily teaching proper sex education to a jaded adolescent audience.

In Privates, you command a squad of tiny soldiers as they dive face-first into a number of unpleasant body parts in an effort to cleanse them of STIs, STDs and SDPs. Except not the last one, that was a joke for Dr Fox MP, ho ho. And along with these various groin-munching bugs, there’s the tricky little problem of all the sperm.

British sperm, invading and impregnating the nooks, crannies and cavities of our women? (note: I don’t know who the ‘our’ there refers to. The French, maybe?) This cannot be allowed to come to pass. Privates, advance. Kill those sperm. Leave none alive. And if any Popes start asking questions, you weren’t there, alright? Now let’s finish this.

Just look at them. They know what they're doing.

This is how condoms really work.

It doesn’t take long to find them. Ambling along, chirping cockneyly to each other as they go, sperm are a worryingly ubiquitous presence throughout Privates. They’re the first real foe you meet, herpes notwithstanding, and attack in waves, often at the worst possible moment. But they’re easily dispatched with your squadies’ rifles, and before long I was mowing them down in droves, defending the uteruses of the world from insidious British sperm. And with that, I finally feel I have reached the un-British Ideal.

It’s been an enlightening journey. I have subjugated Britain, assassinated various British people, vaporised Britain and finally contracepted Britain deep in the depths of a vagina. It seems there are no limits to what the games industry will do to humiliate the United Kingdom and its people. Dr Foxy was definitely onto something with all that… stuff he said, whatever.

So what is the un-British Ideal? What meaning can we take out of this vicious course of anti-patriotism? Has it turned me into a vicious anarchist, determined to see the country’s great and long-established institutions fall? Well, no. I mean, probably no. I don’t think so, anyway. I looked at a policeman just this morning and all I felt was a vague sense of unease and dread, so no change there. And while it’s clear that un-Britishness is deeply ingrained into our gaming culture, this investigation uncovered a startling and deeply disturbing fact:

Other nations are getting the same treatment.

It’s true! In Empire: Total War, not only can players conquer Britain, but other nations as well! The victims in Assassin’s Creed include the French, Germans and Arabs of many stripes. In addition to the SAS, Counterstrike features shootable counter-terrorists from the USA, France and Israel, and on the terrorist team, Arabs of… many stripes… Meanwhile in Modern Warfare 2, you spend comparatively little time leaving knives sticking out of Brits and a great deal more time shooting Russians, Americans and Arabs of… er. Uh.

Statistically, considerably more of Defcon’s nukes hit countries that are not Britain than hit countries that are Britain. And in Privates… well. It’s a game about crawling around in someone’s bottom. What else do you want from me?

What does this mean? It should be obvious. Not only are games generally un-British, they’re also un-everywhere-else. It turns out that pretty much any people from any country can be the recipients of a possibly-undeserved battering. This is a disturbing revelation, and one that bodes ill for those noble folk who take their love for their country to strange and nutty extremes. Where to turn for these proud, bonkers nationalists? Other than the Cabinet, I mean?

Join me for next week’s article, where I’ll be playing games in pursuit of the un-Kenyan ideal. In the meantime, there can be only one way to bring these proceedings to a close. Please be upstanding for the British national anthem.

Ahhh, Britain.