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Persuasive Games: The Reverence Of Resistance
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Persuasive Games: The Reverence Of Resistance

September 10, 2007 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Two Affronts

Manchester Cathedral’s representatives expressed their affront in two ways. The first appealed to intellectual property. They claimed that Sony did not have the right to include the cathedral's name, image, or architecture in the game in the first place.

Discussions of intellectual property rights have become so common, they risk replacing talk about the weather. An obsession with ownership used to characterize corporate lawyers alone, but now organizations and individuals alike use ownership as cultural currency. The video game industry is among the worst culprits of this practice. We may squint when Disney lobbies to extend copyright terms to cover the products they themselves adapted from public domain fairy tales, but we don't bat an eye when publishers issue press releases about their "all new intellectual property" or when journalists refer to forthcoming titles as "new IP".

If a movie studio had wanted to film a scene for a post-apocalyptic action film in the Manchester Cathedral, indeed they would have had to get the diocese's permission. But not for the right to depict the cathedral — that could have been done by shooting from the street outside. Rather, the film crew would have needed to get the rights to be on location, including accounting for any potential damage they might cause and covering insurance lest anyone be injured during the shoot. What if the movie studio had created a CG Manchester Cathedral, shot their scene on the lot with green screens, and digitally composited the shots together? Then would they have had to get permission? The answer is unclear, as digital rights usage for landmarks is largely untested.

The Cathedral's second affront appealed to media outrage. Manchester's bishop took the opportunity to issue a statement against video game violence in the broadest sense, connecting his objections to the city of Manchester's ongoing gun crime problem and the church's record of youth support.

For once, let's leave the rights issues to the attorneys. Let's instead focus on the cultural issues. What does Manchester Cathedral mean in the game, and why might its appearance support the cathedral's relevance more than it detracts from it?

A cynic, unbeliever, or Internet troll might point out the irony of the church pointing the finger, given the millennia-old history of church-sponsored violence. A gamer might rely on the title's status as fantasy fiction to nullify the validity of affront. Such impressions are merely instrumental attempts to foil the church’s parry rather than reasoned attempts to justify the expressive ends served by depicting the cathedral in the game. And despite its creators’ silence on the matter, the game does indeed have one.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Resistance is its depiction of repurposed spaces of 1950s Britain. The game is set on an alternate timeline, but one that shares much with our own history, making its environment very familiar. This feature distinguishes Resistance from similar games with wholly invented worlds, like Halo. For example, early in the game the humans make a stand at a bus depot, period-appropriate vehicles strewn asunder. Later a fish cannery becomes a breeding ground for human-alien hybrids.

The military occupation of civilian spaces is the reality of all war fought on civilian terrain, but video games have a unique power to simulate the experience of this estrangement. The first time the player cowers behind a bus or encounters a destroyed bathroom, the reality of war surfaces in a powerful way. The Manchester Cathedral level is the most powerful of these moments, and also the subtlest in this otherwise barefaced fantasy shooter.

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