This information was released through Arseny Mironov, an aide to Russia’s culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, who told the Russian newspaper Isvestiya in an article translated by the Hollywood Reporter. Now it is easy to see why they are concerned. Russians are very rarely portrayed in a good light in video games. Things like the controversial level “No Russian,” in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 spring instantly to mind. In that case the player participates in a massacre of civilians at an airport. It is very difficult to find a Russian character that is not a vodka loving gangster or borderline psychotic soldier. No wonder Russian officials would like to change this image but my question is: is this a good idea? Or rather is the way they are going about it a good idea?
Stereo types are prevalent everywhere, in video games especially. It has become an easy way of creating a world and interactions between characters. If you meet an Asian character nine times out of ten he is either a kung-fu master or a technological genius. If you meet an Italian or Russian character, it’s a safe bet they have some kind of ties to the mob. Villain or ally it doesn’t really matter, these are the things we expect from these characters and very few developers are moving to subvert that.
The problem with stereotypes is that people start believing them on some level. That doesn’t mean the first Italian they run into they drop to one knee and beg a favour of the Godfather. But it sits in the back of their minds and forces them to make snap judgements about people they know nothing about. That is why the Russian government is concerned, too many games featuring violent, aggressive, drunken, communist, Russian characters and not enough that break this trend to balance out the image a little. So they are making some games and banning some games. No problem. The issue is going to be, what kind of games will they fund? And which ones will they ban?
It seems a real possibility that soon Russia will be flooded with games that glorify the Russian soldier, super warriors that fight for justice in a similar way that Army of Two does for America. Certainly these games will change the country’s image and assuming they will be released in other nations as well, the balance will soon start tipping back a little internationally. Not such a bad thing right?
The trouble comes with the games they ban. There are plenty of games on the market where American characters are the heroes but there are also plenty that depict them as villains. But if Russia is going to ban every game that they believe will “distort history” then there could be very few games in Russia that depict a Russian character in a negative way. It is not healthy for a society, particularly one that is entering a generation where video games will have more sway on the public than ever before, that they are told “we are always right,” and “Our warriors are the best, everyone else is inferior.” Imagine if every country took this approach. We would be back to the dark ages in terms of multicultural thinking.
History is subjective. The history I was taught in school is very different to the history that is taught in Russia or Germany or China so who can say what distorts history and what doesn’t. I think what Mr Mironov really meant was “We will ban any game that distorts OUR version of history.”
Maybe I am being too quick to damn the Russian government. After all I haven’t played one of their state funded patriotic games. I haven’t seen a list of which games will be banned. Yet what are the chances they will only ban games that are outlandishly destroying the Russian image? A much more likely outcome is games like the Command and Conquer series which created a fictional timeline to create a modern day “Red Army” will quickly see the axe blade.
Conversely though if they are overly strict with their banning policy it could force developers of games like the Call of Duty franchise to alter their games to depict Russian characters more realistically and more accurately. After all that would be a large section of their audience removed. And if that is the case then why shouldn’t other countries follow suit? Who knows, within a few years we could have games filled with interesting and diverse characters from all over the world and not one stereotype in sight. That’s a very optimistic view.
But while we’re being optimistic let’s talk about what video games as a whole should be hoping to achieve with the world. Ideally we should have games that don’t go out of their way to distort the truth of historical events. The first step to moving forwards is accepting the past. I know that England has done some very immoral things both in recent history and further back; but we shouldn’t be focusing on those things, we should acknowledge them and move on. Look the world in the eye and say “yeah, well look at us now!”
I believe that is something Russia could do, instead of focussing on straightening out the past, look to the present and then to the future. The Russian government has the opportunity to be the first to make a giant step towards something great for both the video game industry and the world in general. We can only watch and hope that this is the path they choose and not the aggressive censoring which could only re-affirm their stereotype everywhere outside of Russia.