I’m working on a thesis chapter about those Flash games that popped up after September 11, the ones where you maim Bin Laden or attempt to rescue the WTC from terrorists. I presented a short piece on this in October 2001 (my weblog posts in mid-October discuss it) I’m interested in how they use interactivity to make an argument. In most of the games, the argument is extremely crude – remember the bloodlust and the anger right after the attacks on the WTC? So there are dozens and dozens of games where the sole point is to beat the shit out of Bin Laden. Newgrounds has a long list.
Other games are more ambiguous. New York Defender is a simple game where you shoot down planes before they crash into the towers. The objective is to “Utilisez votre souris pour combattre le sentiment d’impuissance.” (Use your mouse to combat the feeling of powerlessness.) This game has a strong ironical force, though, and demonstrates the futility of the exercise, as did its possible ancestor Missile Command (1980) Though you may shoot down some planes, more and more and more will come, and the ending is always your complete annihilation. The game was criticised for being insensitive when it first arrived, in part because of this critique. Gonzalo Frasca, who wrote his MA thesis on political games, designed his own game in response to these others: Kabul Kaboom! It combines images from Guernica and CNN, situating the player as a Afghan woman trying to catch the hamburgers thrown down among the bombs. At the same time, skins were created for Quake, The Sims and other games so you could INSERT Bin Laden, Bush and other characters into your game – and frag em.
As the political situation has changed, other games have appeared. When people complained at the US governments’ violation of the human rights of prisoners suspected of terrorism, Al Quaidamon was released where you could play with your own pet desktop terrorist prisoner and see how the game reacted when you treated him well or poorly. The same interactive rhetoric was used for an more or less opposing viewpoint in Ascroft Online 1.0. Both these games are simulations where your actions affect a rating scale. In Ascroft Online the ratings are from Republican to Barbra Streisand, with Book reader as the penultimate horror. In Al Quaidamon it’s the treatment rather than you which is rated, from Human Rights Activisists Approval to Hitler’s Approval, of course with loaded in between possibilities.