I think of myself as a well-traveled guy, and not simply because I know the coordinates for that big flock of birds on Google Earth. I’ve been to 15 countries, and even as a self-proclaimed world-traveler, I believe that video games provide an innovative medium for people to explore and understand the world.
Games are a great learning tool. For instance, a game set in Paris doesn’t give you a tour, but rather encourages the player to explore on his or her own to learn about the history of the city. This is one thing that I really loved about some of the more recent “Assassin’s Creed” games. Every historically significant building and event gets a well-written, in-depth explanation, which the player has the option of reading. Sure, most players will just skip it to get to more of the combat, but it’s a genuinely interesting way to get people to learn about history and provide context to the world.
The most bizarre moment I’ve experienced while playing video games occurred early in “Sleeping Dogs,” which is set in Hong Kong. In some part of my brain, I knew that they drove on the left side of the road, rather than the way most other countries do. However, that fact was quickly brought to the forefront when I attempted to drive on the right side of the road, only to crash at the first intersection. I love it because it’s something interesting and memorable.
“Sleeping Dogs” actually taught me something about Hong Kong that I remember to this day. In addition to learning about Hong Kong traffic laws, I got to learn about Hong Kong’s restrictive gun control policy, not that it stopped any of the gangsters from acquiring machine guns and rocket launchers in the second half. The point is, I went in expecting a “Grand Theft Auto” clone and I got an experience that turned out to be very educational.
Of course, attempting to bring the player to a setting that they may not have experienced can backfire horrifically. Only a few years ago the gaming world was subjected to the offensive “Call of Juarez: The Cartel,” by far one of the worst games in recent memory. But it wasn’t just the awful gameplay or the terrible AI that governed your partners. It was the misinformation and racism that pervaded the game from the word go.
“The Cartel” takes place in Mexico and focuses on three Americans attempting to hunt down leaders of a cartel that staged a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. From this relatively innocuous beginning, players are encouraged to go for an achievement called “gang bang,” which involves killing 40 enemies in one level. Unfortunately, all of the enemies in that level are black, so the game basically includes an achievement for killing black people. That’s not even the worst level.
Later in “The Cartel,” a pre-mission cinematic informs the player that the cartels kidnap American women and sell them as sex slaves in Mexico. Stop and think about that for just one second. Does that make any sense? Well, it did to the developers, because they put it in the game, despite the fact that it is totally untrue. It makes no sense for cartels to kidnap Americans and bring them across the border because that’s insanely risky.
In reality, Mexican women are frequently trafficked across the border and sold in the U.S., the exact opposite of what “The Cartel” is claiming. I’d be willing to bet money that there is at least one person that thinks cartels are kidnapping American women to sell as slaves because of how little research and interest was put into the game.
Video games have a tremendous potential to make us worldlier, but developers must be careful not to poison their creation with misinformation. More games should take the leap and set themselves in foreign countries because it could be the best way to better educate us about the world.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.