“This is going to be a little bit untraditional,” said Henrik Schønau Fog, a PhD fellow at Denmark’s Aalborg University who studies how video games portray war, as he introduced his team’s provocative game First Person Victim to researchers at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.
“You have to be warned, because if you have some traumas from war, of if you’ve experienced some real violent things, it could maybe trigger some of your former experiences.”
He’s not kidding.
First Person Victim, featured as part of GAMBIT’s vaunted video podcast series, is Schønau Fog’s look at the darker side of war largely ignored by military-inspired first-person shooters such as Call of Duty — namely the world of trapped civilians. Players of First Person Victim experience a military airstrike through the eyes of their unarmed characters.
Schønau Fog wants to create an awareness of the consequences of war. The goals of his team’s game, in turn, are to “allow participants to practice good actions in a war scenario,” to dramatize social and ethical themes through a game, all while exposing the conventions of the traditional first-person shooter. Where first-person shooters reward destruction and killing, First Person Victim frames civilians’ view of extreme violence and communicates their powerlessness. Ultimately, Schønau Fog is looking to expand upon his model for interactive experience that can be used for high school students and teachers to better analyze and discuss the impacts of war.
Among players of first-person shooters such as GAMBIT postdoctoral researcher Todd Harper, First Person Victim was pure disorientation.
“I got stuck because of my own fear,” Harper told Schønau Fog in the video podcast. He described being caught between two soldiers:
“I can’t go that way, so I turn around — there’s a guy standing in front of that tunnel too. I’m sitting there going, ‘Oh, damn it.’ I didn’t know what to do. Every time I would go in a building, the building would get blown up. Stuff would fall on me. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do!’ Which is weird, because I’m used to playing stealth games. I’m a big Metal Gear fan, and my inner Solid Snake would have been like, ‘Walk around it!’ But I was so cowed that my genre knowledge [of first-person shooters] just evaporated and I locked up.”
The four-part video podcast is available at gambit.mit.edu and is an ideal introduction to GAMBIT’s research and educational mission of exploring new directions for the development of games as a medium.
The Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab is a collaboration between MIT and the government of Singapore that results in both game prototyping and academic research.