It's all about context.
When 2004's ultra-controversial JFK Reloaded simulated the assassination of a U.S. President in a video game, critics judged it somewhere between utterly tasteless and downright criminal.
Feature the assassination of the Canadian Prime Minister, however, and you have the explosive opening of a best-selling Xbox 360 game. But of course it's never that simple. For one thing, the player did the shooting in JFK Reloaded. Not so in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW), where the political killing is an unseen plot element.
Like some eerie premonition, GRAW begins much like real-world events of this past week. As reported by the Ottawa Citizen, in the game the U.S. President, the Mexican Presidente, and the Canadian Prime Minister meet in a Mexican city to participate in tri-lateral discussions of the North American joint security. In reality, Presidents George W. Bush and Vicente Fox and Canadian PM Stephen Harper met last week in Mexico City to talk about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but their talks did include discussions of joint security issues regarding national borders. Cue the ominous music...
In GRAW, playes assume the role of a Ghost Recon team member assigned to guard the delegates. Out of nowhere, Mexican rebels storm the talks, kidnapping the U.S. and Mexican Presidents, and killing the Prime Minister. The rest of the campaign primarily involves rescuing both chief executives and defeating the rebels.
While GRAW publisher Ubisoft developed many of its best-selling Tom Clancy games in its Montreal flagship studio, GRAW was designed at Ubisoft HQ in France. Adrian Fernandez-Lacey, a senior coordinator for Ubisoft, hopes Canadians won't take offence to the assassination of their leader. He explained that the Mexican President was needed later to confront the rebels, and the team doing all the fighting was American, so...
"Basically, for the game, the Canadian guy was the only one that we could actually sacrifice in the story... We weren't being malicious or anything like that."
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It's all about context.
Admittedly, The Ultimate History of Video Games is not a new release. This amazing book was first published in 2001. But it's still available, and, given its timeless quality, gamers with a yen to know more about how their beloved hobby was born and evolved will crave it for their libraries.
Author Steven L. Kent sets straight readers who may think Pong was the first video game. Or that Sega started as a Japanese company. The truth, fascinating, bizarre and sometimes comical, reveals itself in page after page of Kent's near-encyclopedic recap of 70 years of electronic games, from the first pinball machines in 1931 to the sound and fury of the 2000 E3 Expo (i.e - just prior to that fall's PS2 launch).
Kent sprinkles his work with hundreds of quotations from dozens of sources who comment on the game industry's roller coaster ride through recent history. Readers will marvel at the unexpected rise of gaming in the Atari era, wince at the bad management that brought on the near-fatal crash of '83, and snicker at the unintentionally prophetic words of clueless game business executives.
Did you ever wonder how the NES managed to earn a staggering 90% market share? Steven Kent's book tells you. Or what possessed Sega to support seven (!) different hardware platforms at one point in the 1990's? Kent's got your 411.
But it is the author's recounting the industry's human dramas which transforms The Ultimate History of Video Games into something more than a mere reference book. Among the best of these are his description of the bitter struggle Atari visionaries Nolan Bushnell and Al Alcorn waged against notoriously nasty Commodore strongman Jack Tramiel and his associates.
At just shy of six hundred pages, this book will take even the most voracious reader days to work through, but the constant mix of storytelling and fascinating trivia will keep readers coming back for more. On the other hand, The Ultimate History of Video Games is the kind of work one can pick up and put down when the mood strikes. And,even when finished, readers may well find themselves referring to it again and again.
If there was ever a must-buy book for gamers, The Ultimate History of Video Games is the one.
GP: We welcome Ryan Sharpe, longtime GP reader and president of the Get-Well Gamers. Ryan will be providing occasional book reviews to GamePolitics