I was sort of zoning on the couch watching the Mets/Phillies game, when the breaking news came in that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Then I watched as the news swept the stadium and chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" erupted. This was followed by President Obama's address, which placed official closure on the infamous terrorist's death at the hands of U.S. special forces and CIA operatives.
And although it certainly seems trivial in the larger scope of reality, I started to look back at the past ten years since 9/11, and see how Bin Laden's fatal order impacted absolutely everything in this country…and that includes video games. While the effect is more subtle, it's still evident and intriguing. Perhaps above all else, gaming came under a bigger microscope as Americans became much more sensitive to particular matters. You may recall the Six Days in Fallujah project (eventually dropped by Konami ), which raised the ire of many, despite featuring a staff with willing American service members.
But there were other rumors before that about potential video games centering on the war on terror, and one of the most popular launched just last year. Medal of Honor turned out to be a quality shooter based on the War on Terror, but the game was surrounded by controversy. The first was the outcry involving multiplayer, where before the game released, the Taliban would've been one of the sides; that would mean players would have to assume the role of the Taliban (i.e., the "bad guys") when playing competitively online. EA dropped the name before the title hit store shelves. But in general, Danger Close's project remained embroiled in controversy.
But perhaps the most interesting impact Bin Laden and Al Qaeda had on this industry happened behind the scenes. How many designers had to consider what might be deemed "inappropriate" when brainstorming a shooter, especially military in nature? Or on the flip side – and this is even more interesting – how did developers embrace our new-found solidarity as a nation? As Obama said last night, the country banded together and turned our attention to that which matters most after 9/11, and the term "hero" took on a whole new dimension. We always play as heroes in our interactive adventures. But the definition of "hero" has changed in the past decade, and I think that has been seen (in some respects) in games.
Terrorism was (and is) very real. Walking through the airport and gunning down innocents in Modern Warfare 2 was uncomfortable for a reason that hits very close to home. It's more important than ever to carefully distinguish between fiction and reality and as gaming becomes closer to photo-realism and virtual reality with every passing day, it's crucial that we remember who we are, and where "the line" might be. Perhaps that is Bin Laden's single biggest impact on video games: we'll always be looking for that line with the aforementioned microscope, and every last developer and publisher will have to understand that. Gamers have to understand it, too.