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BG 26 – The Changing Face of the American Apocalypse : The Modern Warfare and Bad Company Series

March 31, 2010

Futurismic have my twenty sixth Blasphemous Geometries column entitled “The Changing Face of the American Apocalypse : Modern Warfare and Bad Company”.

The column looks at the plots of the Call of Duty : Modern Warfare and Battlefield : Bad Company series and finds not only some interesting similarities but also a question that will be familiar to science fiction fans, namely how far can you go before lapsing into the fantastical?  The column considers how SFnal thinking is now absolutely central to the output of Western political think tanks.

6 Comments
  1. April 2, 2010 2:32 pm

    Hi. I enjoyed the piece. There’s definitely something to the thin line between futurology and science fiction-especially in planning documents where the writers spin out scenarios. Still, I see the history of these games as quite different, part of the broader emergence of the military techno-thriller since the ’70s that I discussed in the Internet Review of Science Fiction back in November.

    Incidentally, Fukuyama’s argument has been widely misinterpreted on the point you bring up. He acknowledged the emergence of religious fundamentalism, even in anti-modern forms, but simply said that even if these could present challenges, they could not combat modern liberalism on “the level of ideas”-as arguably they have not been able to do. (This is not a vote of confidence in Fukuyama’s thesis, just a clarification.)

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  2. April 2, 2010 3:52 pm

    Hi Nader :-)

    I think that thrillers have to toe the same SFnal line between spectacle and credibility, so I don’t think that there is any real contradiction or tension between our pieces. I do think that a lot of contemporary think tank research is influenced by straight-up SF but then you need look no further than the role played by Tom Clancy’s novels in shaping post-9/11 thinking to reveal that you’re also correct about the role of thrillers. In fact, you’re probably closer to the truth than I am as far as the executive goes because while I think American politicians DO read Clancy, I don’t think they’re as likely to read Gibson as your average policy wonk.

    Re Fukuyama – I know that HE claims that he was misinterpreted but I’m not sure that he was. His original writings are undeniably triumphalist in the way I suggest though obviously there are varying strengths to the claim that history has ended :-)

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  3. April 2, 2010 5:24 pm

    I agree about the lack of real contradiction-and I also think you’re right about the levels of influence of the differing cultural strands.

    As to Fukuyama: you’ll get no argument from me about the essential triumphalism of his position. There’s no question that he was full of euphoria over the collapse of the Soviet bloc at the Cold War’s end.

    Incidentally, one recent book definitely worth noting regarding the interaction of science fiction and futurology is Peter Singer’s Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. (As it happens, I reviewed it for the journal Strategic Insights last year, which published it at
    http://www.nps.edu/Academics/centers/ccc/publications/OnlineJournal/2009/Dec/elhefnawyDec09.pdf)

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  4. April 2, 2010 5:25 pm

    The parenthesis at the end of my post messes up the link, so anyone trying to follow it should use this one instead:

    http://www.nps.edu/Academics/centers/ccc/publications/OnlineJournal/2009/Dec/elhefnawyDec09.pdf

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  5. April 5, 2010 7:33 pm

    Interesting review, though the book itself sounds like the kind of thing that used to make me want to pull my teeth out when I was doing my research – Somebody desperately trying to suggest that HIS area of expertise is the area that deserves attention because it is REALLY important.

    Strategic studies is ground zero for greasy poll climbing under the vestiges of rubbish scholarship.

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  6. April 7, 2010 2:18 pm

    Another great column, Jonathan, and I agree that the branding of these sort of games as “realistic” is about as accurate as the application of the label to the paranoiac wank fantasies of Tom Clancy and the like.

    My only real observation here is a shallow one relating to the two blockbuster games you focus on. The similarities in plot are embarrassingly obvious (not to accuse BC2 of plagiarism, though, as I expect its rough plot arc was already fairly set by the time MW2 emerged blinking into the media spotlight), but a crucial difference between the two games is that where MW2 is po-faced and melodramatic in its chest-thumping machismo, BC2 is tongue-in-cheek, cheekily derisive and generally irreverent. The interaction between the game’s core characters is full of genuine humour (during quiet moments between shootouts Taggart and Sweetwater are fond of discussing God, life, death, cowboys, and the knife fight scene in Predator) and there are more than a few off-hand disses directed at its competitor. Which I would take to indicate that BC2 is to some extent aware of its own absurdity.

    I’m not taking that thought any further at the moment as I don’t want to read too much into a game that was written and developed ‘by committee’, but it strikes me as a significant point of divergence.

    Anyway, back to the more intelligent comments… ;)

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