Friday, August 15, 2014

Battlefield, Ferguson, Police & The Media

Image courtesy of Electronic Arts & Visceral Games
Battlefield Hardline is the latest title announced in the Battlefield series by publisher Electronic Arts. The game purports to be about "the war on crime" against the backdrop of the "battle between cops and criminals". But in a country where the police have been growing more and more militarized-- both in attitude and in equipment-- are games like this part of the problem? How does a game like Battlefield Hardline contribute to how mainstream media and the general public see cops? How does entertainment like this contribute to how we see people classified as criminals? And in the wake of Furguson, where the everyday reality of police violence and intimidation against black people in America was thrown into stark relief for the rest of the nation, what do games like this have to say about anything?'s Mike Williams tackles all of this as a person of color in an excellent article on this very issue, "Life Imitates Art: Battlefield Hardline and How the Media Handles Police". As he puts it:
The protests in Ferguson are happening because that is the only recourse those citizens believe they have. They believe there is no justice. They believe that Mike Brown's murder will go unpunished... They believe that there is overwhelming societal and institutional favor with the officers who did the killing. The assumption is that they are correct, that lethal force was used because the victim had done something wrong. 
Which brings us to Battlefield: Hardline... [which] plays on the growing militarization of the military, showing scenes of all-out war between heavily-armed police and criminals. It's a war game in a different skin, something that should probably disturb us more than it does. In light of the imagery coming out of Ferguson, it's not out of the question that some players may be disturbed by what Hardline represents.
The idea of the police as power fantasy, of being brave enough to bend or break the law in the service of justice is a powerful and pervasive one, played across hundreds of movies, TV shows, and yes, in video games. As Williams points out, no one is a bad person for liking media that includes this, but it still affects how people view the truth:
Our entertainment normalizes certain things, things that frequently aren't true. It says that law enforcement is always correct, which isn't true because they only human. (In 2011, 9 out of 10 stops by law enforcement in New York didn't lead to any arrest.) Our entertainment reinforces beliefs founded in racial or sexual biases; that's why so many hammer on representation in games, comics, movies, and television. That's why it's important to watch how a game tells its story or what's being presented. That's why we should question our entertainment instead of just digesting it whole without any thought.
The entire article is a great read as Williams clearly and compelling lays out his case for why we should question games like Battlefield Hardline in specific, our entertainment in general, and where one's race and lived experience place your viewpoint. The comments section is also thought provoking, so I urge you to read the whole thing.

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