Weekend Whammy

Weekend Whammy: Mortal Kombat & Journalism & 6 Days in Fallujah

MOOOOOOOOOOORTAL KOMBAT! DUN DUN DUN DUN DA DUN. Yes, the trailer for the new Mortal Kombat trailer was shoved out onto Youtube and it’s glorious. Quite honest, after the sheer perfection of the 1995 Mortal Kombat (God, that movie is so hilariously goofy. I love it) I never thought we’d see a modern Mortal Kombat flick, especially because the games themselves are essentially Mortal Kombat movies already. I mean, have you played Mortal Kombat 11? It has over four freaking hours of cutscenes that are so cheesy and melodramatic that it might just make you explode from grinning at the insanity of it all.

Anyway, back to the new trailer. The key to a Mortal Kombat story, at least to me, is striking the right tone: the characters and the universe need to treat everything seriously, while we, the audience, are aware it’s all incredibly dumb. The guys and gals behind the new movie seem to understand this and the trailer we see is over-the-top, violent, dramatic and more than happy to treat the concept of a fighting tournament to settle the fate of the world as being a perfectly sensible way to handle things.

Getting into some specifics, the trailer doesn’t waste much time in making it clear that the brutal, bloody violence of the games is going to be represented in gory detail. Jax’s arms being shattered by Sub-Zero was a perfect indication of this, as was Sub-Zero later making a frozen knife out of someone’s blood before creating a wall of ice and hurling the unfortunate sod through it. Said unfortunate sod is actually Scorpion who also get to see kicking some ass and hurling his spear through someone’s head. He even busts out the classic “get over here!” although it isn’t said with anywhere near enough venom and force, and is very muffled by the face mask.

Plenty of characters get shown off, like Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Jax, a CGI Goro and even a statue of Shao Khan, hinting that he might make an appearance. No sign of my boy Johnny Cage, though. Instead, it looks like Kano is taking on the role of comic relief, which is a weird choice to make over Cage. There’s also newcomer Cole, who is presumably there so the audience can be guided through the world of Mortal Kombat without having to constantly stop and ask why that dude just summoned up a fire dragon and what that other dude has four arms and a nasty temper.

Things I didn’t like in the trailer: Scorpion isn’t yellow enough and Sub-Zero isn’t blue enough. Everyone knows that the beef between stingy boy and chilly boy boils down to one liking yellow and one liking blue. It’s basic Mortal Kombat lore.

Anyway, I’m pretty hyped for this film. Like the original movie, I’m hoping for something that feels a little bit dirty to watch.

As for what I’ve been playing and will be playing, I’ve spent about a dozen hours now on Cardaclysm, which is a deck-building game with some rogue-like elements. It’s due to come out of Early Access on Steam on February 26th, and I’ll have a review for it around then or just afterwards if I can ever find the words to properly describe it. A cool concept is that you’re running away from four massive bosses, so at the end of a level one of them comes after them and you choose whether to leg it to the interdimensional pub (Yup. You read that right.) or face down the monster. The game has some big flaws but some cool ideas, so I think the review is going to be fairly mixed.

I’m also planning on covering Sir Lovealot, a bonkers platformer, and Nebuchadnezzar, a name I refuse to pronounce because I’m scared that once I start I won’t be able to stop. Nebuchadnezzar is a city-builder with an old-school style akin to Pharoah and other classics.

Although my first Best of Game Pass from last week hasn’t done great in terms of stats, I’ll be carrying on with the series for a few more weeks at least to see if it catches on, so look out for Week 2 of that on Wendsday or Thursday.

Now on to heavier topics. I wanted to talk about a story this week in the gaming industry that, in my opinion, has demonstrated what a frankly pathetic state game journalism is in. It started with a guy called Troy Leavitt who is working as the lead designer on the upcoming Hogwarts: Legacy game, a game I’m quite eager to check out given my attachment to the Harry Potter franchise in general. Liam Robertson from Did You Knowing Gaming tweeted out that Troy Leavitt has a Youtube channel (which doesn’t appear to have been active since 2-years ago) that was a mix of gaming, politics and other things. A mish-mash of stuff, basically, that ranges from “Are thought crimes becoming Real?” to “Luck in Hearthstone.” Robertson said, “I know this is just shocking but the lead designer of Hogwarts Legacy is Troy Leavitt, a far right YouTuber who used to make anti-fem and pro GG vids.” Already his language is clearly showing he doesn’t like Leavitt’s work, but that’s obviously perfectly fine. I personally disagree with some of his videos and also find myself agreeing with other pieces of his work, such is life and the nature of human opinion. Keep in my, the Youtube channel is not only public but Leavitt also still links to it on his Twitter bio, so he isn’t hiding it. It’s a tad odd that a Youtube channel from a few years back is in anyway newsworthy now, but Robertson says he believes people have a right to know who is working on their videogames, which is…I mean, correct? But at the same time, games have hundreds of people working on them and I don’t think we need to know their personal lives unless they happen to be murderers, rapists or perhaps people who insist on talking loudly in the cinema, FOR GOD’S SAKE SHUT UP, I CAN’T HEAR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING!

The point is, the Youtube channel is Leavitt’s person opinions on a range of topics, whether you agree with them or not. But things have gotten out of hand. Kotaku has jumped in and that’s where I start to take issue with the reporting. In Kotaku’s opening paragraph they say, “He also ran a reactionary YouTube channel focused on attacking feminism and social justice for over a year.” Right there we already see the tone they are setting, linking incredibly strong language to Leavitt. Later on they state, “In some of his videos, Leavitt expressed support for Gamergate, a movement that fostered harassment against women and other minorities in the gaming industry.” Gamergate is a complex thing that I’d recommend checking out, but the thing to note here is Kotaku very deliberately pick what they are saying to link Leavitt to things like harassment against women and minorities, regardless of what Leavitt actually says on the matter. I know you may not think this important, but words and how they are used are important, and by saying things like this Kotaku imply things about Leavitt without ever saying them. It’s also worth noting that Gamergate itself was in no way about harassing women or minorities, and it was only morons who did such things.

My core issue here isn’t with Kotaku reporting on the subject or Leavitt and his views, it’s the reporting itself. Author Ian Walker doesn’t report the facts as they are presented, but instead injects a lot of personal opinion into the piece even though it isn’t listed as being a personal opinion article or anything of the sort. Thousands of people will read the article and soak in those words that link Leavitt to “attacking” feminism and to a movement that harassed minorities. That’s a big deal. Moreover, I’m not sure how this is news. He’s a lead designer, yes, and he holds divisive views, certainly. So what? If you don’t like them, don’t buy the game, in the same way that if you don’t like J.K. Rowling’s opinions don’t read her work. People are allowed to hold their own views, but in this day and age articles like this can lead to people being fired because Warner Bros. will want to publicly be seen doing something. It’s a witch hunt, to be frank, and all the more baffling that a “story” that’s several years old and was never hidden is viewed as news.

Surely the proper way to report on this would be to simply show the man’s channel, and say something like, “Leavitt appears to hold opinions that may be divisive and thus it may be worth watching his work and deciding if you can’t personally support them, in which case you might consider avoiding the Hogwarts Legacy game.” Personally, I will still play the game as I hold the work of a person and their own personal views as wholly different things unless said work is specifically about those views or their views are so radical that I cannot bring myself to support said person. Regardless of what I think about J.K. Rowling, her Harry Potter series is a fantastic series of books that I love to read and have enjoyed watching my niece discover as well. It’s up to the individual to decide where their lines are, but I feel throwing around harsh words when reporting on a story because you don’t like what the person says is poor journalism.

It isn’t just Kotaku as many other outlets have picked up the story and insist on using the same type of language, painting Leavitt as a pretty bad person instead of someone who holds differing views. At one point an article suggests that his take on shooting shooters who are actively gunning down school kids is somehow divisive, which…I’m pretty sure it isn’t, right? Like, that seems sensible to me. You see someone killing kids, and you stop them. I’m not a fan guns, but if one was there and I could use it to stop a murdered, I would.

I went and watched most of Leavitt’s videos, and while I didn’t agree with most of what he said, they came across as videos where he was genuinely attempting to explore difficult topics and coming to conclusions. He seemed to try to view arguments from all sides, too, which is more than a lot of people do. It was far from the venomous rhetoric that Kotaku and others seemed to be portraying it as, which makes me wonder if they even watched any of his videos.

I guess I just don’t see the point in targeting people like this. Like, I’m not going to stop going down to the local Co-op because the dude behind the till runs a Youtube channel where he disagrees with some of modern feminism’s viewpoints. The writers of these articles probably have a bunch of opinions I think are idiotic, and yet I’ll read their work and won’t attempt to personally attack them for those views unless they’re doing something like inciting violence or claiming gay folk should be killed or something.

Oh, and I’m not a journalist. This is all very much my own opinion and should be treated as such. I’d highly recommend checking out the outstanding Hoeg Law’s video on the matter where he displays a level of clarity and balanced reasoning that I can only hope to ever match.

In surprising news, 6 Days in Fallujah has been resurrected following its death in 2009 where massive controversy resulted in it being cancelled. The game, based on the actual events that took place in Fallujah in 2004, is now being developed by Highwire. The second battle of Fallujah is a highly controversial and debated moment in history where coalition forces engaged insurgents, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of innocents. The U.S. military was accused of using white phosphorous against civilians during the battle which the U.S. government denies, although it has gone on recording stating that incendiary weapons were used against combatants. This was a serious allegation as using white phosphorous as a weapon is classified as a war crime. It was also later discovered that enriched uranium exposure has resulted in a marked increase of birth defects, cancer and infant mortality.

First, it’s ballsy project because a game like this is always going to come under fire from every possible direction. I’ve seen a lot of feedback, some positive and some negative. As for me, I support this. There’s often this belief that games always need to be fun and so can’t tackle more serious subjects, but to me games are artistic and don’t always have to be fun and engaging in the traditional sense, and should be free to explore difficult topics in the same way as books and movies. In fact, I think the interactivity of games could be very useful for putting people into the subject in a way other mediums can’t. If done correctly, 6 Days in Fallujah could bring the stories of the U.S. soldiers to life in a way nothing else could, and help us understand a little more what it would be like to be in that harrowing fight.

A lot of controversy surrounding the game stems from people believing the game is going to paint America as heroic. A lot of comments follow the same theme of being angered by the developers who have stated they want to tell the tales of the soldiers on the ground and their sacrifices. It’s an understandable reaction because obviously hundreds of innocent people died and their sacrifice is so much more horrific. But I don’t think that should wash away the experiences of the soldiers, either. Their stories should be told as well, and will be because the game is using interviews with the people who were there to provide proper context. Many of these soldiers probably thought they were there for the right reasons, to do the right thing. People tend to forget that most of America was onboard with the invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t until later that the mass opinion changed as more things came to light.

“Players need that context to understand why they’re in the city fighting those Al-Qaeda people. We are going to provide that context, but keep in mind that we can provide that context without making a political statement, or without in any way disparaging the service of those who are actually there to fight.” said Highwire Games.

The one thing I do have an issue with is that Highwire have stated they won’t be tackling the use of white phosphorous. On the one hand, I can understand the desire not to portray that and I’m sure thousands of people would vehemently hate the idea of showing it. On the other hand, I feel that’s an important aspect of the story, a horror that might not need to be shown in graphic detail but that nonetheless should be addressed. From a soldier’s perspective, I can only imagine attempting to deal with the trauma of knowing that your own side commited a war crime, and that you were in some small way a part of that, even if the soldiers themselves probably weren’t aware of it until it was too late. Maybe I’m a minority opinion, but I go back to Spec Ops: The Line which depicted horrific events and was a stronger experience for it.

The other topic to debate is Highwire’s assertion that they aren’t trying to convey a political message. I think that’s…kind of silly? This is inherently a political game about a situation that’s still a political hotpot to this day, and simply by focusing on the U.S. soldiers ( as well as having sections where you play as an Irag civilian trying to get their family to safety) you’re already making a political statement of sorts. I honestly don’t know whether its better for the developers to lean into the issue and present their views without preaching them to players, or to try to present the game more factually, right? What’s really the better option? To me, this entire game is political by its very nature so attempting to claim otherwise is pointless.

I do think there’s some disconnects in what the developers are saying, too. They say they want to show what really happened, but at the same time they’ve also stated that they won’t exploring the wider context around Fallajuh etc. Something as complex as Fallujah can’t be properly examined without the wider context of the Iraq war and what happened in Fallujah prior to the second battle. Trying to isolate the battle doesn’t make sense, although I do understand the reasoning: they’re trying to keep this to the personal stories of the fighters on the ground. I just think that ignoring everything else isn’t the way to go.

Ultimately, though, whether it winds up being a fantastic and detailed look at the topic or a disaster, the project deserves to be allowed to exist. There’s a lot of people out there who seem to view it as a an affront that this game be allowed to exist, but why? Yes, it’s a touchy subject and a difficult one to do right, but surely the developers deserve to try, and in the end the public will decide whether it succeeds or not. Tough, hard subjects like this shouldn’t shied away from if we are to grow not only as a medium, but as people in general.

Or maybe I’m the moron here. Let me know. Am I being blind, ignorant? Do I have some semblance of a point?

Anyway, take care, folks. Stay safe out there, look after yourselves and others and play loads of games.

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