The Games We Play: On the Homefront
In 1945 the U.S. and the Soviets had a brief moment of agreement in the waning hours of WWII, and we allowed them to rush in and invade Manchuria in order to drive out the Japanese. They waited at the 38th Parallel for the U.S. to push up from the bottom of the Korean Peninsula, working on a Japanese surrender. The U.S., not trusting the Soviets, took about 30 minutes (actual fact) and decided to divide the Peninsula into two parts, using the 38th Parallel as a dividing line to ensure that the capital remained under U.S. control, and the Soviets allowed that. All of this dismissed the Cairo Conference, which was signed by President Roosevelt to ensure, in part, that the Peninsula would be returned to independence, something they hadn't had in a long time. The Soviets took charge of what became the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and we took control of the short-lived People's Republic of Korea (PRK), without ever consulting the Korean people, still devastated by war. (Kind of our schtick, really.)
We did a good job of continuing our mistrust, placing Japanese sympathizers and Korean police in key positions while we ran a U.S. military state and didn't recognize the South's new government. We suspected them of hateful communism, and did a handy job of ignoring that the North was doing exactly what we expected the South to be doing.
Kim Il-Sung was charismatic; he managed to pull off his actions with full Soviet enablement but under our RADAR. New South President Syngmun Rhee, a staunch Democratic Nationalist and very outspoken, collected our fears, and the U.S. went to great ends to ensure that the South was ill-equipped to defend itself with military power. As a point of fact, both Kim and Rhee were for unification, but with different ideologies. Our meddling allowed for an invasion that we weren't paying attention to and left the South vulnerable to a very aggressive attack from combined Communist forces.
Many years and a few long marches from one end of the Peninsula to the other that my grandfather has regaled me with stories of—much to my fascination—we found the Korean Peninsula no closer to peace than when they started, but less occupied by people other than the U.S. We are still sitting here in a country that is technically in a conflict with a recent history of aggression, and that is something I have mixed feelings about. The Cheon-an was recently sunken by what is reasonable to assume is a North Korean torpedo, and the North has taken the largest armed engagement since The Forgotten War "ended" against YeonPyeong-do, inhabited mainly by Republic of Korea Marines and UN civilians. Real world war going on, with half of a country crying for aggressive repercussions against those who have slain the fallen here.
Blah blah blah. OYD, what is with the history lecture? We thought you were here to talk about pwn-ing n00bs and why you hate Capcom and Rockstar so much!*
*ahem* I'm getting to that part.
Well, it seems like the perfect time to launch a game that builds upon that history, and takes it to a future where the DPRK not only re-unifies the whole Peninsula, but annexes and dominates all of Asia before attacking San Francisco. I can't be the only one that sees the parallels that Kaos has drawn between a past history of U.S. destructive fears and a contrived future possibility.
Kaos' Homefront starts with a very real line of succession, Kim Jong-Un, the actual named successor to DPRK's current dictator. Dave Votypka from Kaos describes the two Koreas as the fourth largest military power in the world and one of the most technologically advanced countries in existence, explaining that this is the foundation of the future history that they have engineered. While I love the idea of a First-Person Shooter that doesn't have the U.S. attacking some ambiguous foreign power overseas, I am wary of using real-time events to create another panic based on Korean mistrust. Cool, let's set something on our own soil for a change. Are we so far removed, however, from a time when we were locking our own citizens up in detention camps out of fear that we are ready to make a a real-life Asian super-power a villain to gun down for our own survival?
It is perplexing that Kaos would create a game pitting, yet again, white heroes against non-white aggressors in our own backyard, and make it against people who live, well, in our own backyard. RoK is a diverse country, not unlike the U.S. in many ways, some people embracing liberal values, and others clinging to conservative ideals, and neither of those things really being the same as we see them here in the West. The idea of unification is a hot-button topic, divided by age and class and countless other factors. The idea being delivered here that they could be swept up so easily, as hinted at in the games trailers, troubles me.
I think a FPS game examining the outbreak of a war on the Peninsula would have been different, if not less controversial. Using allied forces from the RoK, U.S., and KATUSA (Korean Augmentation Troops to the U.S. Army), an option to engage in a defense of the Demilitarized Zone with the option to play as any of those could be different and new, and a change-up on the Default Hero. It will be curious to see how Homefront, as is, will be received not only by the Korean gaming public in South Korea, but those living in the U.S. of Korean ancestry, however they identify.
I have no doubt that Homefront will be fun, engaging, and will be a challenge to the overwhelming popularity of FPS games such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honor. I just think that, especially with shooter games, it is important to examine the history of who is depicted in what roles and the paths that lead to those roles. I even think we have a responsibility to examine these things. Like I've mentioned before, these aren't just games, but depictions of popular culture that can, and do, shape the way we view our society.
*I do not!
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