Killzone 2, Fascism and Morality
Out with the old, in with the…old?
Killzone 2 is a fascinating game on many levels. It is graphically stunning, and the gameplay is intense and addictive. Yet the game’s story is perhaps the most interesting aspect of all. It performs a complex intervention into contemporary geopolitics by problematizing moral clarity in times of war.
The game’s story updates stock World War II imagery, though little has been made of the link between the antagonistic Helghan Empire and Nazi Germany.
Scolar Visari, the leader of the Helghast, has remilitarized his people following a great defeat some years earlier. His propaganda machine and mesmerizing speeches ignite the fires of hatred in his people of the ISA (conspicuously similar to the USA). The game calls him a dictator, but it’s clear that the developers at Guerrilla Games, which is based in Amsterdam, cast him as a latter-day Hitler. Battlefields are populated by machine gun nests, enemy soldiers use flamethrowers, and some of the invasion scenes resemble the opening of Saving Private Ryan. Players are encouraged to destroy enemy symbols like the one at right, which recalls the swastika. An entire city is decimated by a nuclear weapon.
With this kind of backdrop, one would expect a binary conception of good and evil. Dictator=bad, liberating invaders=good, etc. Soldiers on both sides of the game subscribe to such simplification wholeheartedly. Killzone 2, however, problematizes this duality and questions whether the invasion is truly the right course of action. While the Hitler figure is ultimately killed in the end, the invading ISA forces also suffer heavy losses and the war promises to continue indefinitely. The invasion of the Helghan may have ultimately disrupted the global (in this case, universal) balance of power.
Killzone 2 simultaneously is and is not a futuristic reimagining of World War II. While the buildings, enemy troops, and environments doubtless evoke Nazi Germany, the ISA’s costly invasion and its problematic aftermath parallel that of the Iraq War. In a sense, Killzone 2 reflects the inapplicability of tidy binaries to contemporary geopolitics. There is no absolute evil in the game. Shades of grey painted over black and white. The War on Terror is not WWII and cannot be conceived of in the same way.
The game also implicitly questions the relationship between gaming and the military. The US Army has already begun to capitalize on the relationship between first-person shooters (FPS) and perceptions of the military as cool or interesting. FPS lovers are young men more often than not. Near Philadelphia, the Army runs an arcade in a suburban mall where teens can experience simulations of combat helicopters, play FPS games like Killzone 2, and “learn more” about the Army. Yet Killzone 2’s complicated morality makes one wonder whether the Army would actually want youth to play it. If the heavy losses and ultimate failure of the Helghan invasion portend endless war, what has been gained in the struggle? Has one form of fascism replaced another? Is there no escape from such a cycle?
Killzone 2 is thus a timely game for a changing world. Its combination of past and present make it a brilliant intervention into contemporary politics, culture, and the morality of gaming itself.
What did you think of the story arc? What questions did it raise in your mind?