Part one is here, where I noted the game’s high-level of 80s camp hamminess.
To compensate for that gauzy 80s nostalgia, the game throws copious, unnecessary brutality at you to tell you its ‘serious.’ This creates a high moral awkwardness in that NK is an extreme human rights abuser in the real world, but is here used for sadistic entertainment. ‘Highpoints’ include: the opening sequence shows occupation soldiers executing American parents in front of their screaming child. Later your character hides from the NK People’s Army (KPA) by climbing into mass grave, after watching a mass execution, and hiding under the bodies. Survivalist gun-nuts are presented who torture and execute captured North Koreans, with implication that they may eat them too. At another point you are encouraged to not waste your ammunition killing KPA soldiers who are on fire after an air-strike.
If all this doesn’t make the gamer complicit enough in pro-American bloodlust, you get regular ‘kill ’em all’ exhortation in your militia from a one-dimensional, ‘tough-as-nails’ alpha-male stereotype (Milius wrote Conan the Barbarian too) berating his whining female sidekick for her lack of vengeful determination to butcher on behalf of America. As the game website tells us, “Because Rianna is not former military, and not a battle hardened combat vet, cracks in her exterior resolve will show at times. She is a humanitarian, she does have feelings that she needs to deal with and control in the line of duty. She’ll never feel good about everything the Resistance has done and will continue to do, but she’ll also never let those emotional struggles to destroy her and the other’s ruthless resolve to win at all costs. There is no other option.” Yes, the NRA, military-loving, survivalist patriot will triumph over her inner Amnesty International sissie.
So we are back to the tiresome, right-wing GWoT trope that if you really love America, you must be willing to go over to the Cheney’s ‘dark side’ and beat the hell of out people. I hate this motif, because it says the rules of engagement are for liberals and wusses. All of America’s opponents are unremitting, unrelenting, thoroughly evil, and so cunning, that there is no choice but to blow them away with extreme prejudice at all times. You namby-pamby liberals, with your Geneva Conventions and squeamishness to use a gun, just get in the way, or worse, give aid and comfort to the enemy by according them due-process. Real men just kick a—. As with Michael Bay villains, the ‘evil’ of the Homefront Koreans is so ridiculous and exaggerated, that it is obviously just a narrative fig-leaf to mask the real point of movies and games like this – vengeful, extreme carnage, including torture, executions, and mass killings, as pro-American, nationalistic entertainment.
I want games and films to be edgy too, but I am increasingly disturbed by the Cheney-esque reveling in gratuitous torture and brutality by the good guys in post-9/11 geopolitical action entertainment. There is a willingness to wear it openly, almost proudly, as if it were a badge of honor of one’s seriousness and commitment to defend America that one won’t hesitate to violently break the law. Bay’s Transformers trilogy is filled with executions as entertainment; Modern Warfare 2 included torture and an infamous scene where the gamer actually machine-guns dozens of innocent civilians as part of the plot; 24 is notorious for torture and similar brutality; and Homefront includes a ghastly ‘killing fields’ sequence not narratively necessary, but just thrown-in to raise the extremity level yet higher (shooting parents in front of their kids wasn’t enough I guess).
This doesn’t mean games and films should be neutered, and I concur that mature games that include adult themes enrich it as a medium. But there are games that include moral choice that actually inform the violence and give it some meaning – even if you choose to be harsh. And even the Halo series, arguably the best shooter out there and filled with violence unsuitable for minors, doesn’t present gratuitous brutality just for its own sake.
In sum, the NK invasion environment is interesting, creative, and somewhat engrossing, especially if you know anything Korea. The wacko blend of gun-fetishism, surreal NK agitprop, 80s USSR references, and Hooters and White Castle (another sponsor) generates unintentional and bizarre camp laughter throughout. But Homefront eventually capitulates to the Tea Party/NRA version of US force – armed militia vigilantes rescue America with extreme brutality and righteous vengeance. Terrifying; it’s ‘Michigan Militia – The Game.’ In fact, I got so emotionally jaded after the killing fields sequence, I was surprised that the later implied cannibalism wasn’t actually shown. I can only imagine how uber-bloodthirsty the next Modern Warfare will be this fall. As I have said so many times before, this is why we frighten the rest of the world…