Saturday, March 23, 2013

Guardians of Middle-earth (computer game)

So, when I was watching the just-released dvds of Peter Jackson's THE HOBBIT, I found the only thing I really baulked at was in one of the trailers for a computer game based on JRRT's works, GUARDIANS OF MIDDLE-EARTH (which seemed more LotR than H). The voiceover in this trailer/ad ran something like this (emphasis mine):

The battlegrounds of Middle-earth are not for the faint of heart.
Choose your guardian wisely. And create the ultimate Alliance.
This is not about good versus evil.
This is about -- Victory!

Now, this pulled me up abruptly, because it seemed extraordinary to me that something cd be both (1) based on Tolkien's Middle-earth and (2) so dismissive about good and evil. It's like making a video game out of PARADISE LOST with Satan as a first-person shooter trying to break into the Garden: it might or might not be a good game, but it certainly wdn't represent anything Milton wd recognize.

But then I thought, there's a long tradition in war games in de-coupling the strategic and moral sides of a war. Civil War games are about tactics, not slavery or states' rights; World War II games are deliberately neutral as to which side a player plays (eg. AXIS AND ALLIES choices of Russia, Germany, England, Japan, and U.S.). For that matter, there have been plenty of LotR based wargames in which you cd play Sauron or the Fellowship, Rohan or Saruman, without committing yrself to who are the good guys and who the villains of the story. Even RISK, as morally-neutral as wargames get (it's hard to assign relative moral value to the red pieces vs. the blue pieces), has a LotR version*

So I think it's not the de-coupling here that's perturbed me. It's their calling attention to it: no good, no evil, just winners and losers. Except that, for Tolkien, the way you fight a war is just as important as whether or not you win it, and seeking power is, in and of itself, evil.  It's like making a game out of MOBY-DICK that boasts of cutting out all the characterization and just has whalers harpooning whales vs. whales ramming whaling ships.

So, I'd say if something is based on Tolkien's work in any meaningful way, it has to be "about good vs. evil". But then if you take out the phrase "meaningful way",  perhaps that criticism no longer applies.

Or maybe I'm just not the target audience. Which I suspect is nearest the truth.

--John R.

*as does MONOPOLY, of all things, where you build a Fortress on Mt Doom rather than a hotel on Boardwalk. zWeird.

1 comment:

Marcel R. Aubron-B├╝lles said...

Hi John,

I find quite a few of the computer games irritating - I have just started playing the browsergame "Armies of the Third Age" which (as of now) is nothing but a copy of the smartphone game "Kingdoms of Middle-earth" (by the same company.)

It's crap, it has nothing to do with Middle-earth, except some film-based graphics and I was just welcomed with my nick "Olwe" by a player in my alliance: "Oh, a real Valar is playing with us!" ;)

So, yeah, I think there are a lot of things in recent computer games which simply don't fit. It has nothing to do with you being the target group or not.