WARCO: a war photography video game

“WARCO lets players shoot and record what they see ‘through the lens’ – framing shots, panning and zooming, grabbing powerful images of combatants and civilians caught up in war. They’ve got AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades – you’ve got a flak jacket, a video camera, and a burning desire to get the story. Every game space is embedded with multiple objectives and story leads for journalist Jesse DeMarco to find – a scoop if she’s smart, mortal danger if she drops her guard…” -from WARCO’s website

WARCO: The News Game is a first-person shooter video game in which the player is a photojournalist gathering footage for television news stories on subjects similar to revolutionary conflict in Africa and the Middle East. There’s a trailer available featuring in-game footage, though the game is not available try or buy yet. Ars Technica has coverage, as does Kotaku. Coverage and reactions generally state the game is a novel take on the war/shooter genre, though in Ars Technica’s article, an unnamed publisher suggests that it will be difficult to get a game company behind the idea: “It’s a hard sell to executives to suggest an FPS with no shooting, but this is definitely the sort of game we should be making, as an industry.” The game designers have been working with photojournalist Tony Maniaty to guide aspects directly related to photography in conflict zones.

I’m intrigued, being a fan of FPS games, but it will be some work to make the game fun and interesting beyond the concept. Instead of taking part in the action, you’ll mostly be watching it. That can be interesting as an actual photographer, but we all know the boredom of waiting for something to happen. The game designers have addressed this criticism directly, telling Kotaku, “A game, by definition, has to be active, and there’s a very voyeuristic nature to this so we really wanted to make sense of gathering footage something more active: you’re actively pulling together a story and a narrative out of the pieces of the world you observe.” The game appears to have two significant modes of play: gathering footage with specific objectives (seen in the trailer which the player accomplishing the goal to “film a rebel vehicle” at :08 seconds in) and surviving while doing so, and editing together that gathered footage to create a news-like narrative of the situation. More than that, much of the game’s tension will relate to moral decisions relating to which footage or interviews best serve the viewing audience of your eventual news report.

This isn’t the first game to feature photography prominently, though it may be the first to focus on war photography. And it’s certainly a unique take on the war genre of contemporary gaming. It also seems like a powerful tool for teaching audiences about the physical dangers of conflict journalism and the moral and ethical difficulties and ambiguities of news reporting.

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