Battlefield 3 is a first person shooter (FPS) set in the fictional War of 2014 that takes place in the Iraqi-Kurdistan region and Tehran, Iran. The game is created by EA Games and has the intention of placing the player in Middle Eastern-like spaces virtually. For the majority of the game, the player plays as SSgt. Henry Blackburn of the U.S. Marines.
I began the game by jumping onto a train taking me through the New York tunnels, wherein I must fight Iranian paramilitary known as the People’s Liberation and Resistance (PLR). And I must add that the PLR is a fictional group led by an Iranian named Faruk Al-Bashir (a very Arab-like name, indeed). However, as I play Battlefield 3, I wonder exactly what Middle East were the creators even imagining?
After the initial mission in the NY tunnels, in what can be described as a flash forward in time, my avatar SSgt. Blackburn is being held captive in a detention center. I am consequently being questioned by CIA agents. The CIA agents, as they tower over me, state that Homeland Security has called them about some rogue Marine (me or is it Blackburn?), and I am must cooperate by giving them information regarding the NY terror plot. I have apparently divulged that Solomon is planning a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon. The CIA’s information does not match mine. They do not believe what I am telling them. I am told I am “already dead.” I need to cooperate despite the situation’s nuance of my eventual disappearance. I feel as though my avatar body will be rendered missing no matter what.
I, SSgt. Blackburn, must defend myself by explaining Solomon’s nuclear plot on NY. In a flash back to Iraqi-Kurdistan during “Operation Swordbreaker,” the game fills my ears with Johnny Cash’s “God is Going to Cut You Down” as my avatar sits among Marine comrades in a helicopter. The song fills my sensorium, or rather, my pre-filled sensorium with notions of Americaness and heroic defeat against so-called usurpers of freedom. I become tense as I am being conditioned in the game to go to war, and lay my eyes upon on the horrors to come. Once the music stops and the helicopter has landed, I proceed forward on the street.
When I sync my psyche to Ssgt. Blackburn, I initially am habituated to look past the signs of violence and think like a solider. One of troops! Yet, with a more rigorous magnifying glass, my steps onto Iraqi-Kurdistan soil are jarring. I read signs that are in half-baked Persian, and my ears are filled with dissonance of the helicopter blades as well as nonsensical chatter. A solider is pointing what I assume is an assault rifle at a PLR insurgent? A Iraqi-Kurdish civilian? I cannot tell. Another captive person is being moved by other soldiers. The wind blows animal carcass hanging in front of a child care center. Yes, I am becoming habituated slowly but surely to what I believe is a forever Middle Eastern war. Blackburn must follow. I, as an academic, want to analyze.
And that’s just the thing. I am becoming part of Blackburn, and he is part of becoming me, through co-inhabiting each other’s bodies. I am no longer a mere fictitious rendering of a Marine but rather a someone who represents a white savior yet culpable to the death of Middle Eastern bodies virtually. I am not sure which Middle Eastern bodies, though. I do not think the creators of Battlefield 3 are either.
Throughout the remainder of “Operation Swordbreaker,” the player will never hear even a word of Arabic, Turkish, or Kurdish uttered. Rather, the non-Marine persons will yell in Persian. The signs, as seen in the YouTube video in this blog post, will often read as nonsense, or letters will not be connected in the perso-arabic script. The doors will have signs written in Arabic written. The “child care” center is poorly transliterated English to Persian, rather than a proper translation of the word “childcare” into Persian. And, might I add, there shouldn’t be any Persian signs to begin with in the Iraqi-Kurdistan region. Like other games based on the Middle East before, such as Prince of Persia, the player is met with an amalgam of Middle Easternness, a trope, or what my colleague Solmaz calls a flattening of the Middle East as one singular thought and entity.
The player will consciously and subconsciously be affected by the intensities of this game. For some, the adrenaline rush from playing and the sensation around their ears that comes from listening to heart beat inducing sound and music will cause anxiety, let alone the killing of Middle Easterners. Others will habituate themselves to the nuances provided in the game which will eventually become incorporated into their sensorium, or rather, their mediated understanding of what exactly these regions are like. Met with a Middle East in ruins, cars that hearken to the 1970s, a non-discerning player’s perception will become altered, provoked into believing in a non-modern and backwards Middle East. I say Middle East in this blog to mean something imagined and fundamentally understood as “reality” by the creators. The amalgamation of the Iraqi-Kurdistan and Iran by the creators underlines such an understanding.
The game has come to have an impact on me in ways that I will continue to parse and ponder, from the heart pounding anxiety when I (or Blackburn?) was in a fighter jet flying over Tehran, seamlessly bombing an airport, to pulling a gas mask off a so-called Iranian insurgent that made me witness suffocation. I can now say that I am much better at FPS games, but that is clearly nothing to brag about.