Dude, you’re getting busted

War games

You can’t make this stuff up. Trond Helleland, a Conservative member of the Norwegian parliament, was caught playing a war game called “Metalion” on his Pocket PC handheld — during a debate over the war in Iraq:

Helleland told Nettavisen that he only meant to check his electronic appointments calendar, “but fiddled a bit too much” and landed on his new war game. He admitted that he “just had to try it out.”

“It’s a robot game where you shoot drones,” he said, stressing the game doesn’t involve any blood.

Helleland, who leads the parliament’s justice committee, apologized for the inappropriate diversion during an important parliamentary session.

“I’ll never do it again,” he promised, claiming, by the way, that he managed to follow the debate while he played.

Of course, I began immediately wondering — what precisely is Metalion? A quick Google search found me several (quite favorable) reviews. Even better, I found the text reprinted from the game manual. Apparently, the plot of Metalion is thus:

The year is 2252 AD. Due to extreme overpopulation and lack of food, the world leaders form a group of top scientists and engineers known as the Universal Federation, to research the conversion of dead planets to living ones, better known as Terraforming. After nearly 100 years, the group of scientists successfully Terraformed Mars and began colonization. Venus, Jupiter and Saturn are transformed and colonized 50 years later.

Unfortunately, the transformation of Jupiter was not as successful as the others. Jupiter’s new atmosphere and environment began to deteriorate after only 15 years. The colony on Jupiter rebels against the Federation. Due to this renegade colony of Jupiter, the leaders on Earth form the “Universal Federation Corps” to serve and protect the Federal colonies. The colony of Jupiter claims its independence from the Federation and the self-proclaimed Emperor of Jupiter creates his own army called the “Red Galaxy Knights.” For 50 years, the Red Galaxy Knights wreak widespread havoc and destruction among the peaceful colonies of the Federation.

On September 21, 2710, the “Red Galaxy Knights” launch a full-scale attack on Earth. Millions of lives are lost. Four days later, the Federation declares war on Jupiter.

After 4 long years of war, the Federation has finally developed a new weapon called “Metalion.” This robotic weapon, piloted by a single human being, was developed specifically for inter-planetary travel and battle. It is the Federation’s last hope for peace.


You know, I’m a gaming geek from way back. I’ve played Doom, Quake, Half-Life, Counterstrike, America’s Army, and loved them all. I am thus accustomed to reading the manuals for space shoot-em-up games — which inevitably sport similarly hysterical, apocalypso sci-fi prose. “The aliens have captured the moon base and are reverse-engineering the fragments of the crashed UFO to enslave us all.” “The Titian faction has become enraged with mutant bloodlust and will not stop until all are exterminated.” It’s always something like that.

Yet you might wonder why the heck game designers bother to write these complex little backstories. After all, the goal is just to fly around in outer space blasting the shit out of everything, right? Why the throat-clearing? Why the complex, turgid justifications for the interstellar carnage? I’ve long suspected it’s because game-makers are aware, on some level, that they can’t just unleash these scenarios of joyful, wanton death without offering some feeble excuse for why all this killing is necessary. They recognize that, even though this is just a game, you can’t quite come out and say the obvious — which is that massacring endless phalanxes of space goons is fun. That’s implicit. But to actually offer it as the sole justification would seem kinda creepy, even to themselves. No, they need some vaguely plausible moral backdrop, and that’s why every single game forces you to sit through some impossibly lame, cringe-inducing explanation of Why We Fight.

Which brings me quite neatly back to our friend Trond Helleland. He was playing the game during a debate on whether to go to war with Iraq, which lends a truly gorgeous symmetry to everything here. Go back and read that backstory from “Metalion”“: A bunch of colonists sent to Jupiter get uppity, stage a rebellion, and we have to go to war, dude. Now pick up the paper and read the U.S. government’s rationale for attacking Iraq. There are endless reasons why the war is an incredibly bad political move, which I’ve discussed before. But Bush has spent the last few months ignoring those bad reasons — and telling us, again and again, a bunch of long narratives about why we need to invade.

In the real world too, it seems, we need a backstory to convince us it’s okay — to go to war, kick ass, and blast away until there is nothing left to blast.

(The news item about Trond came to me via Gizmodo and PocketPC Thoughts — many thanks!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson