Barbara Demick‚Äôs Nothing to Envy was a worthy winner of the last year‚Äôs BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. The LA Times journalist‚Äôs description of the turbulent, unimaginably awful stories of six North Korean defectors is as heartbreaking as it is eye-opening of the true status of North Korea.
The book talks of a teacher ignoring the dying children on her way to work so that she would not feel guilty about keeping the food she and her family needs. It talks about fifty or so men huddling together in an unheated, unfurnished prison, matter-of-factly remarking when one of their number passes on in the middle of the night. It talks of a government that would rather spend what little resource it has on putting on a show for visiting world journalists, with a brief faire of a lit-up city filled with actors pretending to happy citizens, than it would actually feeding its 24 million citizens. As soon as the journalists leave, the electricity is turned back off and the city resumes its default state of nothingness punctuated by unspoken cries of suffering and death. North Korea has become a third-world country more hellbent on showing the world its strength than keeping its populace in health, all thanks to decades of pitiless communism from a family of stubborn, vain rulers.
Kaos Studios, the developer of the first-person shooter Homefront which is due to be released later this month, would like you to believe that this country could be taking over the world in fifteen years time. The game is set in America, 2027 during a period of invasion by the Korean People‚Äôs Army, made up of a united North Korea, South Korea, and Japan. It‚Äôs all detailed in the trailer below.
I was still reading through Demick‚Äôs book when I first saw that trailer back at a preview event for the multiplayer last year, and I‚Äôll admit I found it a bit hard to concentrate on playing the game afterwards. The first question I put forward to the first developer I could find to ask was on whether or not the implausibility of the story would cause controversy. He trotted out an answer that aligns closely with the watchword we now keep hearing from Kaos: ‚Äúplausible baby steps‚ÄĚ
Half of the above trailer for the ‚Äúworld of Homefront‚ÄĚ centers on justifying the game‚Äôs future world state. Someone at one point mentions how North Korea has the ‚Äúfourth largest standing army, which a lot of people don‚Äôt know about‚ÄĚ, coolly glossing over how most of that army is made up of chronically underfed and untrained men ‚Äď last year the North Korean military reduced its height restrictions for fresh conscripts to four and a half feet because of the long-term effects to North Korean height of chronic malnutrition.
The trailer is designed to make us feel na√Įve for thinking such a situation is wholly implausible, what with its marginal justifications, but the reality is that Homefront‚Äôs timeline of events is ridiculous.
The news today is that North Korea is likely to belligerently ignore South Korea‚Äôs urge to even hold talks because of the former‚Äôs continually propagated hatred for the latter. Homefront would have us believe these two countries could not only realign in the near future but also under the banner of North Korea, despite how South Korea has embraced capitalism with great success to become one of the world‚Äôs economic powerhouses. Isn‚Äôt this insulting to the South Koreans on quite a few levels?
On a side note, it‚Äôs interesting that the ‚Äėbad guys‚Äô in Homefront were originally going to be the Chinese, but publisher THQ felt China were ‚Äújust not that scary‚ÄĚ. This explains a lot.
There are a number of reasons to ridicule Homefront‚Äôs plot, as others before me have noted, so the question begs: at what point is suspension of disbelief unfeasible? I‚Äôm well aware that the majority of modern shooters have absolutely guff storylines; remember Modern Warfare 2 transitioning into Red Dawn with the greatest of ease? Yet millions of players worldwide took no notice, storming through the single-player to get to the good bit: shooting each other to bits in the multiplayer.
Incidentally, Red Dawn screenwriter John Millus is the man behind Homefront‚Äôs script. There‚Äôs nothing like resorting to what you know, right?
Most shooters get away with their trite, ostentatiously ridiculous stories because they‚Äôre set on another planet and the droves of enemies you gun down have beady glowing eyes. These types of shooters are of course tolerable ‚Äď fantasy is fantasy – but I hardly think they by proxy justify such a slapdash speculative scare plot in the context of reality and real people.
Maybe I‚Äôm doing Homefront a disservice here. I haven‚Äôt played any of its single-player campaign yet, after all. Maybe when the actual game hits we‚Äôll all be talking about how well THQ and Kaos handled a plot that in lesser hands might have been more difficult to hold together. I somehow suspect, though, that we‚Äôll once more be talking about how the industry‚Äôs reluctance to treat serious material with care and caution is holding back the medium from getting past what if? shooters.
Homefront will be available for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on March 15 in North America, March 17 for Australia, March 18 for Europe, and late April for Japan.