Last week I played a few games from my childhood, Halo 3: ODST (throught the Master Chief Collection) and Bulletstorm (Duke of Switch edition, and no I didn't play as Duke Nukem) and playing them back to back was illuminating in multiple ways. Big Spoilers for both games ahead.

Game Image

So I played ODST first. It's kind of a comfort game for me tbh, with its orchestral jazz soundtrack, near perfect Halo 3 combat, deserted city, and noir-esque nighttime setting. I enjoy it in a the same way I like listening to "classy" jazz on record: It makes me feel cozy. What I wasn't expecting was to notice just how strongly parts of this game feel like propaganda for the US Military, and how some parts really don't.

Now there's the obvious part of it, where yes, you play as an elite soldier in a game where killing is fun, easy, and rewarded. This is much the same as the main Halo series, where you play as a super soldier, or even the Marvel movies, many of which are created with funding and consultation from the military. But beyond that, there's a more hidden side to it? Kind of like how Brooklyn 99 does for cops, ODST shows military service as almost friendly. Hell it almost feels like NCIS in a lot of ways. All this, despite the framing of the game being a squad of soldiers who don't get along, getting left out of the loop by their commander, and having to be very scrappy to survive in a completely hostile space. In another world it could feel like Breath of the Wild, but here it's the backdrop for a set of military tropes (ones that ODST is Not even the first Halo game to use) designed to make military service look both cool and everything about it seem justified.

Because of this, I almost hesitate to recommend the game. Almost, because if you try to avoid military propaganda in America in 2020 you'll have to lock yourself in your room and disconnect your wifi. If anything, it's the least propaganda-esque of the Halo games. It's also the best Halo game, nearly being perfect in every aspect. If you're not turned off by the aforementioned stuff, give it a try

Bulletstorm is a markedly more anti-military game, at least narratively. You play as an ex-soldier, who deserted after becoming privy to the rampant corruption in the military, particularly dealing with his C.O. Throughout the game you get to learn about the absurd ways capitalism destroyed the planet you're on, all framed as a joke at the expense of that C.O. Now, gameplay-wise, it's got some of the best FPS gameplay ever. It mixes score-based skill grading a la Tony Hawk into a CoD-style arcadey shooter, turning the speed and creativity up beyond 11. It's a great game, despite some writing that ends up on the bad side of the Borderlands line of "edgy" comedy. There's still a bit of that "soldiers are cool" framing to everything, but it's a lot less central than in Halo.

Also not really related too much but I beat Sayonara Wild Hearts last night and doing that after 2 shooters really shows you how much violence is an overused method of interacting with the world in video games. Also Sayonara is super dope game pleaseeeeeee play it

Anyways, I wish the military occupied a much smaller role in American pop culture. I don't think they will anytime soon, but it'd certainly be nice and healthy for all of us if they did. For now though, all we can do is attempt to steel ourselves against this kind of stuff. It's a lot more realistic than avoiding it, as nice as that'd be.