International Relations And Video Games — An Almost-Interview

For four years, I studied everything about East Asian security dilemmas and conflicts in post-Soviet Russia. What good is my international relations major if I can't inflict it on a game developer?

Luckily, Sion Lenton — Executive Producer at Codemasters on Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising — was a good sport and let "Professor Glasser" talk his ear off about real-life conflicts between Russia and Japan. You see, his game is loosely based on one of those conflicts with some, uh, minor tweaks.

In Dragon Rising, it's a few years into the future and China's economy is going down the tank. There's an island north of Japan called Skira (topographically based on real life Kiska Island). The island is contested territory between Russia and China because of its large oil reserves. Also, the US Army, acting on behalf of the Russians to "liberate" it from the Chinese.

I think my political science professor would flunk any of his students who couldn't name all of the things wrong with that premise. For one thing, Kiska Island is in Alaska – which is pretty far from any of the Kuril Islands north of Japan that are actually contested territory. For another, those islands are contested territory between Russia and Japan, not China – and I don't even think they have oil; they're just in a really sweet strategic spot. Also, China's economy is going lots of places these days – but none of them look like the tank. And the US acting on behalf of Russia against China? It wouldn't just have to be the future; it'd probably have to be a whole different planet.

I related all of this to Lenton as a roundabout way of asking if Japanese forces would be included in the upcoming downloadable content that Codemasters is planning for Dragon Rising. In real life, the Japan Self-Defense Force couldn't do anything to Russia (or China) unless Japan really did own the islands and Russia (or China) really was moving in on them with armed forces. But, hey, if we're not worried about realism, why wouldn't you want to get Japan in the mix?

Lenton said Japan would deserve more attention than just DLC ("That would really be a whole separate game," he said). However, he was intrigued by the idea of an overarching security dilemma as motivation for stealth gameplay.

Bear with me – I got an A- on my thesis for this. A security dilemma is a situation in which two countries both want the same thing. One can sell out the other to get that thing, which sort of sucks, but usually doesn't lead to war. Or, they can both try to sell each other out to get what they want and that almost always leads to war. Or – what usually happens – they get stuck in a staring contest where neither of them doing anything and so neither of them gets what they want. But nobody goes to war.

This was my roundabout way of asking if there was stealth in the game. After all, if Russian forces claim to shoot down Chinese planes in Russian territory but can't prove it with physical evidence, it's be really hard to convince the whole world that declaring war on China is totally cool. So, it would sort of make sense to have stealth in the game, right?

Lenton seemed to like the idea, but sadly it's not actually part of Operation Flashpoint. That's not to say the developer was totally unaware of international relations. After all, Lenton explained, a lot of work went into figuring out how to explain why US forces were involved in the conflict (*cough* oil *cough*). And the basic message of the game – that war is scary – certainly is a nod toward realism.

But after our little chat, I wonder if Lenton or other war game developers will look into security dilemmas as a basis on which to build a war-torn future to play in. After all, sometimes real-life is scarier that the "what-ifs" video game developers imagine for us.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising is out October 6.