All’s not quiet on the ‘Homefront’

I’m surprised, to say the least, that there is a total lack of condemnation about THQ’s “Homefront.” After going through a full play- through of the game’s solo mode, I wondered why no one spoke up about just how propagandistic and vile this game really is.

“Homefront,” released earlier this year, tells the story of a speculative future where a reunified Korea, with the North in control, invades the U.S. Kim Jong Il has died in 2012 and his son Kim Jong-Un has taken over. By 2027, the U.S. has been occupied by the Greater Korean Republic, a nation that is comprised of Korea, Japan, and much of the Southeast Asian Islands. Hawai’i has since fallen, and the game takes place in Montrose, Colo., with the player assuming the role of Robert Jacobs, a former military man who is rescued from his bus ride to a death camp by the local resistance.

Strangely, the game was hotly debated before its release for its viral marketing schemes, but not for the game itself. Publicists for the game hosted mock-rallies protesting the North Korean government in San Francisco and had “government food trucks” that served Korean barbecue in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The game also was accused of piggy-backing on heightened political tensions between the U.S. and North Korea and was condemned following an advertisement that looked like a real news broadcast that cited a North Korean invasion on U.S. soil. Ironically, their biggest controversy in America, however, came when they launched balloons into the San Francisco Bay during a mock protest, in which environmentalists were angered over the debris falling into the water.

The anti-Korean sentiment was taken more seriously in Asia, however, with Japan removing all mention of North Korea and relabeling the nation as a more generic “A Certain Country to the North” and the sale of the game is banned in South Korea.

As a gamer, I can say this game is horrifying. The premise of the story resembles “Red Dawn,” a propaganda film made during the height of the Cold War era where Soviet paratroopers invade a small town in Calumet, Colo., beginning a mass invasion that destabilizes the U.S. Actually, the game’s script is by John Milius, the same guy who did “Red Dawn.”

And I will say, Milus has the sensibility to treat the Korean occupational forces with as much tact as he gave the Russians in “Red Dawn.”

The game depicts the Korean army as a menacing force. The game superimposes the more than real scare of North Korean aggression with martial law, death camps, and brutal disregard for civilian life during their occupation of Colorado.

The game opens with a brief clip of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announcing the attack on the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, which sank in disputed waters on the Korean Peninsula in 2010, reportedly by the North Koreans.

The game quickly spirals ahead with the U.S. dollar tumbling as an oil shock destroys the American economy and forces the withdrawal of troops from Japan, leaving the Koreans to do as they please in annexing what closely resembles the map of World War II Imperial Japan. The Koreans round up innocent Americans and ship them off to work in mines or labor camps in requisitioned school buses and dumps their spent bodies in mass graves dug out from former football stadiums. Children are pried away from their parents and their parents shot dead in front of them.

No matter how much this game is for “adults,” I wonder if showing all this indiscriminate violence wouldn’t condition someone to be the least bit apprehensive about Koreans, and how it primes their outlook on East Asian politics today.

The developers stress the game is a work of speculation, but more frivolous speculative thoughts have sent a nation to search in vain for weapons of mass destruction.

At the same time, the game comically abuses Koreans as well. Korean dialogue is normally left untranslated on the battlefield, but occasional snippets come through as part of the game’s story. During one particular firefight in the middle of a Hooters parking lot (stay with me), the player controls a remote-controlled tank to take out enemy Humvees and helicopters. Meanwhile, the Korean army retreats, and the game developers translated one line of dialogue: “Their war machine is too powerful!”

The line is tantamount to one of those badly dubbed “Godzilla” movies everyone lampoons where everything is translated into “Oh no, it’s Godzilla! Run! Aieeee!” Combine that with the occasional Wilhelm Scream and the game borders on corny at times. Later in the game, the player encounters survivalists who shoot at the feet of a captured Korean soldier, telling him to dance, like in a spaghetti Western.

Those, however, while tasteless, aren’t quite all that’s in the game. THQ did attempt to infuse the game with a measure of regard for minorities — Korean Americans, especially. The game features a diverse cast: a gung-ho white guy that wants to run into a fight with guns akimbo, the good-cop-turned-resistance-organizer black guy who is the first to be killed off, the female soldier that’s as good as any of the guys on the battle field and a Korean American resistance fighter, whose specialty is fixing everything mechanical.

Hopper, the Korean American guy, is described on the game’s Website as a 32 year-old “third generation Korean American…. (who) had a hard time during the early days of the occupation, and his face is badly scarred from the San Francisco Race Riots … To this day, he finds his loyalties questioned and working in resistance cells in SF kept getting the worst, most dangerous assignments.”

So it’s not too bad. I really do appreciate the fact that Hopper is a generally likable guy (especially compared to the meathead Connor), and I am somewhat glad the script reflects on the fact that race riots hurt innocent civilians who really do have nothing to do with the enemy.

However, I can’t help but wonder how much this guy was placed in as a token above all else. His tech-wiz stereotype aside, his bio on the Website continues, “no one is a more proud American than Hopper, and he is appalled that his ‘homeland’ has invaded the country and taken away the freedoms he holds so dear…”

That really only sounds like THQ is trying to desperately make up for any nay-saying Korean Americans might have against the game.

That’s like having a game set during World War II, where you play a G.I. taking part in the invasion of Okinawa, and your Japanese American Military Intelligence Service (MIS) compatriot’s bio says “Sgt. Tanaka is as proud of America as anyone, he is appalled his ‘homeland’ invaded the country he loves.”

While it might sound familiar to a lot of introductions about the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and MIS, were those who volunteered to serve in World War II serving to fight against their “homeland”? Was it not that they served in the U.S. armed forces because their homeland was the U.S.? For how this is written, Hopper is a proud American, but he’s not totally an American. He is a Korean man who loves America and what it stands for.

“Homefront” plays well. The game looks impressive and its multiplayer is as good as the rest (though I prefer “Team Fortress 2,”), but the depictions of Koreans concerns me. And I wonder why no one else is giving much thought about this, either.

 

Tomo Hirai is a Nichi Bei Weekly staff member. He has written a vast amount on anime and manga. The views expressed in the preceding commentary are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

 

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