UNRECORD: This is why we can’t have the nice things

People are losing their minds over a trailer for a new FPS game Unrecord that showcases a stunning level of photorealism. While the technical achievement is undoubtedly impressive, the whole situation makes me scream out of my lungs in frustration, “SURVIVAL HORROR! WHY THE HELL IS THIS NOT A SURVIVAL HORROR GAME?”

Unrecord’s trailer demonstrates a shootout sequence as viewed through the lens of a police body camera. I can’t imagine how detached you must be from the real world to think this concept won’t immediately get associated with hundreds of disturbing LiveLeak videos of cops killing people for reasons only murderous ghouls can understand. It’s a complete misguidance or blatant intent to spawn the most viral copaganda game ever.

I genuinely don’t understand anyone seeing this trailer and thinking, «Hmm, this is a game I can gladly enjoy»—if this is you, what are you? Are you even human? There is a certain reason people like their entertainment close to reality but not so close. Because seeing people get shot is quite unnerving, if not traumatizing. Real-life explosions aren’t nearly as spectacular as in Holywood movies—they are shocking and terrifying. We are used to the exploitation of cruelty and violence for the sake of entertainment, but there is a distinction between watching action movies and getting a kick out of gonzo webcam footage of real murder.

But Unrecord is just a videogame—it’s not real, haha! Of course, but it doesn’t make it less out-of-touch and tasteless. Simulation and gamification are ways of normalization. Police violence is a systemic and unresolved real-world problem, but at least it’s placed on an abnormal plane of the media sphere. Every footage of police disgraceful and ghoulish behavior is met with a rightful shitstorm—its discourse puts it out of the boundaries of normal things, of things how they are meant to be. Such footage harms the glossy copaganda and shows how things truly are.

Simulating this specific aesthetic for the sake of uncritical entertainment transfers the issue from the category of abnormal to acceptable. Decades of military propaganda are an excellent example of such normalization. Ugliness and horrors of war are acceptable in mass consciousness so far as they are justified by the greater good. Cop violence is more problematic in the media gaze—and the last thing we want is to cement aesthetic justification for it.

How can we know for sure that Unrecord won’t address police violence with criticism? For now, we can’t. But we can certainly assume—digital games, unfortunately, are well-known vessels of the most obnoxious uncritical thinking there is. This specific gameplay trailer doesn’t show any glimpse of possible criticism toward police—it’s a pure spectacle of violence (and quite unnerving as it is). Therefore, we have no choice but to assume the worst.

«Oh, these leftist Luddites, these always negative technophobes, it’s just a videogame,» one can say and feel oneself very smart. I can’t argue—Unrecord’s visual photorealism is an impressive technical achievement. Why not stop and think for a minute—how can we use it to enrich the medium and attempt to do it in a non-destructive way? Can we give this medium its due at least once and approach it with at least some responsibility?

Many people on Twitter felt the same as me when watching Unrecord’s trailer. There are dozens of replies and quote-tweets with a genuine question—why not survival horror? Indeed, this genre can only win from a maximum level of photorealism, and due to the genre’s specifics, much less likely to play into the cop power fantasy. Some moments in Unrecord’s trailer break the photorealistic impression and feel weird—every tech has limitations. The survival horror genre would happily embrace such limitations: if utilized correctly, such an uncanny valley effect will make you millions in sales!

I’m pretty used to seeing wasted opportunities in the videogame medium. Misunderstanding and mishandling technological advancements in art is not an inherent digital gaming pestilence, but it is especially common for such a technology-focused medium. Still, wasting opportunities is one thing, but doing so in a destructive, immoral, and irresponsible way is another.

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