Virtual reality is a really intriguing medium, in part because the implementation of realism can have such staggeringly different effects on the outcome of the game. In the case of the upcoming Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond, developer Respawn Entertainment is treading the line of violence in virtual reality very carefully. Respawn CEO Vince Zampella spoke with The LA Times about the seemingly sudden shift of thought regarding human-on-human violence; something that seems a bit odd for the man behind games like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the Call of Duty series, Titanfall, and Apex Legends.
While all of these past games feature cinematic events and, in the case of Call of Duty, can feature incredibly realistic-looking scenarios, none of them have exuded the empathy that Respawn is attempting in the upcoming Medal of Honor reboot for Oculus Rift VR headsets. It all boils down to how Respawn is attempting to tell the tales of the people in the many battles that spanned years and thousands of miles, claiming the lives of millions, each with a personal story to tell. That personal touch is what will set Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond apart from all the other World War II games that came before it.
Since virtual reality puts you in the literal eyes of a virtual person, Respawn is using this wholly unique and immersive perspective to transport you into the minds of actual WWII veterans as they retell the haunting stories of the sights and sounds war. Utilizing a unique mix of documentary interview footage of war veterans, complete with new footage the team took of historical locations throughout Europe, Respawn is hoping to take players on a journey not just of sight, but also of empathy and emotion. Because of this unique perspective on war, Respawn is being careful to represent human-on-human violence in a way that’s authentic but not necessarily realistic.
“When you know the setting is life-and-death and it’s a historical thing — while you may be causing harm to virtual humans you’re doing it for the good of other virtual humans — in that simulation it’s something that was valuable to the world.”
While there are plenty of violent and/or realistic games on the market, many of them are still treated as a game. VR titles like ‘GORN’ and ‘Blade & Sorcery’ are certainly as violent as you could make a game, but neither of them is attempting realism or trying to elicit any specific emotion from players other than the enjoyment of a video game. Other titles, like Onward, attempt to recreate as realistic an experience as possible via complicated weapons and environmental systems. Medal of Honor, on the other hand, is focusing more on the variety and depth of stories told from first-hand accounts while trying to focus in on the feelings and real emotions of the people involved, and that might end up being a more realistic experience than violence or visuals could ever recreate.