Anomaly: International Politics

The whole premise of Anomaly: Warzone Earth is that a couple of alien spaceships, or possibly one spaceship broken into two pieces, have crash-landed in the middle of two major cities. The aliens you fight don’t seem to be the ones that were in charge of those ships, though. They’re attacking the ships, apparently scavenging some kind of energy. I suppose it’s entirely possible that if we just left them alone they’d eventually get what they came for and go away, but the fact that they’re doing it in the middle of populated urban centers kind of makes that not an option.

But we don’t really learn a lot about the aliens. The ones we fight are described as “invaders”, even though, from a more immediate standpoint, the player is the invader, pushing into alien-claimed territory. Well, the whole idea of invasion carries negative connotations, so a game whose very mechanics require the player to be an aggressor against a passive force requires a little narrative trickery, unless the designer is willing to explicitly cast the player as a bad guy. But things get weirder when you consider the two cities that they chose for the crash sites: Baghdad and Tokyo.

Baghdad is the site of the first six levels. I’m guessing it was chosen mainly because it’s our touchstone these days for images of troops advancing through city streets, but it also probably helps with the aggression factor, since so many people are emotionally invested in seeing a similar operation in Baghdad as justified. I remember an online argument back in 2003 in which a supporter of the war in Iraq strongly objected to the use of the word “invasion” by its opponents, until it was pointed out that no one has a problem with “the invasion of Normandy”. Have connotations changed that much since WWII? Perhaps. The sci-fi movies of the 1950s taught a generation that the word “invasion” is usually preceded by “alien”.

Which brings us to Tokyo, whose use here is influenced less by the news and more by anime. “Tokyo is destroyed and rebuilt with monotonous regularity“, declares the tvtropes page on the phenomenon of the “The Tokyo Fireball”. The destruction in this game is slower than a Tokyo fireball, but the Anomaly of the title does share some of its characteristics as mysterious spherical dome of energy. Although you’re supposed to be controlling the same company of soldiers in this section as in the previous one, brought in for your hastily-learned expertise in alien-fighting, the Japanese military lends material assistance. A Japanese general joins the cast of characters who communicate plot and mission details via radio over the course of the missions (both before and during), and this addition suddenly makes it conspicuous how absent the government and military of Iraq was from the previous chapter.

And what of the soldiers braving the Anomaly to fight the alien menace? Somewhat surprisingly, they’re British. And not just a little British; they’re not soldiers who just happen to have a nationality which just happens to be British. They’re gratuitously British. Their dialogue is peppered with blatant mentions of things like the Prime Minister and Big Ben just to keep reminding us of it, kind of like how Shylock in A Merchant of Venice keeps on bringing up Old Testament prophets apropos of nothing. The game’s developers are Polish; perhaps British soldiers seem exotic enough to them to warrant such treatment? They’re a little exotic even to me, giving it a vibe somewhere between a WWII movie and U.N.I.T. from Doctor Who. The more typical American soldiers (or, more extremely, marines) certainly wouldn’t have the same kind of mystique; being the forces of a superpower, they’d make it into more of a dominance struggle between tough guys than the asymmetric scrappy-underdogs-overcoming-incredible-odds story we’ve got.

But also, there is of course Baghdad again. Even though the UK devoted troops to the Gulf War alongside the US, it’s still thought of primarily as America’s war. So keeping the whole thing from being too on-the-nose might require repeated reassurances that the soldiers fighting the alien menace are not in fact American.

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