Warfare History Network » Game Features: EA’s ‘Battlefield Hardline’ and Police Militarization
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Game Features: EA’s ‘Battlefield Hardline’ and Police Militarization

Military Games

Game Features: EA’s ‘Battlefield Hardline’ and Police Militarization

EA's new 'Battlefield' glorifies police use of military force: but is this portrayal authentic or even appropriate?

EA's new 'Battlefield' glorifies police use of military force: but is this portrayal authentic or even appropriate?

by Julian Gnam

EA Games’ new Battlefield installment moves its theater of combat from overseas wars to the domestic United States. The game’s protagonist is a dirty SWAT officer, and military grade weapons are used on a large scale to wipe out criminals, gun owners, and police alike.

But Polygon’s Chris Plante questions whether it’s authentic or even appropriate to glorify police use of military force in this manner.

Promotion for Battlefield has unfortunately coincided with the Ferguson, Missouri riots, directed specifically at the indiscriminate use of violent Police force. Plante laments that law enforcement in Battlefield Hardline are armed like soldiers, and treat citizens like enemy combatants.

From the 40s Race Riots to Ferguson, Missouri

Promotion for Battlefield has unfortunately coincided with the Ferguson, Missouri riots, directed specifically at the indiscriminate use of violent Police force. Plante laments that law enforcement in Battlefield Hardline are armed like soldiers, and treat citizens like enemy combatants.

However, law enforcement’s use of military weapons and military force is not actually anything new, and has quite a long history. Photos of race riots through the 40s, 50s, and 60s often feature M1 Garands, M14s and bayonets being pointed at U.S. citizens, as thousands of federal troops were deployed to “maintain the peace.”

The prohibition era alone was a law enforcement arms race of military proportions. Shotguns already common with American police terrified the German Army when used as an assault role during World War I, prompting questions of their legality in warfare. The Thompson submachinegun was developed to trump the shotgun’s trench-clearing abilities, but wasn’t completed until the war had ended. Instead, the Thompson was battle-tested on the streets of Chicago by police and mobsters alike.

The ability of infamous real-life outlaws Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow to inexplicably acquire military-grade weapons rivals most video game villains. Their weapon of choice was the Browning 1918 Automatic Rifle, allegedly used with armor-piercing M2 ammunition. Such heavily-armed criminals required nothing less than a military-style ambush to bring down, employing police officers’ own automatic rifles, along with pistols and shotguns, and total of 130 rounds emptied into the criminals’ vehicle.

The classic SWAT 4 by Irrational Games (the developer behind Bioshock) presents the exact same type of heavy law enforcement weaponry as Battlefield Hardline, but treats the use of force in a far more developed, realistic, and intelligent manner.

Today’s SWAT Power

If anything, U.S. law enforcement weaponry has at times exceeded the ability of military weapons. The law enforcement sector has continually been on the forefront of personal body armor, and it’s the National Institute of Justice, which certifies armor meant to stop military rifle ammunition. The MP5 submachineguns ubiquitous with SWAT teams in the 80s and 90s actually present a greater chance to over-penetrate the walls of domestic environments and harm neighboring residents than the military-style 5.56mm rifles used today.

The Hague Convention prohibits military use of deforming ammo types like hollow-points and soft-points, but there is no such limitation on law enforcement ammunition. Some military FMJ like M855 does have limited fragmentary properties, but is still vastly outperformed by the commercial rifle ammo available to Police, FBI, and SWAT teams. The U.S. military is beginning to circumvent these limitations by fielding “open tip match” ammo like Mk262 and Mk318 (essentially a semantics loophole), but other NATO countries are taking issue, and the average grunt may never see the stuff.

Law enforcement sniper rifles are also held to higher accuracy standards than military sniper rifles, due to the risk of hitting civilians and hostages, and law enforcement buckshot holds much tighter groupings than military buck for the same reasons.

A Better Way

Readers will notice that Mahatma Gandhi is woefully lacking as a playable character in video games; in the scale of the digital realm where everything revolves around gratuitous violence and the player is given no agency other than to join in the violence themselves, you could argue that the liberal use of tasers and pepper spray is a actually a form of nonviolent civil disobedience.So we’ve established that Battlefield Hardline’s heavy law enforcement weaponry is not actually much of a stretch. Is it appropriate or moral to glorify the use of such weaponry against a nation’s own citizens? At a time when gamers have been beating elderly women to death and murdering prostitutes in the Grand Theft Auto series for over a decade, one has to wonder what the point is in singling out Battlefield.

That being said, there is heavy room for improvement in Battlefield Hardline’s depiction of police force. Since the beginning of tactical shooters, games like the Rainbow Six series have required the use of non-lethal weapons like flash-bangs to avoid killing civilians and hostages when eliminating the enemy.

The classic SWAT 4 by Irrational Games (the developer behind Bioshock) presents the exact same type of heavy law enforcement weaponry as Battlefield Hardline, but treats the use of force in a far more developed, realistic, and intelligent manner. The game demands that the player attempt to arrest suspects rather than kill them. Unauthorized use of force is penalized and the player is not allowed to use lethal weapons unless suspects point a firearm at police or civilians. It might be too idealistic to say this, but if all police exercised the restraint of players in SWAT 4, situations like the Ferguson riots might not exist.

Of course, the use of non-lethal weapons in SWAT 4 like pepperball guns, beanbag rounds and CS gas still causes controversy in real life. However, readers will notice that Mahatma Gandhi is woefully lacking as a playable character in video games; in the scale of the digital realm where everything revolves around gratuitous violence and the player is given no agency other than to join in the violence themselves, you could argue that the liberal use of tasers and pepper spray is a actually a form of nonviolent civil disobedience.

What do you think? Is EA being irresponsible for its portrayal of police violence and militarization? Or does the game’s promotion just happen to come out at a bad time? Let us know what you think in our comments section.

Add Your Comments

One Comment

  1. james risher
    Posted August 25, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    You know to be honest,I must say the game is in a way a tool. use to see and feel the affects of turning on there own.think about it if you ordered to shoot you fellow american and you do it with gusto,well what is the anwser? can they train kids of today to be the game players of reality.kinda sucks when you think about it.I am a vet and a big time gamer but this game hits home with what is happening in the U S and i feel its just cool in that sense can you be on the side of the non cops? tell me what you feel,and not crap ok Im just sayin think about it.

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