My Final Project, From Above, is a on-rails first person shooter in which the player is tasked with destroying as many enemy targets as possible in thirty seconds, while avoiding civilians. However, the twist is that there is no distinction between enemy and civilian, and there are no consequences for destroying any potential civilian targets.
The game is very simple, and short, but it aims to address the effects of warfare upon our modern society, and the effects of modern society upon warfare. With the advent of Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAV for short), many soldiers are now completely detached from the suffering they inflict upon people. UAV pilots can be sitting in an air conditioned office thousands of miles away while dropping bombs on civilians from thousands of feet in the air. While the player in From Above isn’t that high up, being above and away from the people you’re killing makes it seem much less personal and nasty.
As mentioned above, players are unable to distinguish between civilian and enemy targets. The main reason behind this choice, and why there’s no score or docked points on the “Mission Complete” screen, is because, much like in real life, there aren’t many immediate consequences to these actions. Despite being one of the highest funded branches of the government, the military lacks accountability. As seen during the infamous My Lai Massacre, the military would rather try to bury a massacre than convict those responsible.
In the end, the root of problems like detachment from the battlefield and the lack of accountability is the military’s detachment from the people they’re supposed to be helping. During the Vietnam War, the US Military was ostensibly trying to help the South Vietnamese, but a lack of connection with and understanding of the Vietnamese made their mission doomed to fail. The same can be said for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, who are told that the United States is trying to help them after their village is destroyed. The player character in From Above is ostensibly there to help the unnamed people who they end up bombing.
As for inspirations for this game, two of my biggest came from very different places. The first is Kieran’s Space Invaders game, in which the only way for the players to truly win the game was to not shoot at the approaching aliens. While what the player does in From Above doesn’t really affect the final outcome, I liked the idea of a game that subverts or messes with your expectations. The second is the famous, or infamous as the case may be, “Death from Above” mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While the player character is a AC-130 pilot instead of a UAV Pilot (meaning that they’re actually inside a plane right above the battlefield), the outcome is still the same. Death is rained down from above, and there is nothing that the moving dots can do about it. It is hard to tell whether the game was trying to make this a cool moment, or was actually trying to send a message by showing how cold and dispassionate this kind of fighting is, but it’s a mission that’s always stuck with me, and many others.