Team Fortress 2 is the only multiplayer game where I can find any narrative meaning. Basically it is a game adaption of Modern Warfare propaganda. It uses a combination of aesthetics, characters and game-play in order to achieve this. The visuals match propaganda of the time perfectly, the characters help display the mentalities of the separate countries and the game-play mechanics help portray how propaganda views the situation. The game is dense in dialogue and tactics and many links between it and propaganda can be spotted.
The aesthetics of Team Fortress 2 are comical, as it suits the very unrealistic nature of the game-play (anyone who listened to the in-game commentary would know this). No real life battle would have opposing bases in less than a kilometre of each other. The visual style of Team Fortress 2 is based on the illustrative works of Joseph Christian Leyendecker, who happened to illustrate some propaganda. In addition to this style as a base, Valve added a cartoon like effect to the shaders. To the right is an illustration by JC Leyendecker.
It combines the visual symbolism of propaganda with the comical nature of cartoons. Although some propaganda posters don’t take war that seriously anyway, so the incorporation of toon shaders is rather appropriate. Almost every visual aspect of Team Fortress 2 is similiar to propaganda of modern warfare. The fonts, the textures, the HUD and even the music is reminiscent of these themes.
The visual symbolism is used to distinguish the classes from one another. Using unrealistic proportions and colours, the game allows the player to distinguish other classes and teams. These are the same differing properties used in propaganda to provoke an emotive response, rather than a logical reflection of war.
Team Fortress 2 is a class based multiplayer game that separates the way players approach the game depending on what class they choose. Like most other competitive multiplayer games, the gameplay can cause a bit of a stir between players that use different tactics (remember the constant use of the term “noob-toob” in Call of Duty). In Team Fortress 2, the elitism between different players is used as a narrative device, showing the disagreements they have as representation of nationalistic prejudice. This is made most obvious by the soldier’s comments, who always makes fun of the service histories of other characters (like prejudiced retired soldiers would). “This american boot just kicked your ass back to Russia!” The image below is ww1 propaganda from Germany.
This is also the only game I’ve seen where the character’s nationalities are important. Generalizations of the different countries are incorporated into the aesthetics of the characters.
As I said earlier, this game is hardly realistic. The game is more conceptual than it is realistic, the spies backstab attack kills instantly, heavies can take a substantial amount of damage and the medic heals in a way that doesn’t match realistic medical procedure. Like propaganda it communicates it’s ideas in a rather unrealistic way in order to transmit the idea faster. The medic’s “medi gun” is like some kind of unnatural distributor of healing aura.It is definitely a fun game, but at times it can be really FRUSTRATING; the scout has the ability to be invulnerable for about 8 seconds, the medic has the ability to make a team-mate invulnerable for about 10 seconds and the backstabbing spies are annoying. Provoking negative emotions like frustration via game-play mechanics and provoking positive emotions via surface appearances is a metaphor of what propaganda views of war compared to what war actually is from the respective perspectives of soldiers.
One thing I like about this game is that, because it provokes both negative and positive emotions, the game is really satisfying (a really interesting theory on emotion that you might like to read here). I have never walked away from this game and felt unsatisfied.
The game’s fiction is set in the time just after World War 2. Team Fortress 2 is a game about prejudice, propaganda, rhetoric and toon-like game-play. The combination of toon aesthetics, gore and frustrating game-play might explain why so many TF2 memes are based around extreme slapstick violence (Painis Cupcake and Christian Brutal Sniper for example).