Independence Day is upon us, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the blisteringly hot day we became a nation than by staying indoors to play video games.
It was surprisingly difficult to come up with a list of games rooted in the positive and sometimes negative aspects of what makes the U.S. tick that didn’t focus on war — especially World War II. American games about America tend to focus on killing something foreign — whether it’s people or aliens. That’s probably a bad reflection on us as a society, but that’s another column.
I was able to find a few games rooted in our history, or collective ideals, that produce a sense of belonging to this country in some way. Here are some titles to put a patriotic pep in your step.
I’ve made no secret about “BioShock Infinite” being a masterpiece in game design in my 18 months as a columnist, and I am going to slide it onto this list as well.
The game is a perfect representation of the ugly side of American pride.
The alternate historical universe began when a wealthy “patriot” secured permission from the government to build a mobile city — complete with an army of machines and red-blooded Americans to defend it — as a sign of American exceptionalism for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.
Columbia, this Utopian city in the clouds, goes rogue. It begins fighting its own wars and kidnapping people.
The player character is sent to sort this out. Columbia’s beautiful facade may be covered with fabulous paintings of the founding fathers, but delving deeper reveals an underbelly of hate and extreme racism present in 1910s America. Defeating this type of evil is a fantastic way to celebrate Independence Day.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Although “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” is nowhere near as good as its predecessor, “X-COM: Enemy Unknown,” it is worth mentioning here.
I really enjoyed “The Bureau.” Like all XCOM games, it is about repelling alien attack. But it also has this sort of fun 1950s McCarthyism attached to it. Clearly, the only thing worse than marauding aliens are the communists.
There’s just something fun and American about fighting aliens while dressed like the cast of “Mad Men.” I saved the world before and after a three martini lunch. Doesn’t get more patriotic than that.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Here’s a prime example of a WWII depiction of violent America.
However, I think “Wolfenstein: The New Order” works because it adds a wrinkle to the typical equation. The Nazis won the war, and they have since spread their dominion across all of Earth and onto the Moon. You must now lead the resistance and destroy their evil empire for the good of the universe — not just the U.S.
The most recent title is a pretty good representation of the Wolfenstein universe. It will give you the sort of patriotic rush of fighting in one of the most important conflicts in world history without the predictability of fighting battles with well-known endings, such D-Day.
The Oregon Trail
What is more American than dying a horrible death and dooming your family to the same while seeking your fortune out west?
That’s right, nothing. “The Oregon Trail” may be more than 40 years old, but it still clocks a major part of 19th Century America pretty well. It is now completely free, and modern technology has advanced far enough to play it on most calculators, let alone a PC.
If you’re an old-school purist, then go west this Independence Day.
The entire franchise just oozes macho American action.
I have often thought of it as the video game equivalent of the Rocky franchise. The first few titles reflect a Reagan-era shoot first, shoot second then shoot again approach to problem solving that may seem a little coarse to some today, but anyone alive at the time still has an endearing soft spot for it.
The most recent major release, 2011’s “Duke Nukem Forever,” even has a late-Rocky appeal. Yes, he’s retired. Yes, he isn’t quite what he used to be. But he can still spout one-liners while killing aliens better than anyone.
Assassin’s Creed III
The last Assassin’s Creed title that meant anything to me was “Assassin’s Creed III.”
It centers around a man, Connor, fighting several strange wars during the American Revolution. On the one hand, he is working to expel the British from the 13 colonies. However, Connor is actually a Native American named Ratonhnhaké:ton, and he must fight a separate struggle to ensure George Washington doesn’t eradicate his tribe.
It gets quite convoluted from there. As with all Assassin’s Creed games, there’s magic and time travel that mucks everything up. But it is worth taking a look at, especially if you want a game that depicts the forging of the U.S. with some degree of accuracy.