It's hard to come up with a witty come back for a picture of the Statue of Liberty on fire!
Is it unpatriotic to destroy or deface the Statue of Liberty in popular fiction? Does it bespeak a hidden cynicism or penchant for anarchy on part of the creator? For many, gaming is a sandbox for destruction, a cathartic China shop to be devastated. How many Zelda players love hacking shrubs or signposts just for the sake of doing it? Could not the destruction of landmarks fulfill a similar desire?
The short answer to the first question is no. Destroying American landmarks is not unpatriotic. If anything, dystopian landscapes can reveal a deep love of country; they can serve as warnings against bad policies, fractured national identity, or a reminder of the fragility of democracy. In 1918, when American artist Joseph Pennell painted a maimed and beheaded Statue of Liberty against a backdrop of a burning city, he did so to motivate U.S. citizens to buy war bonds. Today, it remains among the most admired propaganda pieces from World War I.
Yet, there still must be some angst-appeal for some gamers and even for the developers themselves. When discussing Turning Point: The Fall of Liberty, the latest title to employ the Statue in a dystopian vision, producer Dean Martinelli speaks of destroying iconic landmarks with a glee in voice that verges on being scary. In a preview of the title, Mr. Martinelli says "We actually took photos of the White House interior and built the sets to be exact ... That's cool because you get to go into the White House and shoot it up." Is he applauding the accuracy of the game's layout or is it something more sinister? Perhaps it is both. Since the success of the 1986 arcade smash-em-up Rampage, game developers have known that players are drawn to enacting destructive fantasies. Whether these rampages are simply cathartic exercises in power or anarchistic fantasies remains to be determined.
New York Warriors (1990, Amiga):
Death seems scarier when the deceased has her eyes opened in that faraway, unbroken stare. Whenever the Statue is decapitated in fiction, its open-eyed, blank, stoic, expressions helps to make the image resonate with the viewer. Using graphics impressive for its time, the "game over" screen for New York Warriors shows you the fruits of your failure: Liberty's head in silent repose. When you lose, you don't just lose; you are made to feel extremely guilty for letting your country down. This dystopian game proves once again the efficacy of using the colossal statue as a measure of social destruction. Even though your mission is to dismantle a nuclear device planted in The World Trade Center, the game's box art and advertisements focus most intently on the Statue.
Shattered Union (2005, Xbox, PC):
The tilting Statue on the box for Shattered Union tells you all you need to know about the game. American democracy has fallen to tyrannical rule leading to a factious nation and then to all-out civil war. In this hex-based strategy game, the Statue remains intact, but you can bomb it and gain points for its destruction. The box art for the game was eventually changed to show a post-nuclear Washington, D.C., a good decision on part of 2K Games since the capitol city has more to do with the initial story than does New York or San Francisco. If you're one those people that doesn't like George W. Bush and you curse his name whenever you wake up late for work and your car doesn't start, then you should play Shattered Union and look at the aftermath of David Jefferson Adams' presidency.
Turning Point: Fall of Liberty (2008, Multiple):
A what-if World War II story, Turning Point does not obliterate the Statue physically, but the juxtaposition of the red Nazi flag against the copper green inflicts an equally devastating blow by negating her promise of accepting all peoples from all over the world. It was smart of the game's developers to keep the Statue intact. Joseph Goebbles, propaganda minister for Hitler, would have likely done so in order to create an impression of unification and goodwill with the U.S. After all, when Germany marched into France, they didn't necessarily topple the Eiffel Tower and erect a V2 Rocket in its place. They wanted the French to eventually assimilate into Aryan culture. The transition, however, does not run smoothly in the U.S., and tough and tumble New Yorkers like construction worker Dan Carson prove that Americans do not take kindly to uninvited guests.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert (2001, PC):
Whenever an invading force enters foreign territory, symbolic targets are just as important as military ones. The toppling of statues effects the morale of the enemy and can be more effective than sinking a fleet of aircraft carriers. So, it is not surprising to have the Soviets first swarming around the Hudson River to take out the allegorical figure of our freedoms. The ad campaign for this alternate reality strategy game was somewhat thwarted by the events of September 11th, 2001. Since the game was released almost a year before the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, the Pentagon and World Trade Center are still viable targets in gameplay, but EA smartly adjusted the game's packaging to match the national mood.
World in Conflict (2007, PC):
Sweden is famous for its neutrality in war, yet Swedish software developer Massive Entertainment brings us another what-if Cold War scenario. The initial Soviet invasion occurs on the West Coast, but the inevitable raid on New York Harbor comes later in the game. If you lose the mission to protect Liberty Island, you see the Statue obliterated by a Soviet air strike. Most notably, as the Statue topples, an American G.I. can be seen vomiting in the foreground. This moment shows a sophistication and maturity often unseen in gaming. It perfectly captures the spiritual nausea that such a catastrophe would cause. The developers should be commended for getting the psychological impact of Liberty's destruction right.
Deus Ex (2000, PS2, PC):
It is 2050 and the world is ravaged by terrorism and viral outbreak. The Deus Ex series begins at Liberty Island, the home-base for an international military force "formed by executive order after the terrorist strike on the Statue." The headless statue figures prominently in the game and there seems to be no rush to repair it since it serves as a constant reminder of why the world needs a counter-terrorist team. J.C. Denton, a member of this team, must unravel international conspiracies and unveil the sinister plots of several shadow-government factions. The game is highly philosophical and well-researched in modern conspiracy theories.
The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible Wars, bookends the initial images of the headless Liberty nicely by ending the game with the image of a reconstructed statue constructed of light, perhaps taking its cue from the real-life "Towers of Light" memorial that shone in place of the World Trade Center in 2002.