For many nations of the globe July 4th 2011 is an ordinary week day in summer like any other, but for The United States of America and her people, July 4th is a day of huge national significance. Observed as the federal holiday -Independence day - it's a day of patriotic pride and of nationwide celebration, synonymous with independence from the British, the end of the American Civil War and, by later extension, the US constitution of rights. The self-same US Constitution, the first amendment of which addresses the rights to freedom of speech. Interesting then that last week saw the US Supreme Court overruling a 2005 California law that would have banned the sale of violent video games to minors (thus tarring the video game medium with the same legal brush as pornography). The court however, saw this law as an attack on the constitutional right to Freedom of Speech, which in, turn affirms the notion that games are entitled to legal protection. A victory then for American gamers and Freedom of Speech last week and a celebration of American patriotism today. So what better time then to look at the US and her relationship with games? The US has at times, taken some flack internationally for an overly patriotic nature, some seeing the pride Americans take in their heritage as cultural Imperialism a sense of self satisfaction and superiority that seeks to wipe out all other ways of living. And whether you take any stock in this argument or not, the issue is certainly not being helped by the way America is represented in certain video games. Indeed, America's international image certainly receives no favours from cultural envoys such as titty-slapping, ego junkie Duke Nukem. One would imagine President Barack Obama would be less than impressed with Duke's one liners at the G8 summit for instance. And although various shades of Gung-ho, even xenophobic US soldiers and their ilk can be seen throughout video games (consider the slaughter of countless foreign nationals in the Call Of Duty Franchise or the slew of racist chat and emblems you may find in a single Black Ops lobby), there are of course many more realistic, interesting and favourable patriotic examples of America and it's people in gaming. Take for example way the American dream is both celebrated and called into question in the work of studio Rocsktar Games. The Grand Theft Auto series for instance examines our fascination with various American myths, whether it be the cocaine addled underbelly of 80's Miami in Vice City or the rags to riches glamor of the Gansta's paradise in San Andreas. Yes, we revel in the freedom given to cause havoc in these worlds, the ability to fulfil the organised crime fantasy and drive sports cars around a town we have come to own, but are we not also asked by these games to question the nature of the American Dream itself? In Grand Theft Auto IV Nico Bellic arrives from Europe to the land of opportunity, in the hope of finding wealth and to escape a violent past which he is desperate to leave behind. Over the course of the story however, Nico is dragged into a world of crime more violent and pervasive than he would have dreamed of, given the inflated accounts of America (and it's 'Dream') that he has been fed by his emigre cousin Roman. The GTA franchise has always been a contentious one with critics for it's unapologetic depictions of violence and perhaps even too for it's subversiveness. Planes were removed from GTA IV, as the possibilities to fly head first into one of Liberty City's New York inspired sky scrapers were seen as too insensitive and dangerous by the publisher. Its interesting then, that for many GTA is a franchise known world over as being so violent and destructive, when in fact all acts of terrorism take place on fictional American soil. The games are certainly bloody and anarchic but you're only ever running over the local pedestrians in a local taxi you stole before murdering a local prostitute. GTA is neither a swan song to, or a debunking of, the American Dream, it's really sort of both. Red Dead Redemption is another Rockstar game enamoured with the American myth. Set in the Old American West it is a game as much about lawlessness, as it is about trying to build a civilisation. Red Dead allows player choice, whether you should fight those around you or fight for them. Again it is a game that toys with notions of patriotism: what is worth fighting for? Who are the American people really at threat from, the Mexican's or their own government? It is a game which asks many questions but answers few. Finally from Rockstar, their most recent outing L.A. Noire tells more realistic tale of crime in 50's Los Angeles. The game is as much about the American born film noir genre as it is about actual, factual LA. But again the game is really worthy of note in the way Rockstar find new ways to discuss the American Myth. This time around you play Cole Phelps a war veteran turn cop who is both at odds with the city's crime world and with the cops around him, the law he represents and himself. Cole is considered a war hero but the events of the game show us that, in the same way that Hollywood is not the squeaky clean dream factory it may at first seem, things are never as simple as they may first appear. Rockstar make games about America, they make games about violence and about crime but they have never been called unpatriotic by the gamers who enjoy their work. One may ask what a patriotic or unpatriotic open world game would look like respectively. One may ask if gamers really care? After all, we play games for the unique experiences and the way they makes us feel not because of the idealogical messages found therein. Though thoughts about how the rest of the world will view your work and the nations it depicts, are certainly thoughts worth having for developers. Games need heroes and villains like any story but those chosen are often important. Sci fi and fantasy games never have a problem, as they can call on any number of inoffensive space bugs or orcs, but the way realistic games pick their fights has changed. The stock 'America going on the offensive, defending it's shores from foreign invaders!' (Read: Nazis, Russians or The Chinese) plot has had to change as the world gets smaller. Less and less we look to distant lands or times gone by, indeed, more and more America is fighting the enemy within. Homefront is a game where, yes, you play an American fighting against a foreign power but this time it's on home soil. Homefront tells the story of an invasion against the US which succeeded (which is as uncommon in fiction as it sounds) where you are asked to take the country back by force. And although the story may not have changed much, the dynamic certainly seems to have done. Where as once you were invading foreign powers, storming the beaches in Normandy, albeit for freedom and justice, now you find the fight is coming ever closer to home. Again the Call of Duty franchise is a great example of this. In Modern Warfare the US and her allies were attacking on the ultranationalists on the other side of the globe. As the series has progressed however the threat has moved ever further West until in the Modern Warfare 3 stage demo at E3 this year, the invasion was taking place in New York itself. The future of the Call of Duty franchise is often brought into question, as what is there left? Call of Duty Space Warfare? But joking aside one may ask where the next wave of America's adversaries will come from. Homefront's invaders were changed from the Chinese to the North Koreans because the developers thought they might upset relations with the former's government. Which is as much a comment on the changing narrative as it is on the increasing power of games internationally. Though however difficult it may be games will continue to find us enemies to fight, as after all, every story need conflict. It is unsurprising then that the majority of interactive gaming narratives, whether they be shooters or RPGs, look to various form of combative violence to give us the satisfying struggle every adventure needs. Why we fight won't change, as we'll still want that cathartic visceral thrill we get from violence in games, but who we fight may certainly. Taking into account then that the wider world's understanding of a nation is shaped by it's cultural output, games have an increasingly important part to play. Once there was a time where the American Dream was sold to people world over through the glossy, idealised images of Hollywood, touting a land of hope and opportunity, but for whatever reason, those days are gone. We live in a jaded modern world where the games industry continues to grow, becoming more powerful and influential. Power of course comes with an equal abundance of responsibility and so the only question games, especially perhaps American games, have left to ask is: who should we be looking down the barrel at and why?