Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Controversy of Modern Warfare 2

Like a whole lot of people in America and around the world I have spent the last couple of days playing through “Modern Warfare: 2”. It’s a game that I have been eager to play but wasn’t counting down the days for – that’s reserved for Left 4 Dead 2 (ZOMG 6 MORE DAYS!!1!). After all, if this sequel to “Call of Duty 4” was anything like its predecessor it was bound to be an epic and exciting ride.

And it has been so far.

I’ve probably got about an hour left of the campaign but this post isn’t a review, it’s about the controversy.

As someone who didn’t do any research on the game beforehand (I’d actually only seen one trailer) I had no idea of any of its content, including what’s being referred to as “the airport” mission or “No Russian” as it’s called in the game. Before you being the single-player campaign you’re given a warning that states that certain missions in the game may be offensive or unsettling to some players, would you like to be given the option to skip it? Seeing as how the game is already rated “mature” I figured it was probably a scene of excessive gore and that it would be gross but whatever, it’s a game. I can handle it.

I’m someone who (for better or worse) generally considers herself to be hardened when it comes to depictions of simulated violence and unless it’s sexual in nature seeing it in a movie or video game really doesn’t bother me. Plus, I’m playing a war game. I know what I signed up for.

About an hour into the game you take control of an American CIA agent who infiltrates a Russian terrorist group. You then accompany the terrorists to an airport which then leads to this:

The unrelenting slaughter of hundreds of innocent people. When it all started happening I just stared at my screen in sheer, honest shock. Instead of firing on the people I instead shot at the terrorists only to be called a “traitor” and have to start the mission over again. I have seen a lot of things in video games but this was honestly the first time I felt physically sick as a result of something I was not only seeing, but being forced to take part in.

Now, before you say, “you’re not forced! You have the opinion to skip the mission!” let me make a point. When I clicked the option saying I would not be offended I was basing this on content that I had not yet seen. It’s like the moment in “Pulp Fiction” where Vince asks Mia not to be offended by what he’s about to tell her and she says she can’t because her natural reaction may be to get offended and then by no fault of her own she would have broken her promise. The same applies here.

The only saving grace to this sequence – if there is one – is that the terrorists don’t antagonize or otherwise berate you if you don’t fire a shot inside the airport so I was able to get through this mission without actually killing any civilians. However, the game does force you to shoot your way through dozens of police officers on your way out. I couldn’t get around that and I was not a happy camper.

So my big question is this: if the disclaimer telling you that you are able to skip this mission includes the fact that you will not be missing out on story complication or achievements then why – why – is this mission even in this game? Could Infinity Ward not come up with a better way of portraying these guys as evil then to have you participate in their horrific crimes? Let’s not forget, you’re playing as a good guy undercover. A good guy who, at the very least, stands by while all of this is going on.

I am truly baffled and, yes, offended.

I think the developers of this game included this sequence for nothing more than publicity. They knew how big this game was going to be and that because of lazy, unconcerned parents and despite game retailers best efforts, children are going to get their hands on this and I guarantee you the vast majority, if not all of the people who purchased this game, are going to play this mission. It’s the “don’t push this red button” effect.

This is going to do nothing more than anger people who are already livid at the prevalence of violence in video games and, for once, I’m in total agreement with them.


  1. Cary, you totally summed it up: "don't push this red button."

    And I totally woulda pushed that thing. That's so brutal. And yeah, for the publicity. Will this have any effect [affect?] on the review for the game? [I only ask because I'm hot-headed and understand immediate turn-off button reactions]

  2. I want to play the devil's advocate for a second.

    First, the warning in the beginning is actually asking you whether or not you want the option to skip later. Which is weird, and it asks you twice. I'm not sure how much warning we need to be satisfied that we've been warned. Just a thought.

    Secondly, when you confirm that you do not want to skip anything, the game reminds you that you can skip a scene at any time. The moment you realize what the terrorists are going to do, and the moment you feel uncomfortable, you can still pass that moment up.

    I also think the intention of the scene was not to establish how evil the terrorists were, but to emphasize to what lengths the protagonist must go to stop the head honcho. The voice over says something like "you will lose a part of yourself" before the mission. To that end, it's effective. The disgust you feel is the disgust the lead character feels, but he is forced to be in this situation.

    Again, I'm just playing the devil's advocate. I found the scene revolting, but I'm still undecided on its inclusion. I always get the feeling a few people at Infinity Ward are smart about what they do, while others aren't so much. Just a thought.

  3. Kendall,

    Probably not and I honestly don't think it should. I finished the game last night and can now say it's absolutely amazing. Truly, amazing - a fantastic, fantastic game. I'll just be skipping that scene when I play it again.

  4. Jorge,

    A friend of mine brought up the issue of "this is what the good guys have to do sometimes" and, while I do understand it, I just can't believe that. Perhaps that's my ignorance when it comes to military matters but I can't can't believe something like this would be allowed to happen. That's what bothers me above all else - that a "good guy" participates in this.

    Then again, it's a video game so of course it's outlandish.

    I appreciate you taking Devil's Advocate here. Maybe in a few more days I'll be able to think about it in a different light.

  5. @ Cary

    That's exactly my concern too. There is an implicit assumption that good people must do incredibly evil things for an over-all good. I'm not entirely sure I like that message, but at least its consistent within the rest of the game's narrative.

  6. I'd love to hear your thoughts when Army of Two: The Fortieth Day comes out in January ;)Believe me, you'll be interested.

  7. Anoukshuk - I hate to admit it, but I haven't even heard of that game. I'll keep an eye out for it though.

    ~ Cary

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  9. *deleted bad grammar*

    But yeah, Ao2 will surely raise some controversy of its own. I'd be interested to see if some good debates will come from it...

  10. yea i think it is really quite crazy they have you playing a terrorist and then kill a bunch of people that did nothing i read that cod mw3 will have some things like that too. where you are NOT a terrorist but you must kill your own people. like one of the users said above "this is what good guys have to do sometimes"