Blogger’s note: This post contains discussion of a leaked clip from “Modern Warfare 2.” If you don’t want to have any of the plot points given away, I suggest you stop reading here. Ye have been warned.
When a clip from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” showing the player taking part in a massacre of civilians at an airport, leaked onto the Internet this week, the reaction was swift, shrill and entirely predictable. That’s right. It’s time for the ol’, “This video game went too far!” argument again.
In case you haven’t seen or read about it, the video shows a group of Russian terrorists entering an airport and killing dozens, if not hundreds, of civilians. The player, whom publisher Activision revealed is tasked with infiltrating the group, is along for the ride. You can murder as many innocent civilians in cold blood as you want.
One critic said the inclusion of such a scene in the Infinity Ward-developed title “made light” of events such as the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which killed more than 100 people in 2008. You can follow that link to see a comment I left on the end of the article, but I’ll save you some time and post it here:
I’m confused as to how the author thinks this clip “makes light” of terrorist attacks. Did he laugh while watching this or think the clip was intended to be funny? Would a movie depicting the same scene be “making light” of such attacks?
Video games can stimulate discussion and provoke intelligent reaction just like films, books and theater can, as evidenced by the moral panic contained within this poorly thought out essay. Don’t freak out just because a game made for grown-ups tries to tackle grown-up subjects.
In the interest of fairness, the footage contained in the leaked video is shocking, for sure. But because there’s little context provided, it’s tough to weigh in on whether the developer went to far. In a free society, it’s important for everyone to avoid hysteria, name-calling and calls for censorship until the work can be analyzed as a whole. It’s entirely possible Infinity Ward is using a scene like this to get players thinking about the sacrifices our government makes in the name of gathering intelligence and keeping us safe. It’s also entirely possible it’s just a tasteless terrorism simulator. But that’s the great thing about living in a free society. We have the luxury of being able to play it, and discuss its merits. Let’s just wait until the game is on shelves before we do so.
It’s clear from reading some of the criticism of the scene, and graphically violent or sexual scenes from past games, though, that there’s a segment of society that games can be a form of entertainment, a way to engage with society at large. Criticism that “Inglorious Basterds” “made light” of the Holocaust was relatively muted compared to the great “Modern Warfare 2” outcry of 2009, but then again, films have always been given more leeway than games.
For as good of a reasoned, serious, adult take on this issue as you’re likely to get, check out this piece in the British newspaper The Guardian.