Call of Duty Modern Warfare is generating plenty of hype. And a lot of that hype is based around the fact the developers are making an attempt to return to a more realistic take on warfare, but concerns are surfacing over how they intend to tell this story.
One thing that the game might well have is plenty of violence. The Call of Duty franchise has always been a pretty overt commentary on warfare and the darkness it brings out in people. The infamous “No Russian” mission highlights this in a bloody mission depicting a terrorist attack. The mission itself could even be seen as a commentary on the lengths nations will go to protect their interests, given the wider context of the rest of that game’s story.
But according to YouTuber Drift0r, the new “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare makes MW2’s No Russian look like a Pixar Film.” There are of course reasons to doubt this conclusion though. Pushing the amount of violence inferred by such a statement could well push the game into an Adults-only or AO rating. This is something of a no-no for AAA games, as some major retailers outright refuse to stock games with this classification. And parents would have quite an uproar to manifest if their underage kids, which we all know get to play these Mature games anyway, got their hands on the title.
I don’t really agree with his perception of the issue for a variety of reasons, mostly relating to the way modern media is consumed. But also because there’s no real reason to turn the violence dial to 11. It’s possible Infinity Ward can depict these graphic scenarios without actually showing them on-screen, thus possibly avoiding the AO rating.
I will say that the perception of war for the layman is often colored by media consumption. There’s an intense and ever-changing dance of politics, ethic and racial tensions, and struggles for power that permeates modern warfare from all sides. And if Infinity Ward want to make a game that offers insights into that world, they probably could, but I worry that audience perception will often miss the mark. Some people may appreciate a more complex narrative, but the idea that a realistic FPS needs to depict extreme violence to feel “real” is on pretty shaky ground from both a business and storytelling perspective.
The fact that Drift0r encourages the viewer to watch violent warfare videos on LiveLeak, a site that peddles shock value and reactionary politics as it’s core driver, says a fair bit about how perceptions have been molded by media consumption. I’m not trying to knock the guy personally, but if your only real experience of warfare is consuming violence through hearsay and second-hand video content while ignoring deeper context, it’s probably not the best thing to act as an authoritative source on the subject for the sake of video game storytelling. It does bring to mind some deeper points that I want to discuss though.
The point about civilian casualties being suppressed in popular media is interesting, and could actually be used a commentary on how nationalistic propaganda has a major influence on warfare and the politics surrounding it, especially in the US. But even if the devs decide to go that route, they don’t need to show extreme violence in an overt manner to get the message across. Games are an incredibly flexible medium and the things that can be done within these spaces far surpass the capabilities of a typical war film or TV show. We can literally do anything with games, why must it be extreme violence.
But let’s go back to the consumption of violent media and how it has affected modern video game audiences.
One alarming manifestation can be seen in this particular video and the reaction to the claims of violence in Call of Duty Modern Warfare. We see that there are comments all over this video with hundreds of upvotes celebrating the violence, or even the mere idea of extreme violence. And the fact that they’re doing this song and dance to “make the media angry” offers some insight into the incredibly adversarial nature of modern consumerism. People who survive on outrage and controversy on social media are being slowly morphed into violence-obsessed caricatures. Ultimately, the trend of violence in media is itself often tapped into for political propaganda and other insidious purposes, and that is properly dangerous.
I have to wonder if games should follow down that path at all. After all, this same propaganda tool has been used to scarily good effect by the far-right politically to project an image of their opposition as terrorists, paradoxical weaklings, and a whole manner of insulting insinuations. Is that the audience AAA games want? Will the shock value be worth having the context lost in translation? It’s almost a given that people will take violent games and run with them as a symbol of fighting back against censorship or whatever imagined enemy a certain subset of gamers has been conditioned to hate. Does this game need to take the risk of becoming that misinformed symbolism?
We all know the horrors of war, do we really need video games to tell us that in such overt ways as gunning down children? It seems highly unlikely that Infinity Ward and Activision would ever risk pushing the envelope too hard. Will the game be violent? absolutely, but it has to serve a purpose, it has to feel earned. Putting in shock and subversion for their own sake is a mistake, one that popular TV shows need to stop making. And I really can’t see the games industry making this mistake, unless of course those in charge of this huge AAA release are a lot dumber than I’m giving them credit for.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will launch on October 25th for PC, PS4, and Xbox One.