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 For those who play computer games the furore over the latest Call of Duty title is an all too predictable and depressingly familiar controversy. At least once every year a politician – normally one who has never picked up an Xbox controller in their life – howls with outrage and righteous indignation at the latest software release to have upset the moral brigade. This year it is the turn of Call of Duty – Modern Warfare 2 to get a public pummelling from Keith Vaz.
 
The game has only been available to the public since 12.01 this morning but that didn’t stop Mr Vaz earlier this week storming about how “absolutely shocked” he was by the violence in the game. That tens of equally violent games have been released this year without a peep from Mr Vaz was immaterial. (Equally I didn’t hear Mr Vaz getting worked up about Quentin Tarantino’s latest blood soaked creation Inglorious Basterds – but then banging on about violence in films is so last decade). 
 
Modern Warfare 2 is the most anticipated release of the year, with 2.8million pre-orders in the US alone and the UK’s first West End premier for a computer game. It is almost certainly going to outperform any cinema release over the next month in sales. If you want to grab the headlines, this is release to have a pop at. 
 
So what is everyone getting so upset about? During the third level of the game you play an undercover CIA agent who has infiltrated a group of fictional Russian ultra-nationalist terrorists. They take over an airport in Moscow and begin gunning down civilians. As an undercover agent you can either join their massacre or wait it out. Either way, later in the game, you will have to break your cover and fight the bad guys. Just like in Hollywood films (and unlike real life), games where the bad guys win are almost unheard of. 
 
The Call of Duty franchise has always been about war so it is unavoidably violent because war is violent. In previous incarnations, gamers have stormed the beaches of Normandy, battled on the black sands of Iwo Jima, led helicopter assaults on anonymous Middle Eastern cities and desperately fought off the German Sixth Army in the hellish surroundings of Stalingrad. 
 
War is war and men (it usually tends to me men) simply love playing war games on their computers as much as they did with their friends in school or with their mates on a paintball field. 
 
But until now one mainstay of war has been noticeably missing from the Call of Duty franchise and that is civilians. Civilian casualties are almost always higher than military and yet computer game developers have tended to shy away from including them, in the same way our politicians are always keen to play down the sad fact that civilians die in their wars (we still don’t “do” civilian body counts in Iraq or Afghanistan, remember).
 
This game also brings in the exciting, terrifying and merciless element of 21st century terrorism – that in this day and age political groups will mercilessly kill civilians for their own political ends. Critics might argue that gunning down civilians in an airport is needlessly wanton. I would argue the developers have contemporised their creation to make it reflect the nature of so-called modern day asymmetric warfare. Once you’ve watched the nationalists do their work, believe me, you’ll be pretty much aching to bring them down in later levels. 
 
But the most important element of this game is that you, the player, can chose whether you want to take part in the massacre. Recognising that the level would be controversial the game’s developers allow squeamish or easily offended players to opt out of playing it. The BBFC has also put an 18 rating on the game so technically kids shouldn’t get their hand on a copy although, as we all know, they inevitably will. But that’s not the fault of the gaming industry. That is the Government’s remit. 
 
Critics of the gaming industry often have an incredibly uniformed opinion of just how creative and complex the industry is. They tend to see it as run by a bunch of spotty software developers revelling in the creation of more and more violent games. But if anything games are getting much more morally complex, forcing players to think about their actions and their consequences – the Fable series is probably the most developed of this genre. 
 
If anything the Call of Duty franchise is also increasingly forcing players to look at the role of a soldier as something that is deeply morally ambiguous. 
 
The last Call of Duty release, World at War, was based in the Second World War and part of it followed a Russian soldier as he desperately tried to stave off the Nazi invasion of Russia and the siege of Stalingrad. 
 
A few levels later the tide has turned and it is you, the Russian soldier, who marches triumphantly towards Germany with Berlin in your sites. As the levels progress the Russian units become increasingly bloodthirsty and morally corrupt. 
 
Throughout one level you see Russian conscripts act with increasing brutality and at one point you are ordered by your commanding officer to gun down some German soldiers that have been taken prisoner. 
 
Once again, as a player, it is your choice as to whether you take that decision (if you refuse, your colleagues will gun them down anyway and then tell you that you are a coward for not doing so). When I played these levels I found those moments very powerful. The computer game was reminding me of historical fact - that the Red Army' (our allies) were often shockingly brutal as they marched into Germany and that there often little that is victorious in victory. 

Comments

dogsolitude_v2 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 02:42 pm (UTC)
It is however still a contentious game for those who play on the PC.

The publishers decided to ditch the ability for PC players to use dedicated servers. This may sound like geeky gobbledygook, but in practice this means that those of us who play games on our PCs have basically been crapped on somewhat:

http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=225744

Worse still, there is 'dumbing down' in video games too... As more games are simultaneously developed on consoles and PCs, the controls are simplified, the gameplay mechanics are watered down etc. etc.
thelzdking wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 03:07 pm (UTC)
Indeed. Do you know if it's true that you can't lean on the PC version of MW2?
dogsolitude_v2 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 03:24 pm (UTC)
I decided to boycott the game on the basis of the servers issue, so I don't know... Not being able to lean around walls will pretty much kill the game, hopefully :/
dogsolitude_v2 wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 03:27 pm (UTC)
Damn this lack of 'Edit' button on these LJ posts... :)

You may also be interested to know that thanks to the server issue, there was a concerted boycott by PC gamers, which also involved an Amazon campaign where hundreds of PC Gamers awarded the game one star.

Amazon deleted these reviews.
Russia WW2
faridg wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 03:38 pm (UTC)
I agree with the whole article apart from the last silly bit about WW2 and the brutality of Russian (Soviet actually) soldiers.

The Nazis are remembered for their concentration camps and yet the horrors that they committed on the eastern front are overlooked. It has been established recently, that Hitler's plan for the whole of Eastern Europe was to make it a big forced work camp for the Aryan nation. With that in mind they were all too happy to massacre whole towns and villages in their paths. It was in fact this, German brutality that has cost them the victory on the eastern front!! many in UUSR at the time hated Stalin and were keen to return to capitalism so to speak but the horror of German actions compelled them to rally behind Stalin.

So as the Red army pillaged, raped and killed on it's path to Berlin one must always remember that they were doing so out vengeance for something far more horrible.
Re: Russia WW2
ashdcuk wrote:
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 at 10:33 pm (UTC)
But that's exactly why the last bit is not silly - one atrocity doesn't justify another. And the game doesn't take sides either - it doesn't play down Nazi crimes but then it doesn't shy away from presenting the ugly side of the war from all sides.
Re: Russia WW2
faridg wrote:
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 at 08:53 am (UTC)
Yes it doesnt !!! but to equate sviet soldiers to Nazis without giving the apropriate background (like i did) is at best inaccurate and at worst racist. I wonder what British adn American actions would have been should they have experienced similar treatment as is Soviet people...
Re: Russia WW2
faridg wrote:
Wednesday, 11 November 2009 at 08:54 am (UTC)
BTW I played the level last noght and it's nothing really .. the ai characters dont realy let you shoot anyone :)) you just look on..
ilovefootbal wrote:
Thursday, 12 November 2009 at 10:33 pm (UTC)
Выхода этой игры я ждал с нетерпением)))
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