This article was originally posted on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 in Culture Bomb ~

With the recent release of the final instalment of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy, the promotional blitz seems to have taken over most of the British countryside. Game franchises don’t come much bigger than the blockbuster series and with the amount of adverts dotting television, websites and billboards you’d be forgiven for thinking the military shooter makes more money than Mario.

The size the series has grown to is a tribute to how slick, engrossing and well-made the games are, especially due to the negative publicity thrown at it by some corners of the press.

However many of these accusations are grossly inaccurate and it’s time to set the record straight.

One thing Modern Warfare gets tarred with is its overt militarism and violence. Apparently a game which realistically depicts combat (particularly on Veteran setting) is something we shouldn’t have access to as it will mentally scar us or something. I read in a Sunday-morning pull-out that a parent was shocked at what their child was seeing when they walked in on them playing the game.

I’m not sure what the child was doing with any of these mature rated games in the first place quite frankly, but perhaps that’s a topic best discussed by social services. As for the accusations of violence being realistically portrayed, surely this is a good thing? Games like Grand Theft Auto have a decidedly cartoonish approach to violence and as such players can take great delight in running down swathes of pedestrians and murdering in cold blood. Heads pop off as victims run around like decapitated chickens in a fountain of blood as you chuckle and casually steal their money.

The violence in Modern Warfare, contrastingly, has weight. It looks like it hurts and it looks real.

If the press are to point out the realism of Modern Warfare surely it should be in praise. Here is a game that depicts violence as a grim task to be carried out in hopes of achieving a greater goal, not a coconut shy with guns.

The single most controversial sequence in the entire franchise takes place in Modern Warfare 2 in a section called No Russian.

The mission sees you, as an undercover CIA operative, accompany Russian terrorists lead by the villain Makarov into an airport with the instruction ‘follow Makarov’s lead’. Makarov and his men then proceed to mow down civilians and security personnel. Panicking people scream as they are gunned down, leaving trails of blood, begging for mercy and trying to help others, only to be executed.

Naturally, this drew massive amounts of controversy from the press, was discussed in the House of Commons and, unfathomably, by religious leaders here in the UK. Alex Goldberg, Chief Executive for the London Jewish Forum, stated it forces the player into the role of the terrorist to kill innocent people.

What he failed to realise is, it doesn’t. The mission can be accomplished without firing a single shot.

You don’t even have to return the security force’s fire; you can simply hide. This is the only level of the game that does not count scores so it’s not like you’re paying a penalty for not murdering people.

What they also fail to mention is that before the level appears the player is shown a ‘disturbing content notice’ and told they will be able to skip the mission before it begins, or at any time during it. It is also made clear that there will be no penalties if the player decides to do so.

Why would the press fail to mention that? Well, because that wouldn’t make the game appear so morally bankrupt would it? It’s a valuable element of the story telling and is no more horrific than scenes depicted in films and television – games should held in the same regard. If critics are condemning an adult experience for not pandering to children, then they’re foolishly misunderstanding the point of age certificate.

It has also been claimed that the Modern Warfare series has a decidedly militant, pro-America edge. Admittedly the first game could be construed to be so, but this is a story that unfolds over the course of three games. It’s also not taking into account that the two main characters, Price and MacTavish, are British soldiers.

This is the kind of lazy journalism that gives these games a bad name as US Army propaganda. If those who accuse the series of being so had actually played to the end of part 2 they’d see it was quite the opposite of mindless, nationalist carnage.

One can’t help but think though that they’d accused the game of being ‘unpatriotic’ however, if they’d reached the point where it’s revealed the true villain is your American colonel, Shepherd, who is engineering a war for war’s sake with the terrorist leader; maybe they would think different.

And they’d no doubt be outraged as the finale approached and the player realises that their increasingly drastic and personal missions have now put you on the most wanted list and on the path to a suicide mission.

This only dawned on me as the final act of revenge against Shepherd was about to take place when the player’s superior, Price, seemingly zones out and delivers the monologue:

“The healthy human mind doesn’t wake up in the morning knowing this will be its last day on earth. But I think that’s a luxury, not a curse; to know you’re close to the end is a kind of freedom. Good time to take inventory. Outgunned, outnumbered, out of our minds on a suicide mission. But the sand and rocks here stained with thousands of years of warfare… they will remember us for this. Because out of all our vast array of nightmares this is the one we choose for ourselves. We go forward like a breath exhaled from the earth with vigour in our hearts and one goal in our sight. We will kill him.”

‘That sounds just like a terrorist speech’ I thought to myself a second before I realised that was the point being made. I had been lead into violence by a man I trusted implicitly because I had been hurt and abused by a great power. I was going to hurt them back even if it meant dying in the process. I looked back at the actions I had taken over the last few missions and realised they were those of a terrorist and I wasn’t even aware until the final deadly attack when it was too late to back out.

And for a mindless, violent, jingoistic game, that’s a rather intelligent, meaningful, even-handed message to convey.

 By RJ Bayley

Am I giving the Modern Warfare series too much credit? Let me know in the comments below!
You can follow RJ Bayley on Twitter: @RJBayley
and for more articles follow Goats In The Machine on Twitter: @GoatsInMachine
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