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Call of Duty: ‘Realistic’ Warfare.

Another meaty article from Gamer-Girl Guest contributor, Nina. This time sharing some thoughts on games, the media and how they deal with limits being pushed.

For as long as anyone can remember, the relationship between the video games industry and mainstream media has been riddled with misapprehension. Whenever games are involved in News stories, they’re often antagonistic or misrepresent the medium, usually said ‘articles’ come in conjunction with a Rockstar Games release, when we get the obligatory claims that violent video games make kids violent. But frankly, even our so called ‘Games Enthusiast Press’ now seem to occupy this space on occasion too. The IGNs and Kotaku’s of the world can often be seen dipping their toes into the click-bate world of controversial topics to try and stay ‘cutting-edge’ in the ever changing world of games media. But I digress, as that is a big ol’ topic for another day.

Today, I wanted to focus on the a recent example of a game/media clash that  involves a specific game that is rumored to feature very realistic depictions of war.

That game is, of course, the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019).

A reboot of the original Modern Warfare game, the new COD is set to release on the 25th of October, but Infinity Ward has already treated fans and the media to trailers that show off the game’s new graphic engine and direction. And it’s that last part, the new direction, that has people excited, including me.

Infinity Ward has stated in many interviews and social media posts that they wanted to reboot the Modern Warfare franchise not by taking it further, but by stripping it back and making it more grounded and realistic. Infinity Ward devs have stated that….

“We are making a game that is heavily inspired by the world that we live in today and the situations that we see in the world today,” and “We are inspired heavily by some of the events in Iraq, and in Syria, and with the Arab spring and even with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. There are a lot of similar themes about colonialism and about superpowers exerting their influence in regions through proxy allies and about militias that rise up and terrorist groups.”

In short, this new COD will be taking a different turn from its predecessors and rather than making a game about sci-fi super soldiers, Infinity Ward are making a game about the real-life horrors and complexities of war. Several of the lucky COD Influencers, Youtubers and Journalists who were given access to the game’s gameplay tease at E3 2019, have hinted at the brutal realism of this game’s depictions of war. Many of these people have said the missions they were shown make Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” mission look like child’s play, and that the new game looks like ‘“No Russian: The Game.”

For context, “No Russian” is the name of COD: MW 2’s controversial mission where the player, playing as a CIA operative undercover in a terrorist group, guns down an entire airport of civilians as part of one of the terrorists plots. So to claim that this new COD looks like ‘No Russian: The Game’ is quite the claim indeed, and it’s a claim that should not be taken lightly by anyone, regardless of whether you support the game or not.

Despite this, many including myself, are still excited about this new direction for Call of Duty.  I’ve never been interested in any of the more recent CODs as their mindless shooting and lack of a good single player campaign didn’t manage to hold my attention. But, this new, gritty and grounded reboot of the OG Modern Warfare that I enjoyed so much has me very excited. I’m curious  how Infinity Ward will handle brutal depictions of 21st century war. After so many years of mindless, sci-fi shooters that feature crazy bombastic combat, I feel this is the grounded direction the COD franchise needed to go.

Based on much of the online chatter, it seems my fellow core gaming community shares this sentiment, but some out there are not as sold on the idea. There are several journalists and commentators who have deemed the new COD as ‘frightening’ and ‘inappropriate’, and hold the view that the direction that the new MW is taking, should not be taken at all. Some are even suggesting that this game shouldn’t be made at all or should have missions censored.  Dean Takahashi for VentureBeat.com ,  asks;’ We can make this kind of game, but should we?’ and another article published by the Guardian says, If the rules really have changed for Call of Duty, then presenting “both sides” of a conflict and then claiming it’s just a story won’t wash. When politicians see a scene of civilian-attired people being gunned down in a London house, they’ll be asking a lot of questions. Will Activision or Infinity Ward have the right answers, or indeed any answers at all?’ 

All of this pressure from the media reached a head when there were calls for the game to censor missions and dialogue and rumors started to float around that Infinity Ward had given into these controversies following E3. However, narrative director Taylour Kurosaki hit back at these rumors in a series of tweets saying that Infinity Ward would ‘never’ censor their game.

All of this controversy raises one big question for many; are these concerns genuine or just another reason to fuel ‘click-bate’ about games? Personally, I agree with the latter…to a certain extent. Initially I was very much against these concerns and claims, but after reading some of these articles, I’ve started to see and appreciate the other side of the argument. Gamer or not, this new COD is going to be an uncomfortable, gritty, brutal and real take on war depictions in games, so I can understand why some are disturbed by what’s been shown.

Honestly, if Infinity Ward stay true to their word and do in fact deliver a brutally real campaign, I’m probably going to be uncomfortable, confronted or even disturbed playing it too regardless of my support for the game. However, I disagree very strongly with claims that these realistic depictions are inappropriate or should be censored, and I feel this way for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, this isn’t the first time Infinity Ward has done something controversial like this. Infinity Ward’s narrative director, Taylour Kurasaki has made it clear again and again that the studio is aware of the sensitivity of the subject and in many interviews and tweets have reinforced that fact:

“We do our research because we want to get this right. We realize how important it is to treat this subject with reverence and respect. Some of our consultants say, ‘we had imperfect intel. We were fighting in an area that was blurry, that wasn’t black or white. And yet we are expected to be perfect. That is the burden that we carry. And we know we have to be perfect.’” Kurasaki claims that this game is not “pro war” rather it will be “a critique of war.”

In other words, this game’s purpose, according to the developer,  is not to glorify war for entertainment; it’s purpose is to bring to light the horrific truths of modern warfare that are so often glossed over by entertainment and the media. The irony of such a purpose being bestowed on a Call of Duty game is not lost by anyone, but I find it kind of poetic that a franchise known for the mindless glorification of war will be producing a game that will be depicting it in a grounded, realistic and thought-provoking way.

Secondly, creative properties such as a video game are a form of art. They should not be influenced or censored due to public opinion or politics. Creative properties, be they movies, TV or video games, are created to carry whatever messages and forms that their creators, their artists, wish for them and it is then up to the individual consumer to make up their mind on whether or not they agree, like or support these messages or forms. It is not up to the public or the media to decide what is appropriate to be depicted or not in art forms like games because it defeats the very purpose of this form of art.

If the developers of Call of Duty want to create a piece of work that depicts war in a realistic way so they present a message about war’s realities, then they should be allowed to do so. It’s their right as creatives and artists to do so without having the pressures and expectations of the media and the public bearing down on them. If individuals pick up this game and disagree with its messages and depictions, then so be it, but just because you disagree with something doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made at all, especially when it comes to art forms and creative properties.

But the biggest reason I’m against these calls for censorship and backlash is that I feel trying to censor the disturbing and uncomfortable moments in this game is like trying to censor the disturbing and uncomfortable moments in real life. Now I know how airy-fairy this all sounds but bear with me. Everyone knows, one way or another, that despite what HollyWood, TV and games show us, war is a terrible terrible thing. It is the epitome of everything wrong with humanity and proves the immense suffering that we are capable of inflicting on one another over the smallest, most childish things. But despite that the entertainment industry (video games included) crudely glorify it to create action shows and mindless shooters. Some shows and movies like Black Hawk Down, Band of Brothers and American Sniper break away from this glorification to remind people of the realities of war.

This new Call of Duty is an opportunity to not only show people the realities of war, but for them to experience it, to allow gamers to even understand it in a way. Because in a video game, you aren’t a mere observer. You can’t just switch off or not pay attention because you are an active part of that story. Games aren’t just mindless stories you watch, they are experiences that you take part in. This means that Infinity Ward can take these messages about war, with all its real-life horrors, and present it to people in a way that no other form of media can.

This brings me back to my original idea about censoring real life. The team at Infinity Ward have said that they will be drawing from real life events and experiences when making their campaign; real wars, real terror attacks, real people. Really, this new COD won’t be a brutal war game at all, rather it’ll be a simulation of real life. So censoring it to hide its depictions of war is basically trying to censor what is going right now in the real world, which is, in my opinion at least, totally ridiculous. This stuff is real; the civilians caught in the crossfire, the families ripped apart, the atrocities that both sides commit in the fog of war, all of it, and trying to hide these realities from people for the sake of political correctness is just insane.

The real world sucks at times, and war is the absolute worst of it, but why should we try to hide from it when we have an opportunity to understand and learn from it? Censoring the touchy, disturbing content of a video game inspired by real life isn’t going to help anyone because it undermines the whole reason this game was made in the first place. The new COD campaign is supposed to make you uncomfortable and it’s supposed to disturb you, because it’s devs want you to see that these awful things are in the real world happening to real people right now.

Now, it is very important to remember that this game hasn’t even been released yet, so all of this ethereal discussion thus far is based on trailers, articles and commentaries that I’ve researched. So outside the development team….who really knows! Maybe this game will butcher any chance to be appreciated as confronting art, and become yet another mindless shooter to add to the COD catalogue. All I can hope is Infinity War will stay true to their ideas and hopefully produce a game that carries a powerful critique of war, as well as immersive FPS experience.

But it can’t be denied that Infinity Ward and more importantly Activision, is taking a bit of a gamble, and for that, I congratulate them.