A new video game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”, has been causing controversy after a scene that allows players to take part in a terrorist attack on an airport.
Playing as a CIA agent in deep cover, the mission “No Russian” sees you storming an airport as part of a terrorist group. Walking through the level, the group of Russian nationalists and the player open fire on unarmed civilians for eight minutes in a bloody and harrowing massacre.
Critics have attacked the game. Keith Vaz MP told the Daily Mail he was concerned “about how realistic the game itself looks,” and in Parliament raised the issue of the possibility of children playing it.
Much of the criticism is due to the interactive nature of the scene. Although TV shows such as “Spooks” and “24” regularly feature strong violence in ways that could be compared to the scene in question, the fact that the player has the ability to pull the trigger has raised questions as to whether games can psychologically damage people.
However, as an active form of entertainment, the player is offered choice: the level can be completed without shooting anybody in the airport at all, and can be skipped altogether. Before the level begins, a message on screen warns that the upcoming content may disturb or offend, and gives the option for it to be skipped.
Although this uproar is due to one incident, it’s important to consider it within the medium of video games itself. Ideally, games should be able to trigger emotions, like any other form of media. Characters such as Jack Bauer in “24” regularly make choices that leave the viewer feeling uncomfortable and possibly slightly distressed.
You can get enjoyment, exhilaration and fear by playing games, so why should they not have the ability to change your emotions, and make you consider issues in more depth?
That’s not to say “Modern Warfare 2” does this well. When playing it, many people have been shocked at how gut-wrenchingly awful it is, although not primarily at the content, but rather, that Infinity Ward chose to include it at all, and it may have partially been for the sake of controversy.
If the airport scene was truly powerful and artistic, would the game’s publisher, Activision, have felt the need to remove it from copies of the game in Russia?
It’s effectively screaming at you to feel bad, because you’re killing innocent people. You’re thrown in and suddenly there’s your choice, to kill them or to observe. There’s little time to think, weigh up the situation, or even turn on the terrorists you are working undercover for.
What the game’s developers have tried to do shouldn’t be disregarded entirely.
The nature of games offers an extremely powerful storytelling device by causing you to think, allowing you to make choices and ultimately change what happens.
“Modern Warfare 2” might not do this correctly, but it’s commendable that it tried at all.Tweet