Modern Warfare 2 sold approximately 4.2 million copies in the first 24 hours of its  release, despite the No Russian mission. | Photo: Activision

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.

One thought on “Modern Warfare: is this the real deal?”
  1. This reminds me of the comments made in Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe; where since the 80s gaming has been considered a childrens medium by the mainstream, and any violence in video games is seen to be evil and a bad influence on children. I guess, in a similar way to having a pop-up book on sex positions (oh, wait, looking in Waterstones this has already been done…)

    Barely an eyelid is raised nowadays about the fact porn films and magazines can be bought left, right and centre. In fact, nudity can be considered an artform. Yet the second there is any violence in games, certain newspapers (not mentioning any names, *cough* Daily Mail *cough*) talk about them as if they will turn our children into mass murderers (whilst regularly reviewing 18-rated films relatively glowingly).

    I think their biggest problem is choice. As an adult, I can play Grand Theft Auto and *choose* to run people over, or snipe them from a high building. Alternatively, I can choose to be kind. In Modern Warfare 2, I can choose not to kill any of the innocent people in the terrorist attack. Somehow, because one can choose to act violent in a game, it is more evil than reading about evils in a novel. Or even writing your own novel about killing innocent people.

    Most importantly, I have been playing the GTA games since I was 10 years old. And I unashamedly enjoyed running over millions of people, shooting police officers and the like. IN A GAME. I could perfectly well see the distinction between the pixels in front of me and real life. It doesn’t mean to say me and my friend didn’t play cops and robbers now and again. But from what I can recall, kids play those kinds of games anyway.

    I think it all comes down to a quote from Charlie Brooker’s Twitter: “There’s quite a lot of shooting in Modern Warfare 2. I really wouldn’t buy it if you don’t like shooting with guns.”

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