This opinion piece isn’t exactly revelatory, or particularly original, but the subject is something that manages to annoy me and normally I’m as cool as a frozen cucumber when it comes to gaming stories, I generally pride myself on having a relatively developed sense of perspective.
The problem as I see it is that Activision or Infinity Ward or whoever you want to blame, actively attempt to court controversy with the Modern Warfare series, purely for marketing reasons. This debate flared up when the No Russian level was detailed in 2009 for Modern Warfare 2. There is an argument that says, being interactive and being able to see through someone else’s eyes, gives videogames the opportunity to make us feel what it would be like in a situation, to shock us and help us to empathise with a certain situation and that is the technique employed in the Call of Duty. That, quite frankly is a load of balls, Call of Duty is not about subtlety or emotion, the only feeling you get whilst playing the game is a rise in testosterone (this is equally applicable to the multi-player, hence the ‘interactions’ of the community). It contains sensationalist elements in the fiction, for the sake of attracting attention to itself. At best that’s populist, at worst it’s distasteful and disrespectful, in the way it can turn echoes of real life catastrophes into entertainment.
To be brutally honest, I can live with that. People are naturally curious and interested in the turbulent events that happen around the world, sure taking part in them through interactive fiction is a slightly morbid past-time, but no more than the way our eyes glue to the scene of a car crash as we drive past. In essence it’s part of human nature to be curious about death and violence, because for most of us thankfully it’s pretty disconnected from our day-to-day lives.
What does annoy me is that I believe there are certain elements of the sensationalism specifically designed to attract the attention of the conservative tabloid press. After the press reaction to No Russian, the developers were obviously aware of the impact that level had in raising awareness for the game and garnering attention, whether positive or negative. At that juncture they have two decisions, they can in future try and tell a story that is a little more sensitively judged so that it might avoid offending people, while remaining ‘edgy’ enough to satisfy fans. Or, they can continue in a similar vein, attempting to use shock tactics to raise the profile of the game. In choosing to set a level in the London Underground for Modern Warfare 3 – the site of a major terrorist attack, in which 52 people were killed – they have obviously chosen the latter route.
Predictably the Daily Mail has already published an article attacking the developers for the inclusion of this sequence in Modern Warfare 3. At the risk of sounding like a paranoia addled conspiracy theorist, I have to say this to me looks like a mutually beneficial partnership masquerading as an adversarial relationship. The developers benefit from tabloid exposure, raising the profile of their game at the time when they are starting to promote it heavily. Which other games get heavy press exposure from major non-specialist press outlets at this point in their development? (The answer is none). The benefit for the Daily Mail is that they get to publish a story that attracts people who are interested in the Call of Duty series, an audience significantly younger than their normal reader-base. They will no doubt also attract more people to their website, which is fast becoming one of the most viewed websites in the world and stimulate debate in their comments sections, while reinforcing their position as a ‘moral guardian’.
You might argue that this cynical exercise (if you agree with my analysis at least), execrable as it is, harms no-one. But as has been pointed out before, the Daily Mail likes to contact victims and support groups, to use their comments to back-up their moral outrage and lend emotion to their words. Hence you have victims of horrendous acts being asked for their opinions on what is for one side at least (in my opinion for both), a marketing exercise. So that’s what annoys me, that victims of terrorist acts are being used as a marketing opportunity, by a product which has elements clearly designed to outrage people. People use the phrase ‘too soon’ in a jokey manner when discussing how appropriate it is to depict real-world events (or make jokes about them), based on the idea that there is an acceptable moment, where people have been able to process the events and accept them. But the truth is, as long as there is a media ready to rush out and harass victims, dredging up harsh memories and slicing open old wounds for the sake of sales, marketing and pretence, it will always be ‘too soon’ as far as I’m concerned.