“The problem is, it’s fun and it’s really well made.”
November 9, 2019 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – great game, shame about the politics [The Guardian] “It doesn’t take long for the guilt to set in. You’re holding a handgun in London’s Piccadilly Circus as terrorists run wild with assault rifles and flames bloom from a recently ignited suicide vest. As terrified civilians run past, screaming and wounded, you’re thinking: “Where is the next mission checkpoint?” Call of Duty is perhaps the most divisive mainstream gaming brand of all time; a gung-ho, partisan blockbuster combat romp selling us a vision of rough and ready spec-ops superstars travelling the globe with their guns and their competence, helping freedom fighters while killing rogue paramilitary groups, without pausing too long to consider the differences between them. [...] The story is a pulpy, mashup of real-world proxy wars and brutal localised conflicts that panders to US sensibilities. Urzikstan could be Syria, it could be Afghanistan, it could be the Ukraine or Chechnya. It doesn’t matter.” [YouTube][Launch Trailer][Story Trailer]

• Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a thrill ride that turns you into a monster [Polygon]
“heThe military forces of first-world nations, with their technological superiority and years of relentless training, are unstoppable on an even playing field. Which is why their enemies abroad spend so much time making sure the playing field is not even. Or at least that’s the central message of the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Your side has night-vision goggles, an array of suppressed weapons aimed with infrared laser sights that are invisible to the enemy, air support, and rock-solid discipline. Your enemies know that they’re going to lose the battle as you clear out a house, room by room, after the lights have been killed and you have every advantage. But you still have to decide, in a split second, if that woman is diving for a child or a detonator. A terrorist hiding under the bed, gun trained on the door, may be able to take you down before you have a chance to react.”
• Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s political message is buried under blockbuster bravado [The Verge]
“Like its predecessors, Modern Warfare also offers little in the way of thoughtful commentary on war or geopolitics, yet I’m starting to feel it unfair to ever expect that or to think shooter games are even capable of such a feat. That said, it sure does try, mostly by amplifying the sights and sounds of combat to an alarming degree of fidelity. [...] It’s hard to argue that Modern Warfare does enough of the legwork in its painfully short cutscenes and minimal environmental storytelling in the roughly six-hour campaign to use topics like torture and genocide as narrative tools, instead of blunt instruments of shock and awe. It’s just more “No Russian,” the infamous mission from Modern Warfare 2 that had you, the player, get to choose to participate or not in an airport terrorist attack at your discretion. It’s nothing new for video games, even if it does look and feel alarmingly real these days. But I find those elements of the Modern Warfare campaign overshadow what it does manage to do well: creating an unrivaled and convincing atmospheric war experience that feels of its time and doesn’t go grossly overboard with its sanitization of Western foreign policy.”
• 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' Is the Forever War Game [Vice Games]
“It's been 18 years since 9/11, 16 since the invasion of Iraq, and 12 since the release of 2007's Modern Warfare. Since then, Call of Duty had two proper Modern Warfare sequels, games about wars in the near and far future, games about the Cold War, games about space war, games about a collapsed America, and a trip back to WWII. In all that time, the U.S. never stopped fighting the wars 2007's Modern Warfare brazenly decided to depict. And now, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is back as a reboot. A new game for a new era but the same wars. Its developers say it's not political, but that it deals with concepts like "colonialism, occupation, and independence and freedom." The result is a scrapbook of incomprehensible tragedy, pain, and war crimes: dead bodies of children emerging from rubble covered in dust, men with AK-47s firing in the streets of European cities, the attack on the American facilities in Benghazi, the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. Modern Warfare is not a game that covers a war and packages it as a chapter in history. It is a concession that the wars it's depicting are a permanent feature of reality that will never go away.”
• Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Has Nothing Interesting to Say [Wired]
“As any Call of Duty adherent knows, the games are typically divided into separate modes, which share motifs and interests but little else in terms of content. Multiplayer is a big draw for these titles, but is often what's least interesting about them. Call of Duty's narrative campaigns are warfighter psychodramas, whole seasons of 24 packed into six to eight hours of gameplay, all built around straight-from-the-headlines paranoia and exhaustive research into the minutiae of Western military culture and equipment. For a long time, I've insisted that these campaigns are an insightful look into American id—into what bogeymen people are afraid of, and what horrible things they might secretly want to do to them. Modern Warfare, a reboot created by what remains of the game’s original developers at Infinity Ward, tests that theory. Little in it feels prescient, or of the moment. The story follows American and British special forces alongside freedom fighters from a fictional Middle Eastern country—Urzikstan—chasing down terrorists and a rogue Russian military faction, both of which are intent on controlling Urzikstan. You, supposedly, are just trying to free the country, and the story escalates from small counterterror operations into battles built to prevent atrocities and ensure world stability all across the planet. It is, in short, the Call of Duty of 2007, rebuilt with a handful of retouches for modern sensibilities. Russians are cool as villains again, which is convenient for Infinity Ward, and now, at least, one of the protagonists is brown.”
• Modern Warfare looks at an ugly world, where battles are messy affairs [Kotaku]
“. In this, Modern Warfare, the video game, understands one aspect about modern warfare, the practice: It is often done at the bidding of liars and cowards, advancing their interests from afar while people fight for their lives. In doing this, Modern Warfare’s campaign articulates its strongest argument: These people should be free to decide whatever they wish to neutralize the threats they see on the ground, to “take the gloves off” and operate without meddlesome government lackeys or accountability. It mythologizes these men the only way it knows how: by depicting them as noble, with the wherewithal to make difficult decisions. To let one man die to save several, to take innocents hostage, to torture. It places them—and therefore you—in the middle of impossible situations that echo pop-cultural depictions of real-world events, and makes them heroes. The raid on a compound where a warlord is in hiding echoes Zero Dark Thirty; an assault on an embassy is similar to 13 Hours, Michael Bay’s take on Benghazi. You could argue that Modern Warfare, to its detriment, is merely echoing the culture without spending much time reflecting on it. It is a synthesis of how we understand war today, one that plays it safe without really taking a stance of its own.”
• A New Theater Of War [Game Informer]
“Modern Warfare is familiar in name, but its content carries a different tone and flow than we’ve come to expect from the annualized Call of Duty series. Developer Infinity Ward takes big chances in both multiplayer and the single-player campaign, and while some of the ideas hit with deadly precision, others fall flat. As great as it is to have a single-player campaign back after its hiatus in Black Ops 4, Infinity Ward shifts the focus away from the large-scale conflicts the series is known for towards more intimate firefights where the horrors of war are thoroughly (and grossly) explored. This story experience gets uncomfortable, putting the player in direct control of a young girl who is forced to kill with a knife and gun, as well as a soldier who is captured and waterboarded. The waterboarding even unfolds through a terrible minigame where you have to move your head back and forth to dodge the water. These gameplay sequences feel shoehorned in and do nothing to move the narrative forward – they just make it uncomfortable.”
posted by Fizz (47 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
The game series that makes Grand Theft Auto look decent by comparison.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:06 PM on November 9, 2019 [9 favorites]


There’s a single player mode?
posted by gucci mane at 4:46 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yahtzee's review.
posted by doctornemo at 5:08 PM on November 9, 2019 [7 favorites]


The critically acclaimed Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are intensely difficult documentaries that explore what happens when a country commits horrifying war crimes and gets away with it.

Call of Duty seems to be doing the same thing with America's legacy except these are actually fun to play.
posted by Ouverture at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


Are we still listening to Ben Yahtzee and delivering hits to The Escapist?

Anyway, there's so many wonderful games out there. On Switch alone there's BABA IS YOU, Untitled Goose Game, Katamari Damacy Reroll, there this great crossword logic game with a demo I just found out about called Wordsweeper, there's Minit and Downwell, and, well, there's just so much out there great to play that isn't realistic people killing realistic people with realistic guns realistically.
posted by JHarris at 5:17 PM on November 9, 2019 [20 favorites]


Are we still listening to Ben Yahtzee and delivering hits to The Escapist?

Anyway, there's so many wonderful games out there.


Oddly enough, that's precisely the point he makes in the review doctornemo links.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:24 PM on November 9, 2019 [10 favorites]


Anyway, there's so many wonderful games out there.

I mean, I'm playing lots of Crash Test Racing and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. You're not wrong at all.
posted by Fizz at 5:32 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s been a decade since Modern Warfare 2 reimagined post-Tom Clancy ‘90s visions of all-out rivalry with Russia, which seems unintentionally prescient.
posted by Apocryphon at 6:13 PM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


You’re holding a handgun in London’s Piccadilly Circus as terrorists run wild with assault rifles and flames bloom from a recently ignited suicide vest.

I'd be scanning the sky for zeppelins and searching for the Doctor in that scenario.
posted by SPrintF at 6:25 PM on November 9, 2019 [3 favorites]


Press F to acknowledge the obscenity of war.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:42 PM on November 9, 2019 [19 favorites]


F
posted by Gamecat at 1:37 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


It always seems to me that reviewing Call of Duty's single player campaign is the equivalent of writing a trip report to the Louvre based entirely on your time spent in the gift shop.
posted by Justinian at 3:36 AM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


If the gift shop was kinda racist and full of senseless violence tho true
posted by Justinian at 3:37 AM on November 10, 2019 [6 favorites]


I haven't played a CoD game since Modern Warfare 3 or maybe 4, I might have played some multiplayer with a few friends.

I've always leaned more towards the Battlefield franchise. It's only slightly better with regards to subject matter snd character development.

That being said, I'm always interested in how these games are reviewed by the gaming community. These war games are a reflection of how we perceive certain parts of our society and people across the globe. It's worth paying attention to.
posted by Fizz at 4:44 AM on November 10, 2019


i liked listening to the waypoint podcast where they discuss this game with a guest (i think that's a timestamp for when the cod talk starts in the description but i can't check). their best read on "not about politics" despite all the politics was that the devs google imaged 'fucked up war shit' and threw stuff in willy nilly, which seems about right
posted by gaybobbie at 6:04 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've been home sick a bunch lately which means I actually watched the whole campaign secondhand on twitch. The main villain (the Russian general) is comically over-the-top villainous in a way that seemed out of place given the rest of the games' attempts at being as realistic as possible. The realism, I think, is the whole point--both at the level of the equipment etc, as well as the frequent presence of civilians, and the ripped from the headlines setpieces (Benghazi, bin Laden's compound). But beyond realism, there isn't really anything being said. But did anyone really expect that?
posted by quaking fajita at 6:16 AM on November 10, 2019


Innuendo studios had some interesting things to say about CoD (https://youtu.be/dbEiVrnhwlU) that's applicable.
posted by jonnay at 8:19 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


quaking fajita: I think the problem is there is something being said. Not explicitly, but in the experience of the rest of the world as an indeterminate slaughterhouse for the technically advanced to subdue.
posted by argybarg at 8:53 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


I sent an army veteran friend a story about how they're using CoD to recruit kids now that posting up in a mall has finally registered as a suboptimal plan

The word "assholes" came up several times in his response. Capslock was used...injudiciously.
posted by East14thTaco at 9:42 AM on November 10, 2019 [1 favorite]


I can't play games like this. And I won't support them with money.

I am a gamer. If anyone is interested in a FPS that is funny, over the top, cartoonish and crazy, check out Borderlands 3. Most fun I've had with a game in a while. Yes, it's a murder simulator. But it's the good kind. The wacky, colorful, mixed-up kind.
posted by SoberHighland at 9:54 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


But beyond realism, there isn't really anything being said. But did anyone really expect that?

Activision has famously responded as follows when remarking about the video game and its tackling politics: [GamesIndustry.biz]
“"The question 'Is this a political game?' doesn't actually mean anything," said campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff. "Because what does the word 'political' mean to you?

"Do we touch topics that bear a resemblance to the geopolitics of the world we live in today? Hell yeah, because that is the subject matter of Modern Warfare. Are we telling a story that has anything to do with the specific governments of any countries that we're portraying? No. So if you're asking is Trump in the video game? No, he isn't."

Studio narrative director Taylor Kurosaki added: "These are the type of questions that have been asked for the last 50 years. We do talk about concepts like colonialism, occupation, independence and freedom. We don't maybe say those words specifically, but that's the realm we're in. You could have a game set in revolutionary America talk about those exact same things."

Minkoff added you could set this year's Modern Warfare in 1980s Afghanistan and still have the same story. He argued that, for a game to be political, it would need to talk about "the exact administrations and governments and events in our world today", whereas Modern Warfare is talking about "thematic things." ”
It's such a bullshit non-answer type of answer. Every thing they put on screen is a choice and it reflects the ways in which this company views the US involvement in conflicts/wars around the globe. I wish they would just come out and say, "Yeah, we take a particular political stance in the way we approach this game's narrative and we're telling a very specific story about the US military." It'd be just as upsetting and disturbing, but at least it would be honest. That's why I've posted about this game here, because this is what interests me most.
posted by Fizz at 9:55 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


Are we still listening to Ben Yahtzee and delivering hits to The Escapist?

A bunch of the creative team from The Escapist forced out the old, alt-right leaning management and reformed the site about 2 or so years ago, making it much more creator friendly and much less alt-right friendly.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:01 AM on November 10, 2019 [6 favorites]


Are we still listening to Ben Yahtzee and delivering hits to The Escapist?

I didn't know there was a MetaFilter policy about this. Should I delete the comment?
posted by doctornemo at 10:10 AM on November 10, 2019


I'd heard good things about it already; now after watching Yahtzee's review I think I may actually play it.


by which I mean Disco Elysium, of course, which seems more worthy of an FPP
posted by Slothrup at 10:46 AM on November 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


I didn't know there was a MetaFilter policy about this. Should I delete the comment?

A while back, The Escapist was being run by an alt-right Gamergate supporter, who drove off the talent he didn't have over a barrel like Yahtzee. As I pointed out above, a few years back a team of Escapist creative talent such as Yahtzee and Bob Chipman forced the old management out and reformed the place, giving the creators back the rights to their bits (this is how Yahtzee was put over the barrel, by the way, as he didn't have the rights to Zero Punctuation until this) and moving the editorial line to the left dramatically.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:07 AM on November 10, 2019 [16 favorites]


what does the word 'political' mean to you?

"Do we touch topics that bear a resemblance to the geopolitics of the world we live in today? Hell yeah, because that is the subject matter of Modern Warfare. Are we telling a story that has anything to do with the specific governments of any countries that we're portraying? No.


Portraying the Highway of Death as a Russian atrocity is a political statement.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:17 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


I really wish that outlets would stop covering Call of Duty. It is 100% a known quantity and they do shit like putting a misattributed Highway of Death in the game specifically for the purpose of drumming up coverage. (You can argue whether they were intentionally courting the misattribution controversy, but even if they didn't think anyone would have a problem with that they still put a reference to a real-world atrocity in the game so that people would talk about it.) Deny them that. Nobody anywhere needs a review of a Call of Duty game. Hell, I'd wager the vast majority of the sales of a CoD are decided long before the reviews even come out. Just stop devoting press time to it until they do a year or two where the thing isn't being transparently, intentionally, desperately horrible.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:46 AM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


If the gift shop was kinda racist and full of senseless violence tho true

At the Louvre? I mean probably a pretty good chance, yeah.
posted by ODiV at 12:40 PM on November 10, 2019


Thanks, Nox.
JHarris, does this work for you?

Another solution: we can link to Yahtzee content hosted elsewhere, such as YouTube.
posted by doctornemo at 1:46 PM on November 10, 2019


Painfully short cut scenes... That Verge reviewer is on drugs. Those words don't even make sense together.
posted by hoodrich at 1:49 PM on November 10, 2019


by which I mean Disco Elysium, of course, which seems more worthy of an FPP

here
posted by thelonius at 2:14 PM on November 10, 2019 [3 favorites]


here

what? how did I miss that? Thanks! 💖
posted by Slothrup at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


I always remember that Kumail Nanjiani bit about how they couldn't even be bothered to get the local language right in whichever game had a level in Pakistan.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


The game series that makes Grand Theft Auto look decent by comparison.

I've been thinking about this subject for a while, mostly because I really enjoyed the Saints Row games, and I unironically agree with you on this.

The thing about the Saints Row and GTA games is that being a criminal is part of the simulation. GTA lets you pretend to be a criminal in the same way that a flight simulator lets you pretend to be a pilot or Skyrim lets you pretend to be a wizard. You do bad things because that's part of the play and nobody ever denies that they're bad things.

In contrast, Skyrim will generally set it up to either make your enemies unthinking monsters (e.g. wild animals, zombies, etc.) or to set things up so that you're acting in self-defense. Most other violent games do a similar thing: the enemies are either inhuman monsters or intent on your death (or both) so it's all kind of morally justifiable.

But CoD does neither of these things. It lets you murder people and then tells you you're a good person for doing so. And that's worst of all.
posted by suetanvil at 9:32 PM on November 10, 2019 [4 favorites]


There was never a hard policy against linking Escapist, to my knowledge, but the place had become a cesspool for a while. The recent developments listed above were news to me, if they're a better place now then that's great. Honesty speaking, I wasn't trying to complain but was hoping people who knew more than I would explain if they had gotten better or not; evidentially they have, which means I can go back to a place that, in the past, had published some great writing. Welcome back Escapist! And thanks for your concern doctornemo, you're a good egg.
posted by JHarris at 9:53 PM on November 10, 2019 [2 favorites]


NoxAeternum, can you show me where I can find out this information about The Escapist? I haven't had any luck myself.
posted by J.K. Seazer at 2:09 AM on November 11, 2019


Bob talks about getting control of The Big Picture rightswise in this video, the PAX West panel where they more or less announced Escapist 2.0 here, and more on his personal situation with The Escapist here, for starters.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:34 AM on November 11, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also, here's the take from Escapist EIC Russ Pitts on the reformation of the site.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:42 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


“Urzikstan could be Syria, it could be Afghanistan, it could be the Ukraine or Chechnya. It doesn’t matter.”

It'd matter if it was China.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 7:34 AM on November 11, 2019


Full disclosure, I have worked on a few CoD games, though I have not for a few years. If you're not a fan, and are wondering about the appeal of the series outside of "it's fun to play war", I hope I can provide some insight.

Yes, CoD is indeed a known quantity, and that is a large part of its appeal. Every year, you pay your money, and you are going to get a finely crafted collection of experiences that show off the capabilities of your expensive new console or PC, and a guarantee of new content doled out over a year as well as frequent gameplay refinements. It is an one of the best dollars-to-hours-of-entertainment values for a large number of people. It's true that many players are not going to read a review, they are going to see there is a new one and buy it, but there are also many who are wondering if they should just stick with Black Ops 4, or maybe wait for the next Battlefield, and reviews are valuable to them to know why they should go with this CoD this year.

What the actual players are excited about are things like cross-platform play and doing away with pricey season passes that divided the playerbase into haves and have-nots, or lootboxes that are basically gambling, in favor of a battle pass system which allows player to earn functional items through gameplay without needing to dole out more money.

Then there is the campaign, and the inevitable think-pieces about what it's trying to say, and particular provocative moments in it, and how it reflects on our current understanding of military force and the people who apply it.

Last time I had access to the numbers involved, I think it was around less than half of players who even tried the single player campaign after purchasing the game. Less than half of them played the campaign all the way through. (There is also a smaller subset of players who only play the campaign).

What the campaign does do is create promotional material for trailers, add to the perceived value of the whole CoD package, inspire the inevitable thinkpieces and discussions of its most provocative moments, and yes, actually provide a very entertaining few hours with an exciting storyline in which grim shooty types get to solve problems with bombastic violence in cinematic set pieces. While there are certainly things worthy of discussion, it's worth noting that for every hour the average player spends in the campaign, they are spending dozens in multiplayer. This is setting aside additional modes as well.

None of which is to say that the campaigns aren't very problematic (I have not played the latest one, but I'm sure I will eventually), promote some troubling ideas about the ethics of warfare or who is the enemy of whom, or distort the geopolitical worldview of many players. There are hundreds of people across multiple studios that work on these products, and their reasoning behind decisions ranges from "it's just a fun game, don't overthink it" to "this is something important to say" to "we can't say that".

In this context, even the most thoroughly-researched, meticulously written campaign informed by expert consultants and with all the good intentions behind it still has to exist within a development environment that needs to cater to players, the US military, foreign and domestic investors, firearm accessory manufacturers and Pepsi/Doritos. Ironically, it kind of says it all right there, CoD and warfare are complex, messy, and involve a lot of different, conflicting national and corporate interests.
posted by subocoyne at 11:59 AM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


The US has always interfered militarily where it doesn't belong. For the last several generations. Longer, in the case of the UK. I guess I find the depiction of that neither shocking nor particularly political, since it seems to have bipartisan support. But I'm not American, so I will apologize for my assumptions and stop commenting.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:26 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


(Not to re-derail, but the editor-in-chief of Escapist [apparently no longer stylized with a "The"] replied to a message I'd posted asking about the site on Twitter. He took over in June.)
posted by JHarris at 3:39 PM on November 11, 2019 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the perspective subocoyne, I'll probably never play a Call of Duty game myself but its useful to hear what the arguments for it are.
posted by JHarris at 3:43 PM on November 11, 2019


it's worth noting that for every hour the average player spends in the campaign, they are spending dozens in multiplayer.

Like I said, the gift shop at the Louvre.

I'd be perfectly happy with them ditching the single player campaign entirely. I get why they don't, but that's a lot of resources in time and money sunk into developing something that is really no more than an afterthought.
posted by Justinian at 3:52 PM on November 11, 2019


Has anyone written anything comparing it to Spec Ops: The Line in terms of the developers' statements on the campaign content?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:10 PM on November 11, 2019


I wouldn't say the campaign is an afterthought. For one thing, many assets are created that are used in both multiplayer and the campaign. It also serves as an introduction for new players to familiarize themselves with the controls and mechanics before playing against other players. Also, although the percentage of players who play the whole campaign is low, it's still millions of people ( and offline players, who can only play campaign, aren't reflected in the numbers).

The previous title in the series, Black Ops 4, did not have a single player campaign. I don't know how this affected it's reception or sales, but I would guess that if it didn't have a negative effect on sales they wouldn't bother making more campaigns. They are developed by different studios in a staggered manner, so look to Treyarch's next version to see if there's a campaign. (i.e. this campaign was already well in development when Black Ops 4 released).

Also, the campaign is developed and then more or less done when the game releases. Multiplayer requires a lot more resources to create the ongoing content, balance gameplay, and fix bugs.
posted by subocoyne at 6:19 PM on November 11, 2019


I was looking forward to crossplay and while it has been working out from a purely technical perspective, I gotta say... I was not prepared for how toxic, racist, homophobic, and downright vile the console mic guys are.

People who have played PC games online? You know how its pretty toxic and racist and homophobic a lot of the time? Yeah, no. I mean it is, but the console people take it to a whole new level.
posted by Justinian at 11:59 AM on November 12, 2019 [2 favorites]


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