"It will cost you a piece of yourself."
November 10, 2009 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Destructoid has posted a full video play-through of the controversial "No Russian" level from the newly released Modern Warfare 2 (warning: possibly disturbing). The level, in which the player is asked to infiltrate a Russian terrorist group and, as a result, take part in a terrorist attack on civilians, has divided gamers and journalists.

Destructoid's Brad Rice is disgusted by the level, saying that "what the scene actually does is take the will to fight out of me." Kotaku's Michael McWhertor also hated the scene, saying it "puts the player in a very uncomfortable, disturbingly violent situation that may offend or upset some players." Australian game blogger Jarno Kokko says the developers "crossed a line here and went for the distasteful. It'll put the game into headlines, Grand Theft Auto style, but it may also cause a backlash that harms mature games as a whole." And the timing of the release - days after the incident at Fort Hood, hours before Veterans Day - has not gone unnoticed.

On the other side, Simon Brew raises the "games are art" argument, asking "Shall we all just play Tetris, then?" And Destructoid's Jim Sterling counter-points his colleague, saying the scene is a statement "that videogames don't need to invent fantastical worlds of elves and goblins in order to portray violence. It's a statement that videogames can affect emotions and provide stories that don't just entertain, but also shock, surprise and even disturb."
posted by jbickers (230 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
"what the scene actually does is take the will to fight out of me."
I shouldn't be as amused as I am, should I?
posted by verb at 2:20 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Charlie Brooker also weighed in on the subject:

You're supposed to be upset and chilled and horrified, of course – so on that level it succeeds. But if you must directly evoke the Mumbai massacre, it's probably best to do so with good reason. Since the rest of the game is effectively a dumb Tom Clancy romp (full of characters who say things like "I'll see you in hell"), it feels jarringly misplaced, like a cartoonish Bond movie containing a 20-minute scene in which Blofeld tortures his cat to death. Ultimately it's only there to make the game's main villain seem more "villainy". Not good enough.

Don't worry. It won't turn anyone a killer. But it is a strange and misjudged lapse into tastelessness that would actually be less offensive if played for laughs – and an easy target for reactionary kneejerk critics of videogames.

posted by knapah at 2:21 PM on November 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Is "No Russian" supposed to be this game's version of today's MeFi catchphrase, "no homo?" It seems about as bad.

"Yeah, I just blew up an airport full of civilians, man. No Russian."
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


If movie threads get them then this thread needs a Spoiler Alert for anyone watching the video of the level play through.

Reviewers can whine all they want. MW was the most fun I've had on the 360, so I'll buy MW2, used of course.
posted by Science! at 2:27 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I bet its still not as tasteless as that time Jack Bauer teamed up with a group of Timothy McVeigh's and blew up all his colleagues for some reason or other.
posted by dng at 2:27 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


...puts the player in a very uncomfortable, disturbingly violent situation that may offend or upset some players...

I simply cannot see the downside of this. If a child playing this video game is disturbed, and it makes them think about the situation beyond goal achievement, that's a good thing. It also makes for terrific publicity for the game. Seems pretty win-win for me.

Oh, wait, I forgot; we don't want our children to think. Nevermind.
posted by davejay at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure I follow why this is so new--am I missing something? I've been gleefully killing civilians and other innocents since GTA 3 came out, what, 12 years ago?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:29 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


it feels jarringly misplaced, like a cartoonish Bond movie containing a 20-minute scene in which Blofeld tortures his cat to death.
I don't know. I think it's a pretty amazing gesture for a genre that glorifies everything-gets-solved-with-explosives views of world affairs. I say this as someone who's enjoyed games like Halo, Rainbow Six, and a number of others.

The idea that solving a problem involves doing morally unacceptable things, and the idea that a gamer might be so turned off by it that they no longer want to shoot things for a while, strikes me as an impressive accomplishment on the publisher's part.
posted by verb at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2009 [20 favorites]


I'm a game developer. I've made games where you spend the majority of your time killing police officers and soldiers.

My take: This game sequence was written by lazy cowards.

I can think of 100 ways to make that scene 100 times more fun, more interesting and more rewarding, from a story-telling perspective, and still link up elegantly with the rest of the story the game wants to tell. And I'm certainly not alone in that capability.

But no. I'm sure they sat around at the office going, "Oh, dude. We're gonna challenge the audience ... really shock them out there in the suburbs ... hand me another Red Bull, willya? ... yeah, we'll shock those complacent sheeple out there ... Make their mommas cringe ... They'll talk about us ... Just have to make them look at it ... LOOK AT IT!"

Pfft. You made a crappy level in an otherwise interesting game.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:31 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


Oh please, we've been killing innocents in video games oh... about as long as there have been video games. They're video games. The distinction between a terror victim and a zombie when you splat their brains across the screen is nil in any sense outside of the sensationalist abstract. And that's not a bad thing cause, they're video games.
posted by wrok at 2:33 PM on November 10, 2009


Oh no, not a violent situation!
posted by kathrineg at 2:33 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus, that was really, really horrible.

It would have been cleverer if the level was pretending to shoot while missing, getting penalized for actual hits. Even still though....
posted by codswallop at 2:34 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I picked up my copy of Modern Warfare 2 yesterday, and started playing my way thorugh it last night. The level in question is like the second or third level so I hit it pretty quick.

The level did feel sort of weird to play. It forces you to walk very slowly, so it feels like you're gunning down these people in a very cold, very methodical way, which was no doubt the intent given the context of the level. The context, by the way [SPOILER ALERT], is that you're a CIA agent who has gone undercover to infiltrate a terrorist organisation. You're told by your commander before the mission starts that you need to do whatever it takes to gain their trust. In that context, the gunning down of civilians in an airport in the role of an undercover CIA agent makes sense.

But look, honestly, as a harcore gamer, I had no issues with the level. And it's not because I'm a cold heartless bastard who wants to gun everyone down (because I'm not). I mean, I had issues with Carmageddon when it was all the rage a few years back, because with that game, the violence was gratuitous and was there for the sake of being violent. With this level in this game, the violence serves a plot point (a pretty big one, actually) and isn't overly gratuitous. Once you shoot someone they pretty much just fall down to the floor dead... with the exception of the wounded, where finishing the kill is pretty much a judgement call on your part.

Basically this media hysteria feels like one of two things to me. Either it's your typical media beat up on video games, made all the bigger by the fact that MW2 is expected to sell bajillions of copies. Or it's a marketing plan, a strategic leak of gameplay footage from this level designed to create said media hysteria and help MW2 sell bajillions of copies. Or maybe it's both.

By the way, MeFi's own baggymp, otherwise known as British MP Tom Watson is sort of leading the charge against this media beat up surrounding Modern Warfare 2. Will be interesting to see if he turns up here.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm a game developer. I've made games where you spend the majority of your time killing police officers and soldiers.

My take: This game sequence was written by lazy cowards.
Are you saying that you were lazy in those situations, or that the developers of MW2 were lazy because their offensive and shocking level lacks a certain special artistry that offensive and shocking game did?
But no. I'm sure they sat around at the office going, "Oh, dude. We're gonna challenge the audience ... really shock them out there in the suburbs ... hand me another Red Bull, willya? ... yeah, we'll shock those complacent sheeple out there ... Make their mommas cringe ... They'll talk about us ... Just have to make them look at it ... LOOK AT IT!"
Full disclosure: one of my friends worked on MW2. You are not my friend. So I feel fine assuming that you're a lazy coward. Othering is fun!
posted by verb at 2:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: "I'm a game developer."

Well, Mister Game Developer, let me ask you a pressing question:Are you hiring?
posted by boo_radley at 2:35 PM on November 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


It's a video game, people. Chill.

Interesting how this little controversy has prompted lots of coverage by media outlets and sites like Metafilter, eh? I'm sure that had nothing to do with the level's inclusion in the game.
posted by killdevil at 2:36 PM on November 10, 2009


*sips Pepsi BlueTM*
posted by killdevil at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2009


Controversy or not, thus far, the game has been getting panned in the reviews for reasons other than this level. As in, the game sucks as a game. I have a distinct feeling this level may have been added late in development as a way of generating sales through controversy.
posted by strixus at 2:37 PM on November 10, 2009


verb: "Full disclosure: one of my friends worked on MW2. You are not my friend. So I feel fine assuming that you're a lazy coward. Othering is fun!"

So, uh, can you, like, ask your friend: what were you thinking here?
posted by boo_radley at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2009


I'm sure they sat around at the office going, "Oh, dude. We're gonna challenge the audience ... really shock them out there in the suburbs ... hand me another Red Bull, willya? ... yeah, we'll shock those complacent sheeple out there ... Make their mommas cringe ... They'll talk about us ... Just have to make them look at it ... LOOK AT IT!"

Either that or "Johnson! Put something controversial in this game to get people talking about it. I want this thing twittered and viral by the end of the week!"
posted by hamida2242 at 2:38 PM on November 10, 2009


I meant to add that the other reason I didn't really have an issue with the level is because I'm 31 and I realise that this is a video game and as such it's not real.

Anyone who feels that playing this level will cost you a piece of yourself really needs to talk to some real life soldiers who have, y'know, actually had to kill real people, and get some sense of perspective.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


This seems far more moral and thoughtful than simply blasting through unending hordes of interchangeable, storyless, faceless Nazis/zombies/zombie Nazis. And that's an entirely harmless activity.
posted by WPW at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I watched the whole thing, and found it very disturbing - the first part in particular, as the player walks calmly with the terrorists through the airport, spraying bullets everywhere, is really horrible. That said, it's probably a good thing that this has been made, in that it makes you think about the rest of the game's premise as well (the second half of the level is much more "palatable", for want of a better word, probably because you can't see the faces of the SWAT teams you're massacring, and it's good that it makes you wonder why that should be).

My main objection to it, in fact, is that surely it doesn't work from the point of view of plotting the story? I don't know what the full plot of the game is, but it seems a little odd to have your character be told "OK, you're a deep cover operative working with this terrorist. No, you can't blow your cover by simply shooting him. That would give the game away, because we're trying to stop him from carrying out atrocities. You know, atrocities like...gunning down an entire airport...full of civilians...that then leads to all-out war..."

(And for that matter, the Shocking TwistTM at the end doesn't work either. "We knew you were an agent all along, so we gave you a big powerful gun and let you walk right behind us. We're trusting like that.")
posted by ZsigE at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


damn, left it on preview for a couple minutes to take a phone call and thread goes nuts. y'all work fast.
posted by hamida2242 at 2:39 PM on November 10, 2009


I like the idea above of playing this level Gandhi-style. No kills at all.
posted by zippy at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2009


Is this where I brag about how desensitized to violence I am? Call me a prude, but sitting around killing people on your TV is a really shitty way to spend your time.

Is "No Russian" supposed to be this game's version of today's MeFi catchphrase, "no homo?"


I think it means they weren't supposed to speak Russian during the "operation" to keep their cover.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2009


Are you saying that you were lazy in those situations, or that the developers of MW2 were lazy because their offensive and shocking level lacks a certain special artistry that offensive and shocking game did?

I'm saying the lazy-ass developers of MW2, the ones' responsible for making the call to include this on a high level (because this certainly wasn't the result of one person's work), were looking for an easy way to make things EXCITING and SHOCKING and CONTROVERSIAL, and they found it.

This is my sarcastic golf clap.

My inclusion of my past experience is solely to point out that I'm not some nattering nabob of hoity-toityness worried what this will do to "teh children."

Full disclosure: one of my friends worked on MW2. You are not my friend. So I feel fine assuming that you're a lazy coward. Othering is fun!

Tell him I think this idea was shit. If it was his idea, then his idea was shit. If it was not his idea, please send him my regards and congratulate him for an otherwise well-made game.

Are you hiring?

Yes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:42 PM on November 10, 2009


It's hard to put the thing in any sort of context. Maybe if the plot was the bad guy had a nuke and you had to gain trust by killing 50 innocents to save a million...that sort of thing. As it was, I was just watching that video thinking "shoot the bad guys, go home."

Video games have amazingly poor story lines. I don't care what people say about Halo or any other game, the stories are simplistic and formulaic. That's why they make for shitty movies. Now, if MWII were crafted so well that it played like an Oscar winning movie where this is the most gut wrenching, violent, and disturbing point in the game, that'd be one thing. But, it sounds like this is just a moderately novel level.

I also found it interesting that despite all the "this will make you think deeply about violence" comments, the person playing the game didn't seem to think too hard before shooting wounded civilians in the back.

So, my vote - it's porn. Let's just admit it, embrace it, and do what comes naturally in the privacy of our own homes.
posted by Muddler at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Man, whatever happened to the video game controversies like we used to have back in the day? Hot Coffee... Resident Evil racism... Doom causing Columbine...

They just don't make 'em like they used to.

I rate this one 1.5 Jack Thompson's out of 5
posted by hamida2242 at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


puts the player in a very uncomfortable, disturbingly violent situation that may offend or upset some players

And yet when we actually just go out and kill some innocent civilians as a nation, that's not so bad? Predator drones murdering real people are better than virtual you murdering virtual people?
posted by HotPants at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: "Yes."

Will you hire me?
posted by boo_radley at 2:43 PM on November 10, 2009


"And for that matter, the Shocking Twist at the end doesn't work either."
posted by ZsigE at 8:39 AM on November 11

Actually it does. They're cold, calculating methodical terrorists who wanted America to take the blame for what happened in that level. This sets up events later in the game.
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:44 PM on November 10, 2009


I'm not seeing how the Fort Hood incident is in any way related to this, what's the connection? A soldier in Texas goes Private Pyle on other soldiers so a video game involving a Russian terrorist group killing civilians that hasn't even been released yet needs to be shelved for a while longer?
posted by Challahtronix at 2:45 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Will you hire me?

MeFi mail is a wonderful thing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:45 PM on November 10, 2009


It's a statement that videogames can affect emotions and provide stories that don't just entertain, but also shock, surprise and even disturb.

Uhh yeah, but we have known they can do that since (NSFW) Custer's Revenge. The ability to shock and disturb does not neccesarily make something worthwhile.

Games are for fun, you have to ask yourself first if something is fun, not if it is art.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:45 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Is this where I brag about how desensitized to violence I am? Call me a prude, but sitting around killing people on your TV is a really shitty way to spend your time.

The point of my comment, at least, was the irony of people playing a video game about shooting, and then complaining that there is violence in the game.

What did they think all of the shooting was about, for fuck's sake?
posted by kathrineg at 2:48 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was just reading a bit of review about the game elsewhere. Came across this bit in the AP review for the game...

It's in getting from one set piece to the next that developer Infinity Ward stumbles. The overarching story concerns a special forces team's efforts to bring down Vladimir Makarov,

And I just have to wonder if the developers really intended that. I will not be able to ever think anything about this game again except that it is about special forces hunting down and killing a Markov chain.
posted by Babblesort at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


zippy: "I like the idea above of playing this level Gandhi-style. No kills at all."

Yeah, not to rehash this for the nth time, but that was one of the things I loved about the original Deus Ex: you could be as violent or pacifistic as you liked. You could play through the whole game without killing anyone (two scripted kills excepted).
Many games today railroad the player to certain playing styles, that's just a fact: you get a gun, you shoot people.
posted by PontifexPrimus at 2:50 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh please, we've been killing innocents in video games oh... about as long as there have been video games.

EXCEPT for Ultima IV, V and VI, where Richard Garriott (neé Lord British) had been sickened by the wholesale slaughter of innocents in the previous 3 Ultima games and he designed a series wherein such behavior actually worked against the character's ability to complete the storyline.

If you killed the innocents in those games, the locals would slowly become increasingly hostile to where you could not actually accomplish anything, and it would harm your progress toward completion to where the game became a limbo of impossibility.
posted by hippybear at 2:50 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is "No Russian" supposed to be this game's version of today's MeFi catchphrase, "no homo?"

That's from the level "Closeted Delegate" in the upcoming first-person schmoozer: Republican National Convention.
posted by zippy at 2:51 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


tempest in a teapot. those that are "deeply disturbed" by this (or whatever similar nomenclature they use for their OMG! OMG!ing) are unfamiliar with the journey that video games have taken.

in the old days, sprites had two states : on and off. so it made sense that you would toggle between those two states, and "shooting" a sprite off with a projectile was the easiest way to use that functionality to make a game. that's all this is, but the industry-standard soap-opera-quality writing has lured you into feeling something that is wholly inappropriate.

and when people start talking about how this influences our children or what have you, i would immediately posit that those unaffected by this are not desensitized. they're the ones who recognize that this is a game and nothing more. it's a flashy, visceral Space Invaders. the people who feel traumatized are the ones i worry about, the ones who seem to have a hard time seperating reality from fantasy.
posted by radiosilents at 2:53 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Couldn't you just shoot a few of the terrorists in the head instead? I mean, they're right in front of you half the time.

If you know you're going to go down anyway, why not take a few with you?!
posted by markkraft at 2:55 PM on November 10, 2009


Meh. Once you've played GTA and used the codes to change into a clown running around beating cops senseless with a dildo and then jumping into your indestructible flying tank to get away, this is all pretty bland.

If I'm going to get upset about anything, it's REAL innocent people all over the globe getting killed in the name of 'national security.'
posted by mullingitover at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


EXCEPT for Ultima IV, V and VI, where Richard Garriott (neé Lord British) had been sickened by the wholesale slaughter

The Man who killed Lord British
posted by zippy at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2009


The real outrage here is that the game unironically uses Donald Rumsfeld quotes to motivate you if you die.
posted by hamida2242 at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2009 [21 favorites]


I'm saying the lazy-ass developers of MW2, the ones' responsible for making the call to include this on a high level (because this certainly wasn't the result of one person's work), were looking for an easy way to make things EXCITING and SHOCKING and CONTROVERSIAL, and they found it.

I have to disagree that Infinity Ward's decision to include this scene was just a cynical attempt to manufacture controversy. Putting players in uncomfortable wartime situations has always been a hallmark of the games they've developed in this series. For example, in the original COD, they included a level where you played as a Russian soldier in the battle of Stalingrad. True to actual events, you were given a magazine of ammo, but no gun, and you were instructed to pick up a weapon off a fallen commerade. The player was also shot by his own officer if he tried to retreat. In COD4, (spoilers), your character's helicopter is taken down by a nuclear explosion, and you control him as he crawls out of the crash, looks up at the mushroom cloud, and dies.

I think IW deserves credit for putting out Army games that aren't basically just propaganda. Many other real-world shooters do nothing but glorify war and lionize soldiers, so It's refreshing that at least one studio is trying to be more honest about the nature of war.
posted by eggplantplacebo at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2009 [13 favorites]


i would immediately posit that those unaffected by this are not desensitized. they're the ones who recognize that this is a game and nothing more.

Get off of it. Haven't you read accounts of young soldiers in the Iraq War who talk about it like being inside GTA? You don't have to have a tenuous grasp on reality to be disturbed by realistic, graphic violence in a video game. That's a really absurd justification.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:57 PM on November 10, 2009


Is this where I brag about how desensitized to violence I am? Call me a prude, but sitting around killing people on your TV is a really shitty way to spend your time.

You're totally right. Nothing beats the real thing!
posted by xmutex at 2:59 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


man, it takes absolutely nothing to get panties twisted in a "post 9/11 world".
posted by nadawi at 3:00 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


the journey that video games have taken.

We've certainly "come" a long way since Custer's Revenge on the Atari.
posted by hamida2242 at 3:01 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


And for the record, I always did try to eat my own family in Oregon Trail. So this is nothing new to me.
posted by xmutex at 3:02 PM on November 10, 2009 [17 favorites]


True to actual events, you were given a magazine of ammo, but no gun, and you were instructed to pick up a weapon off a fallen comrade.

You realize this sequence was lifted nearly intact from Enemy at the Gates, right?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2009


kathrineg: "What did they think all of the shooting was about, for fuck's sake?"

I can appreciate the point, but "Modern Warfare: Shoot Vacationers" is the worst idea.
posted by boo_radley at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2009


So, what actually happens if you just gun down the terrorists?
posted by mr. strange at 3:03 PM on November 10, 2009


Controversy or not, thus far, the game has been getting panned in the reviews for reasons other than this level. As in, the game sucks as a game.

Are you sure you're reading reviews for this game? I'm pretty sure it's not getting panned.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


Burhanistan, having a entertainment-based frame of reference to describe the horror that they felt in those situations in no way suggests that the video game they played previously traumatized them.

the same thing could be said for movies, or books, or songs, or anything else. if you're in a situation that and you come out of real-world danger with real-world trauma, you will try to describe the unfamiliar, horrifying things that you went through in whatever language is most communicative. in the modern era, soliders can use video games as an example of the kind of horrible absurdity that their real life was filled with in the same way that previous generations have had whatever outlet would be appropriate for the era.
posted by radiosilents at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


No Rush 'N Attack.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2009


The Onion recently did a pretty funny parody anticipating Modern Warfare 3.

Ultra-Realistic Modern Warfare Game Features Awaiting Orders, Repairing Trucks
posted by bobo123 at 3:04 PM on November 10, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Modern Warfare: Shoot Vacationers" is the worst idea.

Don't worry, my friend's BF has the game and in the level right after that it turns into "Modern Warfare: Shoot the brown-skinned man in the leg and watch your fellow soldiers drag him into a shed and torture him with jumper cables."

So maybe the Right won't get so mad at the game company after all.
posted by hamida2242 at 3:07 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


kathrineg: "What did they think all of the shooting was about, for fuck's sake?"

I can appreciate the point, but "Modern Warfare: Shoot Vacationers" is the worst idea.


Ain't it just like modern warfare, though?
posted by kathrineg at 3:08 PM on November 10, 2009


I have this weird ability to separate fact from fiction, so this does not disturb me in the slightest.
posted by carfilhiot at 3:10 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I have this weird ability to separate fact from fiction, so this does not disturb me in the slightest.

What about separating facts from facts you don't like? That's the real trick.
posted by xmutex at 3:11 PM on November 10, 2009


man, it takes absolutely nothing to get panties twisted in a "post 9/11 world".

IT CHANGED EVERYTHING!
posted by knapah at 3:12 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Remember in Syphon Filter when you could get the scientist characters to get down on their knees, and then shoot them in the back of the head? Yeah, me too.
posted by chunking express at 3:13 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


The argument of Chillax It's A Video Game is a little annoying. Aside from the implication of "stop feeling in a way I find inappropriate", we're talking about interactive media. Movies and books have a built-in layer of abstraction between the reader and the protagonist. In video games, I- the real me sitting in my living room- have to press a button that causes something to scream in pain and/or die. No Judgementos but this is certainly a step beyond previous media interactions. To force this type of non-decision on a player, especially in a more realistic game, is something worth discussing. Actually, it's all the more involving and important to discuss in the context of being in "just" a video game.

As far as this game is concerned, anyone remember the story of the button that when pressed kills a person you don't know but otherwise gives you a million dollars? I always thought the interesting thing about the story is the choice to perform the action- not the action itself.
posted by cheap paper at 3:15 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


OMG so are you guys telling me that this game is like that movie Gamer with that guy from 300 in it and you think you're just sitting at home playing a game but then it turns out that you're, y'know, not, and what's actually happening is you're actually controlling an actual real-life person with a brain implant and this real-life person is actually shooting other actual real-life people? Because if that was the case then I think a fun thing to do would be to type in "noclip" and smash him to death against a wall.

Also if stuff like this scares you then stay away from Viva Pinata because that game is fucking cruel.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:17 PM on November 10, 2009


Hey, if joining up with the terrorists and gunning down civilians is what we have to do to catch the terrorists, then.. wait, what?
posted by no_moniker at 3:18 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


Is the issue here the realism or something? Because I've played strategy games where I was the Nazis and I won by taking over the fucking world.

Considering how the typical, kneejerk response from people about video games is how it "desensitizes our children to violence," the idea that a level in a game might make the player feel incredibly uncomfortable about killing someone seems like a refreshing change.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


I- the real me sitting in my living room- have to press a button that causes something to scream in pain and/or die.

... in a video game.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 3:19 PM on November 10, 2009


You realize this sequence was lifted nearly intact from Enemy at the Gates, right?

I was always kind of astonished at the wholesale theft right there.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:20 PM on November 10, 2009


If a child playing this video game is disturbed, and it makes them think about the situation beyond goal achievement, that's a good thing. It also makes for terrific publicity for the game. Seems pretty win-win for me.

I think part of the problem is that children won't be disturbed by this. The psychology of a child (i.e. pre-adolescent) is not sophisticated enough to grasp the ramifications and larger context of what is going on in such a situation. However, the whole subject of children and mature games just goes full-circle back to the ESRB and its enforcement. Children shouldn't be partaking in mature content that has emotionally disturbing effects, perhaps most especially when such disturbing effects would be lost on them.
posted by tybeet at 3:21 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Count me as someone who's not personally disturbed, but who just thought the plot points made no fucking sense and didn't justify the scene. Maybe I just need even more context than what was given in the video, but somehow I doubt it. I simply can't make heads or tails of "play along with killing hundreds of innocent civilians, instead of killing the group's leader Makarov who seems to be right in front of you, by the way".
posted by naju at 3:21 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


cheap paper : pressing a button to kill a person is not what you are doing any more than turning a page kills the guy who dies on the other side.
posted by radiosilents at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2009 [8 favorites]


Yawn. Wake me when I can play Postmodern Warfare. I hear the cel shading on the Roy Lichtenstein level is superb!
posted by inturnaround at 3:22 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


As far as this game is concerned, anyone remember the story of the button that when pressed kills a person you don't know but otherwise gives you a million dollars?

Can you believe they made a fucking movie out of that?
posted by adamdschneider at 3:23 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


the idea that a level in a game might make the player feel incredibly uncomfortable about killing someone seems like a refreshing change.

but is it fun?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:23 PM on November 10, 2009


"In video games, I- the real me sitting in my living room- have to press a button that causes something to scream in pain and/or die."

That something is polygons, textures and computer code. It is not a real, living being. By your logic, is pressing a button and 'killing' this computer generated image better or worse than you - the real you standing in your kitchen with a rolled up newspaper - beating that cockroach running across your bench to a bloody, messy death?

Let's also remember that you don't need to play this game. That's right. This game.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:23 PM on November 10, 2009


"what the scene actually does is take the will to fight out of me."

Game reviewers claiming to get PTSD-like symptoms from playing a video game strikes me as absurd, and reminds me of the David Cross bit where he points out how ridiculous it would be for people who work at the "New York-New York" casino in Las Vegas feeling the tragedy of 9/11 just a bit more than everyone else.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:24 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


in conclusion, Ceci n'est pas une pipe.
posted by radiosilents at 3:24 PM on November 10, 2009


I have this weird ability to separate fact from fiction, so this does not disturb me in the slightest.

I don't think anyone* is suggesting that the people playing this are going to be so immersed that they're going to nip down to the local airport with an assault rifle and let loose. But it does seem at least plausible that what you watch and play influences how you think and behave - kind of a garbage in, garbage out principle - and this isn't really the kind of thing I want to be filling my head with. I'm not going to stand in anyone's way if they want to buy this game, just as I'm not going to stop them from buying fourteen super-size combo meals from McDonald's, but I'm dubious about the potential negative effects in both cases.

*I'm not counting Jack Thompson or Rush Limbaugh as "anyone", because frankly, who cares what they think?
posted by ZsigE at 3:26 PM on November 10, 2009


as has already been pointed out - this seems no different than situations that have been played out a million times in strategy games and tabletop RPGs. i wonder if the uncanny valley has some connection to the revulsion that some people feel - the closer it gets to looking and feeling "real" the more squeamish some become even if functionally it isn't much different than killing goombas in mario brothers (mario travels strange lands, stomping on "enemies" who's only crime is walking in front of him and a predetermined pattern on their home soil).
posted by nadawi at 3:27 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gah, double negative. I'm "concerned about the potential negative effects", or "dubious about the general effect". Your choice.
posted by ZsigE at 3:28 PM on November 10, 2009


So, in summary, video games have lousy stories that make no sense but are somehow more involving and affecting than the best films and books.
posted by WPW at 3:29 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having just sat through the whole playthrough video, I think this is actually pretty great at highlighting the moral hollowness at the heart of most video games. Well done.
posted by Greg Nog at 3:31 PM on November 10, 2009


I've been gleefully killing civilians and other innocents since GTA 3 came out, what, 12 years ago?

Exactly. I made killing hookers a sport in that game, and I'm hardly damaged goods at all nowadays. I mean, I get that some people find this kind of thing shocking or disturbing, but it's really nothing new. I remember the original Postal game, using a flamethrower to purge a city street of hippy protesters.

There might be a valid argument that putting this level in is just an effort to spin up the indignant hype machine, but 1.) it's working, and 2.) knowing this level exists has done nothing positive or negative with regard to my intent to buy and play this game.
posted by quin at 3:32 PM on November 10, 2009


Will this mod work with the first version of Halo?

'cause I'm kinda behind the times
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:38 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


In re Grand Theft Auto: I like how Brad Rice, in the linked review above, wholeheartedly misses the point of making moral choices:

You're only required to take out the security guards here, but your teammates are going wholesale slaughter on the place, and there's nothing preventing you from joining in, save for your own morals.
...
(In Grand Theft Auto,) while you do have the freedom to murder and rob civilians, when you do, you are presented with an immediate and negative feedback for the action (wanted stars).

"GTA rightfully reflects how morality is little more than a system of rewards and punishments! Choices are only bad if they lead to immediate unpleasant responses! I drool when I hear a bell!"
posted by Greg Nog at 3:41 PM on November 10, 2009 [10 favorites]


Наш план работает!

Did I say that out loud?
posted by mazola at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


But I thought we had a magic filter in our brain that makes it impossible to learn bad stuff from video games, only good stuff like co-operation, reflexes and appreciation of art and storytelling.
posted by Free word order! at 3:44 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


But it does seem at least plausible that what you watch and play influences how you think and behave - kind of a garbage in, garbage out principle - and this isn't really the kind of thing I want to be filling my head with.

You're right, Rock & Roll and Dungeons & Dragons totally ruined the youth of... Oh wait.
posted by Nomiconic at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


hamida2242: Don't worry, my friend's BF has the game and in the level right after that it turns into "Modern Warfare: Shoot the brown-skinned man in the leg and watch your fellow soldiers drag him into a shed and torture him with jumper cables."

This! This this this. For whatever reason the level under discussion doesn't give me moral heartburn the way the torture scene does. The terror-attack level forces the player to take a different point of view, however repugnant, and if one's outlook is dumb-simple enough to get upset by taking the enemy's side for a minute, so much the better. The torture scene, like the scene in CoD4 where your team beats and then abruptly executes a bound prisoner, bothers me more because it seems as if it's not supposed to be shocking. Like, of course we're torturing him, he's an bad guy! Haven't you seen 24?

I am however looking forward to the part in multiplayer where I take some foulmouthed, proto-racist 12 year old kid's head off from halfway across the map. I plan to replay that scene over and over.
posted by $0up at 3:58 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


My take on this is that people who are used to the interative fictional universes of games will not immediately be offended by the very presence of the level, but those who are unaware of the sophistication (graphical and narrative) of modern games will immediately be shocked/appalled/etc.

It's the beginning of an interesting argument though. Based only on the video, I think the level is interesting and thought-provoking, and I like art that makes me uncomfortable. But there's a line - if, for example, the level was about choosing implements to use to torture someone to death for just the same end (i.e. getting close to the Big Bad Guy), that would be too much for me.

Further down the line, assuming that sooner or later we get photo-realistic games, things will get even more interesting. If I shoot a person on screen and it looks like a real person being shot (i.e. we've crossed to the other side of the Uncanny Valley) I'm not sure I would like that.
posted by StephenF at 3:58 PM on November 10, 2009


You're right, Rock & Roll and Dungeons & Dragons totally ruined the youth of... Oh wait.

OK, now I have another reason to dislike this game - because taking any opinion on it means you automatically get classified as either "Puritan who hates the idea of fun and wants everyone to take up needlework instead" or "person who argues for no ratings systems of any kind on any media because it's all just pretend". I'm fairly sure there's a middle ground in there somewhere.
posted by ZsigE at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


OMG!? A controversial video game!?

I'm Shocked! SHOCKED! At this development!

--

Seriously, what the difference between mowing people as a pretend terrorist vs. driving over people in GTA. Or better yet sleeping with hookers and then killing them to get your money back? Of course that's optional in GTA, rather then a mandatory part of the game but still.
posted by delmoi at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2009


I wonder how (or if) opinions would shift if, instead of shooting down civilians as part of a team of highly armed paramilitary terrorists, the game had you as part of a mob of 4 or 5 rednecks beating a gay guy with a crowbar.

Would anyone here defend that as "just a game?"
posted by The World Famous at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


As someone upthread mentioned, talk of how this affects children is missing the point that ideally children wouldn't be playing this. It's rated the equivalent of R. Now, in both movies and games, children do in fact watch / play content with this rating, but the point of such a rating is to allow people to make content that children can't necessarily handle.

There are R-rated movies that are much, much more disturbing, both in a visual and a moral sense. While these do get handwringing, they don't get the "but what about the children" response that video games do (even though plenty of children still see these movies).

It's the same problem comics have. Despite having titles that are aimed at adults, and clearly marked as not suitable for children, the medium itself has an association with children that is hard to break.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:08 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


You realize this sequence was lifted nearly intact from Enemy at the Gates, right?

Which, in turn, was stolen from history.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:09 PM on November 10, 2009 [9 favorites]


I make videogames for a living, and we've been talking about this one a fair amount at work starting back when footage of this level was first leaked. Here's a repost of what I wrote in the email thread on it:
FPSes typically dehumanize the player's enemies in order to render killing them gruesomely and repeatedly palatable. Consider how much time you've spent killing demons, aliens, zombies, Nazis, criminals, or lunatics - anything which the general public categorizes as "the other which must be destroyed". It's okay to kill them because our social prejudices label these groups as innately evil and judges their existence to be lacking authentic value.

Why I like what I've seen of this level is that it forces you to commit an act which is inarguably evil and provides you with actual reason to both fear and hate the people you'll spend the game killing. It exchanges tired cultural xenophobia for personal moral horror - all the worse for your participation - and to be honest I think that's actually a much more ethical motivation for the mass murder the player is going to spend the rest of the game performing.
Honestly, I've sat in enough design and story meetings where disturbing material was proposed that I'll hazard a wild guess at the logic behind including this level: a) it greatly boosts the player's motivation to complete the story and see the downfall of an enemy they now genuinely dislike, and b) yeah, the controversy DOES happen to make great marketing fodder as well. It's been my experience that when decisions like this are made, the people making them are sincerely focused on the former reason, but aren't too upset about the latter, either.
posted by Ryvar at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Controversy or not, thus far, the game has been getting panned in the reviews for reasons other than this level. As in, the game sucks as a game. I have a distinct feeling this level may have been added late in development as a way of generating sales through controversy

What reviews are your reading? It's getting a 96/100 on metacritic so far (360 and PS3).
posted by blenderfish at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2009


Would anyone here defend that as "just a game?"

I'm pretty sure you could do exactly this in GTA San Andreas. I mean, there were stereotypically gay civilians in the San Francisco - like part, and you could have gang members ride with you and beat people up.

(Just like with racist movies, for example, it would still be "just a game", but a nasty one I and most people here wouldn't want to play. I think whats being described here in MW2 is a lot more nuanced. I'm fine with people in movies or games doing things I find morally reprehensible, but I'm not going to spend any of my time watching or playing something that's entirely about that with no redeeming value. I mostly play COD for the multiplayer anyway, so the single-player storyline is irrelevant to me).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2009


Are you saying that you were lazy in those situations, or that the developers of MW2 were lazy because their offensive and shocking level lacks a certain special artistry that offensive and shocking game did?

I'm saying the lazy-ass developers of MW2, the ones' responsible for making the call to include this on a high level (because this certainly wasn't the result of one person's work), were looking for an easy way to make things EXCITING and SHOCKING and CONTROVERSIAL, and they found it.
You're missing my point. You said that you spent your time making games in which the player kills soldiers and cops. I'm wondering whether you are admitting that you are fundamentally lazy when it comes time to create a game, or whether you are saying that the games you work on are in some way fundamentally different and more creative and engaging in their soldier-and-cop killing.

If the latter, can you explain? I'm really curious to hear how you feel about this. I do apologize for my earlier "you're a lazy coward" comment. It was more antagonistic than I'd intended. I was trying to point out the fact that developers (like most people who take pride in their own work) tend to think that, essentially, other peoples' code/design/architecture/plot is shit. I'm wondering if what you're saying boils down to this 'Bah, I would've done it better' impulse, or whether you actually have some specific thoughts on how your work, which you approve of, differs from this.

Detailed analysis of this sort of thing is pretty lacking; it deserves to be done without inflammatory or insulting language.
posted by verb at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2009


What reviews are your reading? It's getting a 96/100 on metacritic so far (360 and PS3).

And with 38 reviews (quite a few), it's currently the 4th highest ranked 360 game of all time (out of 756 titles). From what I've seen, even reviewers who might have issues with this or other scenes are still giving the game good reviews.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:15 PM on November 10, 2009


I spent 7 hours on one game of Asteroids in an arcade in Galway back in the early 80s when it was new, so yeah, I'm a hard core gamer. (I also only own a 1st generation playstation). So, my credentials as an old fart being established, I didn't have a problem with the level and echo much of the comments above. It is a video game, and I'm not Bruce Willis destroying asteroids out there for a career. Just before jumping in here I happened across a review of the game on one of those game review shows on TV that I nearly clicked past just as they were talking about the scene - I missed most of it, so the commentary here was helpful.

BTW, that arcade's manager was seriously pissed at me for spending the whole school day on his machine for 10 pence. Questioned my sanity even. I had so many free lives they went off the screen. I'd go outside for a cigarette (it was too smoky in the Arcade) and come back and still not be able to count the little spaceships that signified the number of lives you had left.

Hmm, thinking of what I might ask Mrs Verstayne for as my Christmas present...

posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2009


Which, in turn, was stolen from history.

Don't be so fucking pedantic. This is becoming my new favorite word.

Vasily Zaytsev didn't land at Stalingrad by riverboat and rescue that guy from Shakespeare in Love who had a direct line to that guy from Who Framed Roger Rabbit -- Bob Hoskins, who really is Nikita Khrushchev, by the way, he's still alive at age 115.

Rachel Weisz, though, was real. She was THERE, man. And she has a time machine.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and before someone protests the validity of a): motivating players to finish the game is a huge problem facing the industry right now. Slightly less than half the people who play a typical FPS will finish it, and every level the majority of players don't see is millions of dollars (tens of millions for a game with Modern Warfare 2's budget) flushed down the toilet due to the ever-spiraling costs of creating content.

The general approach the industry has adopted to this problem has been to tackle it from both ends: reducing the average length of a singleplayer experience, and making greater use of plot intrigue or moral conflict to increase player investment in the experience.
posted by Ryvar at 4:18 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Checkpoints? A guy with follow written above his head? No danger from behind? Gliding around like you're on a Segway? It's like "It's a small world" at Disneyland with outrage and Russian accents. Apart from anything else it's depressingly linear. Nothing has really moved on in this type of game since Rainbow Six. FPS' seem to be where horror films were right before Blair Witch.
posted by fire&wings at 4:21 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, now I have another reason to dislike this game - because taking any opinion on it means you automatically get classified as either "Puritan who hates the idea of fun and wants everyone to take up needlework instead" or "person who argues for no ratings systems of any kind on any media because it's all just pretend". I'm fairly sure there's a middle ground in there somewhere.

A) I think needlework is pretty cool, and in light of your search for a middle ground I'm sorry if I implied you were a puritan. But,

B) When you say "what you watch and play influences how you think and behave," I'm honestly not sure how to interpret that. Obviously everything we experience influences how we think and behave, but beyond that such connections are really complicated, far more than "garbage in garbage out."

What it sounds like is an insinuation, one made before by opponents of Rock & Roll and Dungeons & Dragons, that media displaying immorality in any way can somehow hypnotize us into immoral behavior, which I think most reasonable people would disagree with.
posted by Nomiconic at 4:25 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have to say, this didn't create even a fraction of the level of uncomfortableness I got from watching the first few scenes of Irréversible.
posted by knapah at 4:30 PM on November 10, 2009


Have there been any multiplayer games where one can join one of two teams, 'terrorists' and 'good guys', and the aim of the terrorists is to kill as many innocent people as possible, and the aim of the good guys is to kill the terrorists. Just wondering. It would be interesting.
posted by Jimbob at 4:32 PM on November 10, 2009


A couple of unrelated thoughts:

I really, really, really wish the whole "Think of the children!" angle would just be dropped, both here and in the rest of the world's chatter about this and other mature games. Ostensibly, children shouldn't be playing this game in the first place. Next topic, move on, nothing to see here.

Also: Is the issue here the realism or something? Because I've played strategy games where I was the Nazis and I won by taking over the fucking world.

I do think that's a big part of the issue. I've read accounts of very mature gamers who played the scene and were utterly shaken by the little things - like the fact that you hear a baby crying in the background, that people are begging you for their lives. "Strategy games where I was the Nazis" are on one side of the uncanny valley, this is far, far across it. Those details are not there because they speak to the strategy of holding onto Kamchatka, they're there because the designers want to make sure you have some emotional ties to the story.

Was it done perfectly? Of course not. But it's a level of moral ambiguity and ambitiousness that seems new to video gaming. Perhaps it is inspired by a certain pivotal scene in Bioshock in which the player's character does a very bad thing, but you have no control - you simply have to sit there and watch it happen. I can imagine a game designer experiencing that moment and saying, "Hey, how much more powerful would this be if we made the player do the bad thing himself?"
posted by jbickers at 4:42 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Would anyone here defend that as "just a game?"

Because beating up a gay person with a crowbar is *worse* then gunning down hundreds of innocent people? lol. Or because yes it would be "just a game".

What would we do without the thought police...
posted by carfilhiot at 4:46 PM on November 10, 2009


Maybe this has been discussed already, and if so apologies, but why is it called 'No Russian' ? It's not like dude is saying "don't shoot a Russian" but that can't be it because you fucking shoot everyone. Any idea?
posted by xmutex at 4:48 PM on November 10, 2009




It's probably a reminder not to speak Russian so that your actions can be blamed on people from a minority group who don't primarily speak Russian.
posted by Science! at 4:52 PM on November 10, 2009



Was it done perfectly? Of course not. But it's a level of moral ambiguity and ambitiousness that seems new to video gaming. Perhaps it is inspired by a certain pivotal scene in Bioshock in which the player's character does a very bad thing, but you have no control - you simply have to sit there and watch it happen. I can imagine a game designer experiencing that moment and saying, "Hey, how much more powerful would this be if we made the player do the bad thing himself?"

Along those lines, I became curious while watching; while I think you probably have to engage the police/military elements that show up halfway through the video in order to finish the level, but the entire beginning looks pretty heavily scripted. I wouldn't be surprised if you could stride through the airport, firing into the air (or perhaps not at all), and not shoot a single civilian if you didn't want to.

If that's possible, I'm also willing to bet the developers will use that as a defense--"You don't have to shoot any civilians to finish this level," or something.
posted by Jinkeez at 4:53 PM on November 10, 2009


He doesn't want anyone speaking Russian because he's planning on pinning the entire thing on the American agent (presumably the player) and if anyone identified the terrorists as Russian the jig would be up.
posted by Awakened at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2009


Stealing thoughts from some comic here, but who would you rather go after? The people who make violent video games or the people with a warehouse full of ak47's?
posted by bam at 4:54 PM on November 10, 2009


carfilhiot: "What would we do without the thought police..."

Well, I'd be fucking in the streets ... I... I'm sorry, that's just the regular police.
posted by boo_radley at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're missing my point. You said that you spent your time making games in which the player kills soldiers and cops. I'm wondering whether you are admitting that you are fundamentally lazy when it comes time to create a game, or whether you are saying that the games you work on are in some way fundamentally different and more creative and engaging in their soldier-and-cop killing.

If the latter, can you explain? I'm really curious ... I was trying to point out the fact that developers (like most people who take pride in their own work) tend to think that, essentially, other peoples' code/design/architecture/plot is shit.


I think my main point is that the context of the MW2 sequence comes across as shock-for-shock's-sake, which is just simply lazy. There are many ways to show heartless butchery and still make the end result, if not "fun" like Mario-fun, then compelling and satisfying from a story-telling perspective. The sequence uses the concept of "it'll cost you a piece of yourself" as its fulcrum, but then fails to challenge the player to make any interesting choices and explore the meaning of that cost. All there is, is "trample everything in sight." Your sole perspective of this sequence is literally looking down the barrel of a gun.

Somebody upthread asked, what happens when you try to shoot the terrorists? I haven't played the game yet, but my money is on "nothing" and/or "failed mission, start over." Which means you're just on a rail to a point where you're going to get plugged in the forehead. This is fun? This is ... compelling?

It's just not very interesting. It's even less interesting than a typical episode of 24, fer Chrissakes, which has hashed and re-hashed variants of "you must do bad things in order defeat your enemy" every week.

What if you had to kill one innocent security guard? And what if he had a name ... a wife ... a 5-year-old boy? This is neither difficult not costly. I'm talking about five seconds of VO here...

And if you didn't kill him, the bad guys would mow down the civilians? That'd be kind of a difficult choice to make, right? What if you made the choice to kill the guard, for the greater good, and the bad guys mowed down the civilians anyway, making your choice all the more painful?

or whether you are saying that the games you work on are in some way fundamentally different and more creative and engaging in their soldier-and-cop killing.

The games on my resume where this has happened, the story is significantly more cartoony and unrealistic than MW2. They weren't "better" than MW2, not by a longshot. Again, I brought it up to defuse the argument that "CPB thinks all games should be like Tetris." Certainly, on many, many levels, MW2 deserves the accolades it will get. I just think this particular sequence sucks donkey dick, as I think it came from that bad place that wants to grab headlines without regard to the art. Yes, it's art. Or at least it can be. "Hey, let's shock people!" is not even Grand Guignol-level art.

My cop-killing game made it real fun to explain to the REAL police why we needed their help when we were gathering art reference. "Yes, I'd like your help in gathering the texture reference on your body armor so I can make a game where people kill dozens, if not hundreds, of people that look just like you. Come on, help a brutha out? I'll put you in the credits..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


When it comes to consuming particularly extreme works of fiction, I find much, much more disturbing those people who use some bullshit heroic narrative excuse to "justify" their tastes, in contrast to those who are honest about the base, dark nature of their entertainment.

If one revels in fiction featuring murder, pillage and rape, cackling gleefully at the ghastly fantasy, at worst he's just being a creep. At least it's pretty obvious that he knows how twisted it is, and such awareness is actually necessary for moral conduct. However, those that deny the darkness of their mirth, and still insist on the heroic mantle without hint of irony, well, those people strike me as the sort who could be easily led down a particularly infamous well-paved road to hell. The worst evildoers have always been those who convince themselves that they aren't capable of any evil, even in harmless fantasy.

Perhaps I'm just bean-plating this too much, but despite its excesses American media has always struck me as being so insistently, overwhelmingly heroic in narrative no matter how incongruous, and I can't help but begin to wonder if it's a reflection of some deeper-seated issues in our national character (namely, an obsession to be accepted as "the good guy", yet still be the dominant alpha-male). It would certainly go a long way towards explaining how we ever thought we could bomb countries into loving us.

/ Don't piss on my head and tell me it's raining. Don't delight in atrocious spectacle and tell me it's heroic.
posted by PsychoKick at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


The sequence uses the concept of "it'll cost you a piece of yourself" as its fulcrum, but then fails to challenge the player to make any interesting choices and explore the meaning of that cost.
Thanks for elaborating -- from what I've seen, that's definitely a fair point. I'm playing Dragon's Age at the moment, and the sequence in which you have to either kill a possessed child, take his mother up on her offer to be killed to power the blood rite that can free him, or embark on a long and difficult slog to gather help necessary to do it without any bloodshed, felt like an actual moral choice. In that sense the availability of numerous decision paths with their own consequences made it 'real'.

Of course, that's also an RPG as opposed to an action game. For an action game, I still think it's an interesting development.
posted by verb at 5:02 PM on November 10, 2009


(In the above-mentioned sequence, Dragons' Age also introduces the interesting element of "Party members can approve or disapprove of your actions, for their own reasons." Going out of our way to save the child and his mother pissed off my mage at a point in the game where I would be toast without her fire-support when bandits attacked. Was sparing the life of a stranger's child important enough to risk her leaving the party? In the end, I bribed her with some gear that I suspected she'd like, and she stuck around.)
posted by verb at 5:06 PM on November 10, 2009


What would we do without the thought police...

Hey, buddy, as a member of the Thought Police, your thought taxes pay my thought salary. You don't like it? Then you can thought elect a new thought mayor who will think about changing the situation.
posted by The World Famous at 5:07 PM on November 10, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yeah, everyone's a thought liberal till they get thought mugged.
posted by brundlefly at 5:15 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm thought-mugging you right now.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:16 PM on November 10, 2009


The game also allows you to kill chickens.

Won't somebody please think of the chickens.
posted by yellowlightman at 5:18 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Crap. Now I have no thought money for a thought cab.
posted by brundlefly at 5:21 PM on November 10, 2009


Won't somebody please think of the chickens.

The Thought Police are already thinking about it. We never stop thinking about what you're thinking.
posted by The World Famous at 5:22 PM on November 10, 2009


"The game also allows you to kill chickens"

By choking them, I trust?
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2009


God DAMNIT. Now I have to buy ANOTHER GAME. I HAVEN'T EVEN GOTTEN DA:O YET! AAAAAAAAAAAARGH!
posted by Bageena at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2009


The Thought Police are already thinking about it. We never stop thinking about what you're thinking.
I thought about you stopping thinking, though. Should I stop?
posted by verb at 5:23 PM on November 10, 2009


NO spoiler tag on this? COME ON! It was released TODAY!!!!
posted by Khazk at 5:46 PM on November 10, 2009


NO spoiler tag on this? COME ON! It was released TODAY!!!!

Um, the post says "full video play-through of the controversial "No Russian" level from the newly released Modern Warfare 2." You really need a spoiler tag for that?
posted by The World Famous at 5:48 PM on November 10, 2009


The Thought Police, they live inside of my head.
The Thought Police, they come to me in my bed.
posted by box at 5:58 PM on November 10, 2009


and his mother pissed off my mage at a point in the game

runscript zz_addapproval morrigan 15

Modern Warfare is the summer blockbuster of video games. You're playing through it, sure, but you're also more or less watching a pretty, interactive movie. I have no problem with it, it is damn near impossible to get any sort of realism and achieve the cinematic wow that Modern Warfare brings (haven't got picked up my copy yet). I love these kind of games in the same way I enjoy a summer blockbuster, it is a blast to play but then I forget. I expect nothing more of it than I would a Tom Clancy novel.

Writing games that react to you is really, really hard ... the RPG approach is sort of a cheap trick. They still follow a linear story and at most, you're losing a character. It is not as if they act selfishly or undermine you. You lose them or you don't. True reactive gaming is something that Operation Flashpoint 2 tried to achieve, and in my opinion, failed horribly. The only way they could get it to work was give autonomy within a very well defined mission and even then too many times did my teammates react, well, strangely.
posted by geoff. at 6:01 PM on November 10, 2009


I'm a hell of a lot more offended by the developers disallowing dedicated servers and otherwise locking down and consolizing the game, pooping all over us proud, doomed PC-gamers, than I am by the latest handwringing over ingame violence.

To them I say: suck it, Infinity Ward! I'll still play the game, though, probably. Sigh.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 PM on November 10, 2009


Have there been any multiplayer games where one can join one of two teams, 'terrorists' and 'good guys', and the aim of the terrorists is to kill as many innocent people as possible, and the aim of the good guys is to kill the terrorists. Just wondering. It would be interesting.
posted by Jimbob at 4:32 PM on November 10 [+] [!]


The most addictive game of my college years (though it was in beta then) and one of the most popular online shooters is/was Counter-Strike. It isn't scored as you describe, it's just team vs. team, but the teams are terrorists vs. counter-terrorists, and there are hostage and bomb-defusing game types.
posted by thedaniel at 6:04 PM on November 10, 2009


Won't somebody please think of the chickens.

Indeed.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:06 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


the RPG approach is sort of a cheap trick. They still follow a linear story and at most, you're losing a character. It is not as if they act selfishly or undermine you. You lose them or you don't.
Well, apparently in DA:O if you anger your own party members enough, they'll actually attack you. I've already encountered situations where having one party member in tow rather than another undermined a conversation I was having with an NPC -- they jumped in and interrupted me because of conflicts they had with the NPC.

Obviously, yes, tracking party member approval/disapproval is a "cheap trick", but short of trying to crack hard AI and weaving that into a video game, is there a better approach? I'm not asking rhetorically, I'm trying to figure out if there is any better solution at a high level. Perhaps adding more kinds of motivation to a single character, and systems for balancing them and systems for calculating their actions based on multiple axis of agreement/anger/disapproval/lethargy would work better. But would that be any less of a cheap trick?
posted by verb at 6:06 PM on November 10, 2009


I can see what their thought process was: we have a decent game, we have a decent budget, we need to break out and be THE ONE game everyone talks about. lots of booyahs and fistpumping. what is the most outrageous thing we could do? someone switches on cnn, sees that people attacking civilians gets loads of media attention and suggests we'd put our customers in the position of the terrorist. outrage! everyone will talk about this. okay, the marketing department has a strategy.

here's what we all probably already know: it's a boneheaded strategy that makes no sense. it doesn't work for the story (for what greater good could anyone participate in that? any good guy would mow down the terrorists because at the end of it all the loss of life is the largest thing they could hope to prevent). it's not a tactic anyone in the media is seriously going to talk about as imaginative, insightful, artistic. yeah, with a few exceptions perhaps. pollock was all that because he invested a painting technique considered an affront to what painting was supposed to be appreciated for. he did it right, he questioned the status quo and convinced a sizeable part of the audience that he was right, that yes, you should have the license to consider this a real form of artistic expression. there isn't a point that is being made here. all this game says is "look at me" and then it has no argument to follow that attention up with.

a more senior manager should have caught this and shot it down as a stupid idea of a junior team. it happens every day. the young kids in your company come up with something boneheaded and your gig as the old dog is to say "hey, really outrageous, I give you that and you did well, but it's not smart. let's see what else we got."
posted by krautland at 6:26 PM on November 10, 2009


I was utterly shocked by the level the first time I saw it, and I still find it intensely disturbing to watch. And i've been a gamer my whole life. Something about it just feels too real to me.

Not that they don't have a right to do it or that they're bad people for making the level, just that it caused a real emotional reaction in me that I haven't had watching a videogame before.

It's kind of too bad that it got leaked because it would have been more interesting to play it rather than watch it.
posted by empath at 6:34 PM on November 10, 2009


for what greater good could anyone participate in that? any good guy would mow down the terrorists because at the end of it all the loss of life is the largest thing they could hope to prevent

I haven't watched the clip or played the game, but I imagine that the terrorists have access to nuclear/biological weapons and your good guy needs to go undercover to track those down. Population of an airport << the population of a major city etc.
posted by juv3nal at 6:39 PM on November 10, 2009


Okay, having nearly beaten the game I don't think this level was so wildly out of place. I have been playing games for twenty years now, but that level (and the fact that it gives you the CHOICE to shoot civilians) is completely transfixing.

*spoiler!*

*spoiler!*

*spoiler!*

After doing the dirty work of the god-like Gen. Shepard, he executes you and SETS YOU ON FIRE WHILE ALIVE WITH HIS CIGAR. This is not a real "hoorah" game. By the end you're shooting US troops just like the Russians because nobody can be trusted. It's actually pretty goddamn ballsy of them.

*spoiler!*

*spoiler!*

*spoiler!*
posted by lattiboy at 6:45 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Seriously: you can open up a book and read such a story. You can sit through episodes of 24 and watch TV dramas that cover similar ground. You can do the same with movies. But when a videogame dares to do it? A videogame? The shutters are down in double quick time.

That's a really fair point from that "games are art" link.
posted by mediareport at 6:48 PM on November 10, 2009


Seriously: you can open up a book and read such a story. You can sit through episodes of 24 and watch TV dramas that cover similar ground. You can do the same with movies. But when a videogame dares to do it? A videogame? The shutters are down in double quick time.

I would think that if a James Bond movie opened with a similar scene it would be just as controversial.
posted by empath at 6:52 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't.
posted by mediareport at 6:53 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would say this is no different than the rampage levels in GTO, or that Postal game from years ago, except, by identifying it as terrorism, and by making the reactions of the victims so intensely, unpleasantly human and pathetic, it re-moralizes this sort of shoot-em-up game; it forces players to confront the idea that what they're doing, and enjoying, is a simulacrum of killing actual people. It's not fun to watch or to play, it's intended to be revolting and alienating, and I think we can discuss whether or not it is legitimate to put something like this into a game, but it certainly doesn't seem like it's in there just for kicks or just to create buzz. Somebody had to animate the way wounded people in the game drag themselves along the floor, leaving a streak of blood behind them; in the video, the player shoots one of these wounded people and it just seems like the most horrible, heartless things you can do. I don't think so much care would have been taken to make it so awful if it was lazy game design or done for a thrill.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:55 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


(empath, keep in mind your James Bond movie would have to be rated at least R, which neither of the last two James Bond movies were.)
posted by mediareport at 6:58 PM on November 10, 2009


I wouldn't be surprised if you could stride through the airport, firing into the air (or perhaps not at all), and not shoot a single civilian if you didn't want to.

I played this level a few hours ago, and that's exactly what I did.

I'm still on the "it's a game, a work of fiction like any work of fiction" side, though. The developer gives you the opportunity to opt out of the scene (not even see it, actually),not once, but twice. And it has a Mature rating. And it's a war game.

Hooking up with Steam, though, is a real crime and a slap in the face to the PC gamers who made the COD franchise such a success.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:58 PM on November 10, 2009


I don't get it. Shooting Russians is wrong now?
posted by mazola at 6:59 PM on November 10, 2009


They just don't make 'em like they used to.

Since they're all really cheap through Steam I bought the pack of GTA games recently. Never really played them before, and they're interesting and not quite what I expected. Definitely more of a guided adventure style than I'm used to, but the series has always been a console game since GTA III, and I do admit it makes the game fairly free of ridiculous impediments, as is the common style in most adventures. I do enjoy solving problems but I'm not really into games which are glorified puzzlers, and the target audience for GTA definitely isn't into that, but it's almost too easy.

The controversial stuff is really such a joke, though. I mean, it's like a gimmick in Rockstar's case as well as in this game. GTA III and on are already working from a morally subversive baseline (though some of the storylines are not bad at all, in a sort of potboiler style), so it almost is to be expected that these wildly popular games would have some sort of random craziness to set the moral crusaders off, just to get the press and repeat their typical PR release cycle. But this game seems like much more of a gimmick, if that's even possible, because it's so awkward trying to fit with the storyline and has more holes than continuity should allow, even in a game. This is much less interesting than the moral dilemmas in Bioshock, and even though it was no grand drama in the manner of the Bard, it did go deeper into exploring moral ambiguity than nearly any contemporary at the time. The problem with their interjection of the role of becoming the terrorist is that it lacks subtlety and doesn't allow the player to truly explore the Freedom Fighter/Terrorist dichotomy.

The whole scene is like an afterthought, and it's flimsy, but the controversy lacks spark and feels tacked on as well.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:08 PM on November 10, 2009


Hooking up with Steam, though, is a real crime and a slap in the face to the PC gamers who made the COD franchise such a success.

Yeah ... I fought that battle for a long time in a general sense, but I saw the writing on the wall a few years back.

If you want to know where the development and money is going, walk into any Wal-Mart and go to the game section. No, you don't have to buy anything there, but this is where "America shops," and Wal-Mart is ruthless with their bottom line, so their trends are instructive. Compare how many PC games are in stock compared to console games. It's not even a contest anymore. The ratio is ridiculous, like 1000:1. I think strategy games will always have a home on the PC, but even those games are being developed for the console first these days. You ever play Oblivion? How about Morrowind?

PC games will never completely die, as long as there is such a thing, but I am pretty fatalistic about the fact that something like Steam is probably the best PC gamers can hope for in the meantime. I really hated Steam at first, but I gotta admit I'm kinda thrilled they're pulling in so many old titles, some of which have been out of print for a while, and for so cheap. Heck, I'll buy 'em if they're in print rather than trying to find a cracked copy, if the price is right, and even trying to go back and play all the great games I missed the first time around will take longer than my free time will allow, so, I dunno, I can live with it for the time being.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:23 PM on November 10, 2009


For those wondering if you can shoot the terrorists - if you try, they yell "Traitor!" and gun you down.
posted by naju at 7:24 PM on November 10, 2009


1) Wow, graphics have come a long way.
Is that gibs on your googles? Nice.

2) FPS games have plots? That people pay attention to?
Huh.

3) It's a game. If you're honestly getting involved in a moral dilemma about which colored pixels get zapped when you play a game, well, I'd suggest that video games are not your main problem.
posted by madajb at 7:26 PM on November 10, 2009


3) It's a game. If you're honestly getting involved in a moral dilemma about which colored pixels get zapped when you play a game, well, I'd suggest that video games are not your main problem.

Someone pointed out on CNBC recently (you have to keep your eyes on these guys, even if they're reprehensible) that the latest big release in games dwarfs each of the latest big releases in the movie industry for the last several months. The per unit pricing is different, but the money from big game releases is starting to outpace the money from major movie releases out of the gate. This is a pretty big deal, and a lot of talent which previously would have worked for movie studios is now writing and acting for game studios, and, yes, plots are involved, and sometimes character development and even major themes running throughout. And if little pieces of celluloid moving rapidly over a bright bulb can move people, so can interactive pixels on a screen. Like the one you're reading right now.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:40 PM on November 10, 2009


Let me add to my comments up thread by saying that although there were moments when playing that level that I felt a bit unsettled, it was nothing... nothing compared to how I felt after watching the movie Wolf Creek. That movie fucked me over for about a week and since then I've never watched another horror/gorno movie since.

I reconcile that statement with my earlier comment about how I'm 31 and I recognise that Modern Warfare 2 is make believe by saying that the level in question is violent but the violence serves a point in the story. It has a context. I won't go all spoileriffic again, but up thread I have said what that context is.

To put it another way, Walt Disney had a rule when making his animated features that there should not be a song in the movie unless the song advanced the plot. This is why violent movies like Terminator or Aliens or Braveheart or 300 don't affect me. The violence is there to serve the story and advance it toward its inevitable conclusion. Movies like Wolf Creek and Hostel, on the other hand, are violent for the sake of showing explicit violence on screen.

And movies like them affect me more than a level of Modern Warfare 2 because the movie uses real actors. When I see a naked woman hanging from a roof being cut open in Hostel 2, I know in the back of my mind that it's make believe. But it is made to look very, very real and it's using real, live people. So it affects me. But when I shoot some textured polygons in Modern Warfare 2, I know in the back of my mind that it's textured polygons being shot by a computerised bullet that probably wasn't even rendered for all I know, no matter how real they've tried to make them look.

None of this is to say that Hostel 2 or Wolf Creek is morally worse than Modern Warfare 2. Nor is is a call for a bannin'. All I'm saying is, I've played plenty of violent games in my lifetime but none have hit me as hard as Wolf Creek and Hostel 2 did and that's probably because no matter how hard game developers try to make rendered people look real, they haven't yet managed to make my brain suspend its disbelief the way a horror movie using an actor can.
posted by Effigy2000 at 7:49 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was all set to think that making the violence disturbing was all for the good, really. I don't mind violence in videogames - it's all part of it, as it is in some degree with all media, but I feel like this was executed very poorly.

Take GTA, for instance. You do easily as much carnage to innocents, and there you even do it for laughs, but the point is that you're the bad guy when you're doing it - you're taking out as many people as possible before being inevitably mowed down or arrested because there's no conceivable universe in which that kind of behavior is acceptable.

Take Shadow of the Colossus as another example, which has you more and more becoming disturbed with the acts you have obliged yourself to committing, and which gives you all the time in the world between those acts to contemplate them. By the end (SPOILER ALERT) you learn the folly of your actions, and the hubris by which you agreed to them.

In this, you commit horrible atrocities against innocents, and yes, I'm sure it is disturbing to play the level, but here's my problem with it: the game gives you a moral way out. It forces you to do evil while telling you that it's for the greater good. And that sucks. And that is lazy. And almost every evil act that an otherwise good soldier has committed they have done because they believed it was for the greater good that they did so.

This is not challenging - this is perpetuating a world-history-long chain of excuses and patting itself on the back for doing so.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:50 PM on November 10, 2009 [3 favorites]


In this, you commit horrible atrocities against innocents, and yes, I'm sure it is disturbing to play the level, but here's my problem with it: the game gives you a moral way out. It forces you to do evil while telling you that it's for the greater good. And that sucks. And that is lazy.

Well, it's only lazy because it's so shallow. IMO that's sort of an interesting place to start, but the game has to take you through the consequences of morally ambiguous decisions in a way that is engaging. You know, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter, which is a cliche but it does offer a place to start, and it might be interesting in this sort of game, which is always so mindless in moral clarity. Unfortunately, this is just a meaningless detour through Moralessonton, and a missed opportunity, because they sure got everyone's attention.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:05 PM on November 10, 2009


gorno movie

Ohh, shiny neologism. I like that -- hadn't seen it before.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:11 PM on November 10, 2009


Couple of other thoughts after having played it...

They give you a warning when you start the game and you can choose to skip the mission entirely with no game or achievement penalty. Although of course they just warn you may be offended, they don't describe why.

It forces you to do evil while telling you that it's for the greater good.

Well, your C.O. tells you that, anyway. Your CO (shepherd) is unambiguously shown to be a Bad Guy, however. So I'm not clear that the game says it's for the greater good, more that you've been used. I think this point is getting missed, somehow people think this was set up as a mission by the Good Guys, presumably because they didn't read ahead in the book :)
posted by wildcrdj at 8:59 PM on November 10, 2009


I dont think this scene is somehow MORALLY REPUGNANT, but it is tasteless and 'lazy' is the word that comes to mind. It reeks of, I don't know, South Park or something. ARE YOU SHOCKED YET!?

But it also rouses a strange conondrum: If there's a horrible scene in a movie, you can skip the scene or leave the theater and come back. Games require active participation. They require you to capitualte, to participate in the scene in order to progress. Forcing the players participation in what they may consider a morally dubious act is, maybe, interesting, but ultimately kind of icky.

And yes, the rest of the game is BRAIN DEAD, Tom Clancy's 11th Grade Notebook type stuff, which makes this even more unfortunate.
posted by GilloD at 9:07 PM on November 10, 2009


Forcing the players participation in what they may consider a morally dubious act is, maybe, interesting, but ultimately kind of icky

But they don't force it. You can opt out. In fact, you have to opt-in to get the mission at all (though as I said, they don't give a graphic description of it, so some people who might think they wouldn't be offended may be after they play it).

But of course that applies to your case as well. How can you know to skip a scene or leave the theater until you've already been offended? Unless you know in advance. And in this case, if you know in advance, you can skip it. Otherwise, you can skip it when you get offended. Or you can just play it.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:15 PM on November 10, 2009


I should add that this opt-in/opt-out stuff was on 360. Not sure if they added that everywhere, maybe it's just for certain versions, since I don't see a lot of mentions of it.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:15 PM on November 10, 2009


I've been consistently disappointed with the MeFi community on the subject of video games. The same people who can't get over how well they see through, say, homeopathic medicine offer the mostly stunningly lazy thinking on this subject.

Look: I watch this footage. You slowly walk through an airport gunning down civilians while nightmare screaming goes on around you. People are begging for their lives, you slaughter them. It's a viscerally horrible feeling and it goes on, and on, and on. As a player, you have to be involved in it, working it, making it continue.

It gives me a really nauseous feeling. I can't help it; it pulls me into a degree of human suffering way too intense to serve only as a video game plot. Now you say: It's just polygons. So why not polygons of abstract shapes? Beeps instead of screams? Because the sense of realistic slaughter matters.

I think, at the level not of morality or law but just of judgment, you ought to lay off this level of intense suffering unless you have something that really needs to be understood, something important to know. But this isn't even close; it's "entertainment."

Now you may disagree in some ways. But for chrissake go farther than: "Dude. It's a GAME." That's not even thinking. It's nothing. It's groupspeak for nothing. So: Yes, before all the gods and the big blue website I acknowledge it is, most assuredly a GAME.

Try this: Stormfront.org is a WEBSITE. See? That clears it up.

Think of the worst racist or sexist puke someone could put on film. Something with no value, something really low. Imagine someone saying "that sickened me."

Ready? Wait for it...

"Dude. It's a MOVIE."

To those who love to just say "It's a GAME" and think something cunning has happened, answer this: Is anything off limits? Run a concentration camp? Graphic rape? Torture of children? Anything? Or are videogames magically and forever free of any criticism aside from playability? All just "polygons," nothing to talk about? Why the hell do you want it to be this way?

And as for "GTA/Custer's Revenge/Pong got there first" -- so what? I don't doubt that there have been lapses in judgment, sometimes really poor ones, throughout the history of video games. Take them one at a time.
posted by argybarg at 9:41 PM on November 10, 2009 [6 favorites]


"Dude. It's a MOVIE."

People say this all the time. I don't see how that's an argument against what you're saying. Not that I totally disagree, but this is a bad argument.

Plus, people are consistently mischaracterising what happens here. There is no forced involvement. You can skip the mission. You can play the mission and shoot no one (well, no civilians, I'm pretty sure you'd still have to fight the Russian security forces at the end of the mission). And most of all, this is eventually revealed to be part of the plot of what is essentially a terrorist US Army General.
posted by wildcrdj at 9:47 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


it pulls me into a degree of human suffering way too intense to serve only as a video game plot.

Are you saying that video games shouldn't be allowed to express things like this or that no medium should?

Not that it really matters, because I'd argue with either position, but I'm interested in the clarification.
posted by empath at 9:54 PM on November 10, 2009


This is a pretty big deal, and a lot of talent which previously would have worked for movie studios is now writing and acting for game studios,

No doubt, it's just something that has passed me by since I don't play video games.
I mean, I know Doom had a plot, but I just didn't care.
It's just interesting to see how these things progress when you only come across them when they hit the major media.
posted by madajb at 9:55 PM on November 10, 2009


I grabbed the game today and played the mission in question. I found it basically disgusting to play through that part of the campaign. It went on far longer than I expected and you watch about 200 innocent people cut down by machinegun fire on screen over the course of five minutes. Imagine a level of a game that recreates the Columbine massacre rather faithfully, and you would not be far off.

That being said, now that I'm on the fifth level I'm pretty impressed with the game overall. I just would rather not have played through that level. I honestly hate to think what it would have done to me as a twelve year old, andI hate to think about my nephews playing through it.
posted by autodidact at 10:00 PM on November 10, 2009


wildcrdj:

Well, just saying "it's a movie" is lazy too.

empath:

If you're going to put intense suffering in any story, any medium, it should be there for more than just thrills or entertainment. It should be more than just a lazy plot device. Don't show me, for instance, a parent begging for her child's life to make your cartoon villain seem really mean or to give a cheap emotional charge to your cutscene. Don't show me people being humiliated, degraded, tortured just to punch up your movie.

I'm not saying that there's a moral (or, goodness knows, legal) obligation to go by this rule, but I think it shows respect for your fellow humans to observe it.

Other people's agony is not your cheap thrill. I don't think setting up many, many hours of your life in a zone in which it is your cheap thrill is a good thing.
posted by argybarg at 10:03 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is anything off limits? Run a concentration camp? Graphic rape? Torture of children? Anything?

I'm fairly sure it's all been done already:

Concentration Camp

Graphic Rape

I don't know about child torture, but there is the Torture Game, I Have Candy, Get in the Van and Super Columbine Massacre RPG.

There's also the depraved Jack Thompson-designed game -- I'm Okay - A Murder Simulator, wherein you avenge your son's death at the hands of a computer gamer by murdering various game industry executives in brutal and sadistic fashion.
posted by empath at 10:03 PM on November 10, 2009


Maybe this has been discussed already, and if so apologies, but why is it called 'No Russian' ?

Did you see how those terrorists slowly sauntered through the airport committing their mayhem?

I'm quite certain the instructions were: No rushin'.
posted by mazola at 10:06 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's why there are classification laws, autodidact. Sure, you could argue that a modern twelve year old is going to find ways to play this game, just like we all found ways to watch porn when we were kids, but the point is they're not meant to be playing it. The game is not meant to be played by twelve year olds.

Also, I wonder why you didn't choose the opt-out at the start of the game?
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:06 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Look: I watch this footage. You slowly walk through an airport gunning down civilians while nightmare screaming goes on around you. People are begging for their lives, you slaughter them. It's a viscerally horrible feeling and it goes on, and on, and on. As a player, you have to be involved in it, working it, making it continue.
...
But for chrissake go farther than: "Dude. It's a GAME." That's not even thinking. It's nothing


But, see, here's the thing.
I don't see all that. I honestly see some cartoon characters getting blasted by other cartoon characters, while way over the top canned screaming and crying goes on in the background.
"It's just a game" is completely accurate for me since that's all I see.
I get no more upset about this than I do about that damn bird sending the poor coyote over the edge.

Sure, it's maybe a bit tacky and not really in good taste, and I probably wouldn't be particularly interested in playing the game, but that's all there is to it from my perspective.
posted by madajb at 10:06 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you're going to put intense suffering in any story, any medium, it should be there for more than just thrills or entertainment. It should be more than just a lazy plot device.

What, to your mind, would justify that kind of depiction in a movie or game? Can you imagine a situation where intense suffering would be justified in a game?

I'm curious as to what your opinion is on GTA. You kill thousands of innocent people in that game without a blink. I'm not sure that showing how real people would conceivably react to random violence is less moral than playing it for laughs.
posted by empath at 10:07 PM on November 10, 2009


Yeah I know there's a rating system... but I don't know any kids who are 12 now who were not allowed to play the previous Modern Warfare game when they were 10. So there'll be a lot of 12 year olds playing. I'm not saying that art/entertainment like this shouldn't exist. I'm just saying it's offensive. Well, I'm gonna start the game up and play some more now.
posted by autodidact at 10:14 PM on November 10, 2009


Imagine a level of a game that recreates the Columbine massacre rather faithfully, and you would not be far off

Sure. But again this is partially a visceral issue. In COD4:MW, the Russian terrorists/gangsters NUKED an entire city. In fact, these are the same guys (with a new leader since you killed the old one). They also show news clips of gas attacks, etc by the same group. Here you see it up close and personal, but they killed way more people elsewhere.

(way more spoilers ahead!)

And you see all this from the perspective of a fairly new soldier who's following the orders of a crazy person. In return for which you get killed. There is nothing heroic here, the game is NOT making the point that you should do this to stop terrorists. If anything it's pointing out that Allen should almost certainly NOT have done this, since it ends up not only getting him killed but serving as the pretext to a Russian invasion of the United States.
posted by wildcrdj at 10:29 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


So madajib, no video game will ever, could ever, give you that sickened feeling?

And people who do get that sickened feeling -- are they just less discerning than you?

And empath, I'd fail if I tried to set down a hard list of aesthetic principles. That failure doesn't indicate anything to me except that this is a subtle and complex set of questions. For one of the more obvious examples, the agony of watching Night and Fog is wholly justified. But if the same footage were spliced into a cutscene of some game set in WWII we'd know it was being put to bad use. But what about the Holocaust in, say, Sophie's Choice? I don't know. When is it not entertainment — when it's art? When it's dressed as art? You decide. But I guess my point is: Decide. Think it through. It merits some thought.

As for GTA, I haven't played any. From what I've seen I could go both ways. There's obviously artistry and brilliance in the design and we tend to pile up justifications around artistry and brilliance (the real underlying phenomenon here, I think). But I'm more drawn over time to a certain feeling about life, hard to characterize, and GTA strikes me as a thrilling, dark-humored wallow, and not really the feeling I'm looking for.
posted by argybarg at 10:33 PM on November 10, 2009


Oh, and you asked specifically: Intense suffering in a video game? I suppose it's conceivable, but it's hard to imagine it making sense.

What do you think, empath?
posted by argybarg at 10:35 PM on November 10, 2009


Ah, saying that makes me realize how they SHOULD have handled this. Instead of a generic opt-out, they should do this:

When Shepherd explains the mission to Allen, you make a choice. If you help Shepherd, it plays out like this (you go along with the terrorists, get killed, war starts). If you choose not to help, he kills you (he kills plenty of other people on "your side" so this is hardly out of character), gets someone else to do the mission, and war starts. The overall plot is barely changed, but instead of a menu option the opt-out is built into the game. After all, in reality he probably would find a soldier who is Jack Bauer enough to go along with this, so it happens either way, but you get to choose your death.
posted by wildcrdj at 10:37 PM on November 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have there been any multiplayer games where one can join one of two teams, 'terrorists' and 'good guys', and the aim of the terrorists is to kill as many innocent people as possible, and the aim of the good guys is to kill the terrorists. Just wondering. It would be interesting.

This is the gameplay of Left 4 Dead. All you'd need to do, really, is reskin the zombies as "innocents".
posted by breath at 10:39 PM on November 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Heh, I don't think even Marcel Duchamp would call Modern Warfare 2 "art". Enjoy fantasizing about shooting people in back, people.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 PM on November 10, 2009


What do you think, empath?

Well, first, the palate of moods that game play is capable of evoking is different from the palate that movies, books, and plays are capable of evoking.

In a book, movie, or game, you're witnessing the action -- you can feel things like embarassment, pity, fear, empathy, etc, but you are having those feelings for someone else.

In a game, since you're acting, not witnessing, feelings like pride and shame become possible to evoke.

Second, games generally don't do 'story' well. Generally when a game gets into narrative, it becomes less game-like and more movie-like or more novel-like, and games rarely do film and prose well.

What games do do well is simulate systems and create worlds and let you experiment in the world and see the repercussions of your actions.

In general, I think that a heavily scripted sequence of graphic violence and intense depictions of suffering in the middle of a game that's meant to be 'fun' will always feel discordant, just because the emotion you're feeling in the game for doing well and succeeding -- pride etc, aren't going to match with the empathic feelings you're meant to have from watching the suffering of others on the screen. I think if done intentionally, it that emotional dischord quite powerful, but I'm not sure that the guys that made this game really had anything to say profound to say with it. Shadow of the Colossus was mentioned several times above, and I think that's probably the best example of that mood I've seen in a game.

Another way to make it work, would be to make it happen because of some failure on your part, not because you're successfully progressing through the game. In other words, it compounds the feeling of being bad at the game with the feeling you have of watching something bad happen as a result of it.

Though, that could also be somewhat awful, if handled badly, too -- 'oh, you failed at this level so watch this puppy die'.

I think that Far Cry might be the best example of it.

Here's a video of a player finding his buddy on the ground after a fight that didn't go well. You can't heal him, he's dying. He'll keep asking for morphine until you OD him. If you pull out your gun, he'll pull it to his face and ask you to shoot.

It's actually surprisingly moving in the context of the game, and it's a good example of gameplay and narrative elements working well in a depiction of pretty intense suffering.

Another problem with games and drawing out strong emotions like that is that games generally lack consequence because of save games, so anything that's really bad would immediately get erased when the player reloaded his save. It's kind of a fine line to walk to have profound negative consequences and not have the just roll back the clock immediately.
posted by empath at 11:23 PM on November 10, 2009 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I was going somewhere with the idea of simulated systems in the beginning of that post and forgot about it -- another way to do it would be to have suffering arise from you taking shortcuts in the game.

For example, if you're playing a military simulation -- if you're really fantastic at the game, you can fight the war humanely, and minimize human suffering and still defeat your enemies, but if you're bad at the game, you can take shortcuts-- execute prisoners and civilians, torture people, firebomb cities, etc. If the game didn't shield you from the consequences of those kinds of decisions in the way that a game like Civilization does, then I could see that as being a worthwhile use of the medium.
posted by empath at 11:28 PM on November 10, 2009


But I think the important thing is to have meaning emerge naturally from the gameplay and the decisions of the player and not because the game designer scripted a cut scene.

It's difficult for the player to have the appropriate feelings in that scene in MW2 because it's forced (well, you can skip it, but you know what I mean) and not a natural consequence of the actions of the player.

It definitely is an interesting experiment, and I can see the thought process behind it, but I'm not sure that it's entirely successful, and that they maybe shouldn't have nixed the idea well before it got in to the game.
posted by empath at 11:33 PM on November 10, 2009


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAzkTzLkCQg&feature=related

It's absolutely art. The question is whether it's good or bad art, really.
posted by empath at 11:35 PM on November 10, 2009


err, meant to quote kokuryu there... and i'm done posting for tonight :)
posted by empath at 11:36 PM on November 10, 2009


It is only a slight overstatement to say that a player is asked to commit premeditated murder through their avatar in nearly every game he or she might pop into their machine. For first person shooters I'd say that it's not really an overstatement at all. These are games where you are asked to kill human beings, and for the most part they just groan and fall over. Sometimes you get some red mist. Were westerns really better when that's what happened to the bad guys? Or at least when that's only what ever happened to the bad guys? Sam Peckinpah didn't think so.

Which isn't to say MW2 comes anywhere near The Wild Bunch in terms of art. MW2 is, to quote Orson Wells "Pip farting on a snare drum." But that doesn't mean that the fundamental violence that goes on in most video games isn't something whose base unrealism shouldn't be questioned. I could be wrong about this having not played it yet, but I get the impression that the civilians are the only ones who plead for their lives, or look concerned in any way when weapons are brandished at them. This is insane. Wouldn't the terrorists plead for their lives too when they're mortally wounded? Or at least some them?

A game could do this. In the right hands a game could do this well. A game could give you a choice, and once you've made that choice you basically decide what sort of game you'll even be playing. Kill the civilians and you're playing Halo, turn on the terrorists and you're playing Half-Life. This is a step in the right direction, I think, to the extent that the direction is towards some kind of mature understanding of how violence in games actually works.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:03 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Another problem with games and drawing out strong emotions like that is that games generally lack consequence because of save games, so anything that's really bad would immediately get erased when the player reloaded his save. It's kind of a fine line to walk to have profound negative consequences and not have the just roll back the clock immediately.
This is an issue that came up in interesting ways when Steel Battalion shipped for the original XBox. They sold a monumentally complex 'cockpit' controller that you used to play the game. It had something like a bajillion buttons, switches, toggles, and joysticks to control a giant mech that you piloted.

One of the switches was the 'Eject' switch.

If you were going down in combat, and you didn't eject? Steel Battalion erased your savegame.

It was fascinating to see how heated opinions about that design choice were, but it was an explicit attempt to overcome the 'cheapness' of failure that you refer to.
posted by verb at 12:18 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hurrah, another mechanics-break in an FPS. The bit where you're on a gun turret mounted to the back of the jeep, or the bit where you're firing down from a helicopter, or the bit where you're walking through an airport gunning down civilians in an apparent attempt to make a statement games like shadow of the colossus and grand theft auto and even carmageddon (and those were all games that stuck with it and didn't introduce people who fired back halfway through to bring back the survival instinct and half-heartedly justify your actions) made already and better... all excuses for having a terrible core mechanic in the first place. Ooh, men with guns! And some of them have rocket launchers!

I wish FPS devs would be inspired by halo and not war films. In games it costs just as much to draw a jeep as it does to draw something much more imaginative, and just as much to have a bunch of men in different uniforms as it does to have a variety of colour-coded enemies with recogniseable silhouettes and varied behaviour. If you're having to put in a controversial bit to break up the flow of the game, then you need to adjust the flow. Modern warfare 1 had exactly the same problem: man spam broken up by gun turrety bits. Woo.

Plus, the atmosphere they're trying to create is further undermined by the achievement popups.

"Achievement unlocked: mind fuck! Deconstructed the nature of linearity and personal choice in narrative video games."
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:36 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's a video of a player finding his buddy on the ground after a fight that didn't go well.

That's hilarious. The emotional moment after his death lasts less than a second, and then the player is suddenly standing straight up and pointing their gun forward again, in standard FPS pose.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:41 AM on November 11, 2009


keep in mind that in the far cry 2 scene, that whole thing was entirely under the control of the player -- finding him on the ground, trying to help him, deciding whether to inject him with morphine, shoot him in the face, or leave him to die in agony. All up to you. It wasn't a cut scene. So if he got up and went right back to playing, that was how the player reacted to it.
posted by empath at 12:47 AM on November 11, 2009


Actually, I forgot about a more recent game about the holocaust.
posted by empath at 12:59 AM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Ah, from the video it looked like going from gently closing his eyes to standing up was one movement. Shows how much of far cry 2 I had the patience for :)
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:05 AM on November 11, 2009


I don't know. It wasn't that surprising, I mean not more than what is in other games. FPS is...an FPS. Real advances in games are few and far between and this isn't an advance in any direction.

I wish FPS devs would be inspired by halo and not war films.

I'm curious as to why you think Halo is a step above?
posted by P.o.B. at 1:46 AM on November 11, 2009


I'm curious as to why you think Halo is a step above?

Halo never changes its core mechanic because it never has to. Running and shooting, or driving and shooting, work the same in all four games (with tweaks and improvements, obviously, in the sequels) and there are no levels that place you, for example, on the back of a truck shooting a stationary gun emplacement at hordes of enemies, who could have overwhelmed you when you were on foot but luckily didn't show up until you got to your truck. Halo gets away with it, where games like modern warfare don't, because its combat is naturally interesting, varied, and challenging based entirely on the environment you fight in and the particular selection of enemies that you fight. There's a half-dozen basic enemy types, all very recognisable through colour, silhouette and audio, and all with very different behaviours, and the way those enemies fight depends on who else is in their squad, what weapon they have equipped, how many people on your side they're fighting, and so on. Additionally, the weapons available to you are much more varied than the usual smg/shotgun/sniper/pistol selection and can dramatically change the way you approach your targets.

Basically, halo is superior because there are so many variables available for the devs to tweak in order to make every encounter unique, challenging, and memorable; they don't have to change the mechanics in order to shake the player up, the way man/shotgunman/sniperman/rocketman games generally do. And that's without going into the way that fps games that break their core mechanics are usually less polished and balanced on their jeep/helicopter/whatever sections.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:11 AM on November 11, 2009


It's just such an obvious and gratuitous level. There are 100 ways you could write up some morally challenging "do something really bad for a larger, ultimate good" that would allow for an actually fun level. Rob a bank and give the guy a truck-load of bullion. Take out competing terrorist bosses. Break into a military base and steal the new super-weapon or nuke codes.

It just looked fucking boring as hell too.

And yeah, I find it offensive. But it's not typical anti-video game hate. It's my enlightened sense of taste which finds it both boring to play and idiotic to fathom.

Super-duper Russian elite terrorist overlord does his own killing? We know for a fact that that's not how it works.
posted by bardic at 2:43 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Metacritic user scores are starting to roll in. When I checked them out yesterday, they rated the game 5.5. Last night for a brief while, the user rating was at 1.9. Pretty stunning for an established franchise.

Dig into the user commentary and you'll see there's four camps:
  • OMG, The online play for the PS3 is incredible.
  • PC players are entitled jerbags, I'm rating this 10 in opposition.
  • The single player game is stupidly short.
  • This is COD 4.5, an expansion at best.
So it looks like the best reviews of the game don't rely on the No Russian scene, and the worst don't either.
posted by boo_radley at 5:44 AM on November 11, 2009


So I bought this this afternoon, played it on Normal and finished it in four hours - a generous estimate, which puts it at $20 per hour, which is less than crack - and what struck me most about "No Russian" was I was annoyed at the beginning because I couldn't run. It's an enjoyable enough game and I'll probably go back and try some of the Special Ops stuff but as a package it's not worth what I paid.

Torchlight, on the other hand, is awesome fun!
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:17 AM on November 11, 2009


Halo gets away with it... because its combat is naturally interesting, varied

Library.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


I haven't played MW2 - having only got it yesterday and deliberately ignoring it until I have more free time. So I don't feel I can really give an opinion on this level in the new game.

No one seemed to mention the two cinematic scenes (levels?) in previous COD4/Modern Warfare. The game starts with you being roughed up by two terrorists and thrown into the back of a car. You have no control of the character except the ability to look around. The car drives through a war torn middle eastern city eventually arriving in a stadium. Where you're taken out in front of (who turns out to be) the main bad guy in the game. And there you're executed.

THe other scene has you as the US Marine who has been one of the two main protagonists up to now. It's set after the helicopter you were in crash lands after a nuke is set off in the city the marines are attacking. Basically you're fatally injured and stumble around a bit and die.

What I liked about both these levels is that they were purely there for the story and that the user couldn't do anything to change the outcome. The first time I played COD4 I was trying to figure out how to escape the terrorists (it isn't until you're taking to the stadium that you're made aware that you're the recently deposed president and a coup has just occured).

In the second cinematic level, your character is killed. Dead. No loading of a previous save game. You're dead.

I was hoping the "No Russian" level in MW2 was going to be like that. But unfortunately it seems (based on the clips) that it turns the level into a normal run and shoot level midway through. I think it would have been more powerful if the level had just involved the massacre of the innocents and stopped there, giving the player time to reflect on their actions.

The COD tradition of multiple story lines being told in parallel with different protagonists allows them to do things with the game that other developers aren't able to do. I like that. And I really like how they're using this to their fullest. I'm really interested to see how else they use it in MW2.

On the other hand the COD tradition of turret levels really sucks.
posted by schwa at 6:35 AM on November 11, 2009


Library.

Yeeeeah, they've got better at doing the flood since then :)
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 6:47 AM on November 11, 2009


turgid dahlia: "Torchlight, on the other hand, is awesome fun!"

It is, and the editor just came out; even more fun!

The more I read about IW, the crazier they seem. "Not Balanced For Lean" sounds to me like like an admission of failure: Games aren't like washing machines where they self-balance themselves. Like a louche German duke with his own oiled nipples, FPS levels undergo tons of tweaking by human hands. If they're not balanced for a given mechanic, it's the studio's fault.
posted by boo_radley at 7:55 AM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was kinda surprised by the direction of the comments here. I support free speech 100% and see no reason this game should not be on shelves or whatever, but I found the whole scene disgusting, nasty and disturbing.

I guess all I am saying is that it surprised me that so many people like this stuff.
posted by I love You at 8:09 AM on November 11, 2009


It's just such an obvious and gratuitous level. There are 100 ways you could write up some morally challenging "do something really bad for a larger, ultimate good" that would allow for an actually fun level. Rob a bank and give the guy a truck-load of bullion. Take out competing terrorist bosses. Break into a military base and steal the new super-weapon or nuke codes.

You actually do one of those things later on in the game; I won't say which.

The Metacritic user scores are starting to roll in. When I checked them out yesterday, they rated the game 5.5. Last night for a brief while, the user rating was at 1.9. Pretty stunning for an established franchise.

Videogame fanboys are like any other kind of nerd -- incredibly angry when their personal preferences aren't perfectly and thoroughly catered to. Considering the PC users angry about the lack of dedicated servers and the teenagers who feel like the most popular game of the year simply *must* be crap since everybody else likes it, a 1.9 is almost a predictable response. It'll balance out at some point, but user scores are almost inversly proportional to the actual quality of the game these day. Anywhere fanboys gather is the nerd equivalent of an anti-vaccine and teabaggers get-together.

So I bought this this afternoon, played it on Normal and finished it in four hours - a generous estimate, which puts it at $20 per hour, which is less than crack - and what struck me most about "No Russian" was I was annoyed at the beginning because I couldn't run. It's an enjoyable enough game and I'll probably go back and try some of the Special Ops stuff but as a package it's not worth what I paid.

The long-term appeal is almost entirely in the online multiplayer, like the first Modern Warfare. I recommend at least playing Spec Ops enough to try the co-op missions. The mission where one player flies around in an AC-130, strafing the ground, while the other player tries to escape from enemy territory, on foot? Pretty awesome.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:19 AM on November 11, 2009


I was kinda surprised by the direction of the comments here. I support free speech 100% and see no reason this game should not be on shelves or whatever, but I found the whole scene disgusting, nasty and disturbing.

I guess all I am saying is that it surprised me that so many people like this stuff.


... implying that other people like disgusting, nasty, disturbing stuff. Rather than leaving it there, wouldn't it be worth asking why people seem to like it? I hope you don't like horror movies, or crime novels, or any number of other things that some people might find objectionable. Otherwise you didn't really think this much past your personal feelings, which might explain your surprise.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2009


was kinda surprised by the direction of the comments here. I support free speech 100% and see no reason this game should not be on shelves or whatever, but I found the whole scene disgusting, nasty and disturbing.

I guess all I am saying is that it surprised me that so many people like this stuff.


Did you even read the thread?
posted by empath at 8:30 AM on November 11, 2009


So tell me if I understand this correctly:

1. Game where you run around killing hundreds of people but it's OK because they're bad guys and it's all in fun = morally fine.

2. Game where shooting and killing people makes you feel guilty and bad = morally reprehensible.
posted by straight at 10:08 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


wouldn't it be worth asking why people seem to like it?

Was that rhetorical? It must have been. Obviously, people have different tastes. And I'm fine with that.
posted by I love You at 10:35 AM on November 11, 2009


So tell me if I understand this correctly:

1. Game where you run around killing hundreds of people but it's OK because they're bad guys and it's all in fun = morally fine.

2. Game where shooting and killing people makes you feel guilty and bad = morally reprehensible.


No, I think you got that wrong, actually. I didn't see many people cheering on video games in here saying anything about feeling guilty or bad. On the contrary, they were saying things like "it's just pixels, if you have a problem with that then you don't grasp reality".
posted by Burhanistan at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2009


Has anyone had a playthrough of this level yet?
posted by cmarambulo at 10:45 AM on November 11, 2009


I think the reason people are so put off by this scene is because you don't have a choice. The hallmark of the medium is interactivity, so if you throw in a big moral decision but don't let the player decide how they are going to react, you're probably doing it wrong.

I enjoy games that present you with moral dilemmas, even if, perhaps especially if, it may be between two bad options. I'd love it if more shooters made you re-examine the morality of just running around killing people. But just throwing in a scene where your character just goes and shoots a bunch of random people for a stupid reason doesn't actually do that. It's just senselessly offensive. It's not just senseless in the context of the game, but out of it, too. Whereas equally senseless violence that was the result of a choice, something that made the player think about what they were going to do, would be less offensive because it had some purpose at least.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:10 AM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Was that rhetorical? It must have been. Obviously, people have different tastes. And I'm fine with that.

No, it wasn't rhetorical, because simply chalking it up to different tastes (again, meaning "Other people like disgusting, nasty, disturbing stuff") doesn't address the why, which is why you're feeling surprise that a number of other people don't share your views.

I think the reason people are so put off by this scene is because you don't have a choice.

You could not actually shoot anyone, which I and at least one other person in the thread did. You could also skip the level entirely. Choice isn't the issue.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2009


I think the reason people are so put off by this scene is because you don't have a choice.

I'm not sure I buy this. There's plenty of video games that force you to kill innocents. Is the problem just that this scene is particularly visceral, so that actual moral enormity of the scene isn't as big a deal as the realistic nature of the depiction? If you play GTA you're gonna have to kill some cops. Some bystanders are not long for this world in Prototype. Hell God of War requires you to kill a man who is literally begging you to spare his life if you want to continue on in the game. The "good guy" has to do that. But in all those games it's cartooney and largely consequence free. I'm not sure that resisting that, at least a little bit, is a bad thing.

And that's not to say that I don't like cartoon violence. I think it's great and video games can be a great medium for it, I'm just saying that it's not a bad thing when a given video game chooses to do it, and if MW2 had bothered to have a point a scene like this could have been brilliant.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:43 PM on November 11, 2009


Has anyone had a playthrough of this level yet?

Yeah. It was kinda visceral in a computer-gamey way, especially with the dramatic music. I didn't shoot any of the citizenry, primarily because I was hoping for some kind of "Pacifist" achievement. Then I grenaded like five Spetsnaz dudes. That was badass because they were under a plane and one guy flew up and hit the undercarriage and got stuck there with his legs dancing about spasmodically, just like something that would happen in real life.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2009


A good friend works for Infinity Ward, the folks that made this. I mention that to explain why I've been following their history so closely.

From what I can tell, the number one priority at IW is to make games that lots and lots of people will love. Of course, you can't make everyone happy. There are a lot of valid complaints about their games-- completely linear, short, dumbed-down-- but all of those "errors" are conscious decisions. They're making games for the market. So nothing they do is ever going to be really high art or anything. It's intended as entertainment. But you can sneak some commentary into the lightest of entertainment, if you try.

If you pay attention, they seem to have another, if subordinate, goal. While they want to make games about war (which is what they're good at, and what people want to play), they seem to be really cautious about idealizing these conflicts. If I'm not mistaken, you can see this as early as the first of their Medal of Honor games: take a look at the quotes that show up on the screen each time you die. They are nearly universally critical of war and of the people responsible for war. They continued this tradition with the Call of Duty series. Hamida2242 mentioned being outraged at the use of "motivational" Rumsfield quotes. I don't know what the exact quotes are, but if they actually were motivational, it would be a significant break from the history of IW.

Their last Call of Duty game had some stunning scenes. Some of these have been remarked upon earlier in this thread. (It also had its share of controversy, with a level modeled on Al Jazeera's broadcasting facilities-- remember that?) The level that affected me most was (another) blatant theft, this time of an actual mission video from Iraq. I wish I could find the video online. You fire from a high altitude plane, impervious to counterattack, at tiny green night-visioned silhouettes. Some are bad guys, some are not. While people die, the crew celebrate and exchange banalities like they're playing whack-a-mole. This is not a level that glorifies violence, bloodshed, or military super-weapons: this is a level that mourns the ease with which we kill each other and our efforts to make it easier yet, a level that left me feeling disgusted at warfare.

I have not yet played Modern Warfare. I plan to. The inclusion of levels that leave sane players feeling disgusted with their violence, that portray ugly realities of warfare and espionage, but not to the complete exclusion of John Wayne theatrics, does not surprise me. I am awed by IW's success in making war games that are anti-war, and I hope they continue to do so-- at least, after the short break I'm sure all of them desperately need right now :)
posted by nathan v at 10:16 PM on November 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


nathan_v: that's the AC-130 gunship level and I think it takes places in the former Soviet republic of Madeupistan. It isn't Iraq.

Anyway - played MW2 last night. The "No Russian" level isn't that great. In fact I'd say the original MW is a much better game - at least in single player. The script is cornier, the levels are less "Modern Combat" and more James Bond.

Oh well. I bought it for multiplayer anyway.
posted by schwa at 5:26 AM on November 12, 2009


I was offended by how short the single player campaign was. Purchased on Tuesday, finished on Wednesday (I walked the controversial sequence with my crosshairs on Marakov's head - I knew I couldn't kill him as I'd fail the mission, but I thought it would give some of the innocent victims a laugh. I also spoke in my own made up version of Russian the whole time, sucka!) Way too fucking short for the price and the hype - I know there is multiplayer, but I hate multiplayer on xbox live unless it's co-op with friends - a game should be able to have both multiplayer and a decent single player option. Thankfully Borderlands has me covered, the only tough decisions I'm faced with is which of the 87 bazillion weapons to pick up next. Awesome times.
posted by Elmore at 11:31 AM on November 12, 2009


I'm with you on that, Elmore. With the 360, I'm a little sick of paying full price for games that are basically 4 hours of single-player gameplay, with a massive multiplayer architecture on top of that, because with the 360 you have to pay just to get access to other players. Xbox Live is the biggest fucking ripoff of this console generation, far moreso than microtransactions.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:53 AM on November 13, 2009


Thankfully Borderlands has me covered, the only tough decisions I'm faced with is which of the 87 bazillion weapons to pick up next. Awesome times.
The interesting thing, of course, is that Borderlands totally, absolutely abandons any pretense of good guy/bad guy posturing. There are the mercs for a particular corporation, but there's no moral component to it. They just happen to be the bigger guys who are next in line for a beat-down.
posted by verb at 9:53 AM on November 13, 2009


Xbox Live is the biggest fucking ripoff of this console generation, far moreso than microtransactions.

For the amount of value I've gotten out of it, I think it's some of the best money I've spent.
posted by empath at 9:59 AM on November 13, 2009


I agree. Especially since the floor for XBLA game prices is lower than that of packaged retail ones. Then again, I mostly play multiplayer stuff.
posted by box at 12:45 PM on November 13, 2009


The interesting thing, of course, is that Borderlands totally, absolutely abandons any pretense of good guy/bad guy posturing. There are the mercs for a particular corporation, but there's no moral component to it.

Good. I liked Fallout 3 and I like the idea of some kind of moral repercussion for actions taken, but I found it absolutely ridiculous that I would be penalized for "stealing" something trivial like a fork. If the law of the land is to kill or be killed and I'm having a moral conundrum about taking beans from an abandoned store, then something's off.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:16 PM on November 13, 2009


Good. I liked Fallout 3 and I like the idea of some kind of moral repercussion for actions taken, but I found it absolutely ridiculous that I would be penalized for "stealing" something trivial like a fork. If the law of the land is to kill or be killed and I'm having a moral conundrum about taking beans from an abandoned store, then something's off.

That's the system established in Oblivion. Bethesda is a high quality shop, but they have found their engine and are using it on all their big titles. I really want to buy Fallout 3, but am going to wait patiently until it goes down to at least $30, because I get the feeling I've played this game before.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:22 PM on November 14, 2009


I agree. Especially since the floor for XBLA game prices is lower than that of packaged retail ones

I guess I should have clarified: I meant Xbox Live Gold, the account level you have to maintain in order to play online multiplayer. You can get content no problem with Silver, which is free.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:04 AM on November 15, 2009


I just played this game. When you die it quotes Dick Cheney at you. Fuck this game and everyone who worked on this game.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:24 PM on November 15, 2009


I just played this game. When you die it quotes Dick Cheney at you.

Insult to simulated injury? A fate worse than death?
posted by The World Famous at 9:31 AM on November 16, 2009


When you die it quotes Dick Cheney at you.

I think you're missing the point.
posted by empath at 9:42 AM on November 16, 2009


For those playing Fallout 3 on PC, get yourself some mods from Fallout 3 Nexus. I've currently got about 40-50 mods running along with the main game and DLC and now I can hire any citizen, buy and rent homes and if I want to steal a damned fork I can do. I can also (should I so wish) take an MDMA and amphetamines mix and then go ride my motorcycle across the Capital Wasteland whilst the faithful Dogmeat waits at one of my many secret bunkers for his master's return.

It's not canon but it makes the wasteland a considerably more awesome place.

It's one thing that makes me happy about the PC gaming scene - the aftermarket mods that some folks come up with are incredible given tools like Fallout 3's GECK and scripting editors like FOSE.

Recommended mods for Fallout 3 - Fellout, Better Living Through Chems, DC Interiors, CALIBR, CRAFT, Greenworld and oh hell, anything is worth a shot really. Just make sure you copy the existing files when they do work together...

Making moral decisions in the original vanilla game is simplistic "Kill Everyone and Steal Their Stuff" or "Beat the Bad Guys, Support the Underdog" type stuff. With aftermarket mods you can make all sorts of nuanced decisions that the original designers would never have got past the PR flacks at the code shop.
posted by longbaugh at 12:49 PM on November 16, 2009


When you die it quotes Dick Cheney at you.

I'm going to elaborate a bit on why you're missing the point.

One of the themes of the game is that soldiers end up being used by the powerful for their own ends, and that war is hell, and that patriotism is bullshit. Shepard is a fairly obvious Dick Cheney analogue, and he meets a deserving end.
posted by empath at 1:28 PM on November 16, 2009


It may have been because I saw the leaked airport footage before the game came out, but in the context of the game, it wasn't as shocking. But what really did affect me in the game was a scene where you kill someone up close -- and he looks you right in the eyes as he dies. It kind of shocked me how real it felt and looked.

I think if these guys did a game that didn't have a ridiculous story, they could really make something spectacular.
posted by empath at 1:52 PM on November 16, 2009


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