On the Modern Warfare 2 “Massacre”…

Upon reading this the first time over, I utilized a larger than normal portion of willpower to refrain from commenting or discussing my thoughts on this last week. It is, undoubtedly, a heated issue that presses on a few chords with just about everyone. Since the game is still a dwindling eight days away, my thoughts will most likely change after experiencing it firsthand, but for the time being I believe I’ve given myself enough time to brood. Now is the time to write.

(Note: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)

Initially, my knee-jerk response was to question Infinity Ward’s motives for implementing such a level into the game’s narrative arch. It’s logical to assume they knew there would be ethical and moral dilemmas ahead if they were to design a level that actually allowed you to execute innocent civilians, so it was a wise decision to include the option to bow out of participating and just observe. This is, however, a practical difference, not a moral one. And it is a difference I haven’t yet settled with.

Why include this as a playable portion of the game? Why not show this to us as a cut scene, or the prologue to the rest of the campaign? It’s obvious that the designers wanted us to play this particular section of the game with a heightened sense of things so that we walk away with something of mental or emotional value…but what is it? Is it necessary to go so far as to put the gun in the players’ hands (so to speak)? The past five years have given us leaps and bounds in progressive story telling in video games that continue to push the envelope of what we can and cannot experience, and I certainly understand there are times when we move a little faster than what our minds are ready to accept. Making a movie based on the 9/11 victims a mere three years after that day left a bitter taste in my mouth, as did the mini series recounting the tsunami aftermath in Sri Lanka, yet the only form of participation I could have with these occasions were just watching. In the case of Modern Warfare 2, the choice is not in watching, but playing the sequence itself.

Rus McLaughlin’s editorial is a noteworthy piece that turns the looking glass on to the rest of the gaming world, and he is right to do so. Killing, in its most basic form, thrives in even the most G-rated icons in gaming history. Sure, they’re sugar coated with innocent objectives or thinly disguised as a bonus level to rack up the high score, but the action is still the same.  Did people wag the finger at Infamous when the player chose to suck the bioelectric essence out of innocent street wanderers? Do we try to avoid crushing goombas and flying turtles when playing the latest Mario adventure? And I suppose I can’t go another sentence without mentioning the GTA series and it’s notorious prostitute killing almost every player will inevitably succumb to (business is business, after all). We we were all anticipating Modern Warfare 2 to be bold in scope and detail, and while people may think they’re unprepared to experience a rather gruesome airport experience, we cringe even more when we realize most of us will choose to partake in the violence.

Not long ago Visceral Games were in the limelight for something similar, but this argument has been played out before, “Well, that game is based on fantasy, MW2 is based on reality”. The commonly used excuses in this case tend to miss the point of the game entirely in that MW2 is a chance for us to take a step forward in our acceptance of the reality of what’s going on in our world today. Infinity Ward isn’t out to make enemies with anyone; it’s quite the opposite actually, since they want you to fork over $120 for the collector’s edition of their upcoming sequel. Killing make-believe civilians with a make-believe rifle in a make-believe world may be a very rudimentary way of describing the level, but that’s what it is. The reason why we’re reacting so passionately to it is what the developers are trying to make us understand; we’re just not listening well enough. While players will have the option to kill or not, I encourage everyone to play the level using both versions. If not to see how the difference affects you psychologically or mentally, then to observe the difference in game play quality between them (I will do my best to perform both duties simultaneously, but I’ll be playing through the campaign multiple time anyway).

Throngs of people chanting “too soon” will not erase or diminish the emotional impact “No Russian” will have on many people, and no matter how controversial, graphic, or soon it may be, I think it is important that the game maintain this particular facet of the campaign in its purest form—not to insult, belittle, or exploit on the nightmares of those unfortunate men and women who have lost someone to this war, but to teach us all why we care so much to begin with.

See you in the next level,

Gray

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