Live the Questions by Jeffrey Keuss, Free for CAPC Members
Live the Questions shows us that we don’t have to scramble for answers, or even fear them. We can live in those questions and grow closer to the Lord and others in the process.
I had planned to acquire Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for Christmas, while giving the game to my father-in-law and brother-in-law as Christmas presents so we could all play together. This game was a no-brainer, and has been for about a year. This week, though, I had second thoughts.
Earlier this week, a video was leaked onto the internet which purported to be a segment of the single-player campaign mode of the upcoming video game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In the video, the player was thrust in the middle of a terrorist attack at LAX airport – except that rather than playing as one of the victims or one of the authorities trying to stop the attack, the player is thrust into the action looking through the eyes of one of the terrorists himself. Our first act as a terrorist? Step up to a group of innocent bystanders, and open fire.
The scene (which is optional, and can be skipped after fair warning) is dramatically disturbing, even having watched it through the blurriness of the leaked video. As I watched the terrorists open fire, I felt sick. It only gets more disturbing as the player runs through the airport taking out civilian after civilian, some of which seem to be attempting to help others or drag bodies out of the way. Let’s be clear: developer Infinity Ward didn’t flinch from depicting the reality of a terrorist attack.
There are a number of ways they could have made this situation more acceptable. They could have simply forced us to watch the attack, rather than interact with it and help it happen. They could have written in a terrorist attack that was easier on our psyche: a huge explosion that only implies hundreds of civilian deaths. Or, of course, they could have written the whole calamity out of the script altogether.
All of these things would have alleviated the immediate problem as it now stands: people see what now resides in the game and gasp in horror. If the video were of a cut-scene in which we watch the terrorists do their thing, popular reaction would have been little more than apathy. On the other hand, if they had allowed the terrorist attack to take on a more digestible, anonymous and explosive form the primary response would have been something along the lines of “awesome!” I don’t know about you, but when I’m considering the possibility of a terrorist attack on American soil and the deaths of innocent citizens, I want my response (and that of others) to be something other than “awesome!” or apathy.
A proper reaction to a work of art or entertainment is often the result of truthfulness in that particular artifact. As I’ve pointed out before, truthfulness matters, even (and especially) when it comes to popular culture. It’s hard to make a case for Modern Warfare 2 without seeing the terrorist scene in the context of the larger game, but it’s also misguided to condemn the scene outright, making claims that such subject matter ought not to be addressed in a video game, or that playing the game would encourage the player to run out and carry out similar acts. Video games have become a legitimate medium for artistic expression, however stunted by various economic and pragmatic boundaries it may be. As such, it’s time to stop treating them as kid’s playthings. In fact, this game in particular had already acquired a rating that makes it clear: this game is for adults.
Furthermore, the game’s precursor was a surprisingly sober experience at times. While there were a number of “awesome!” moments, they were always, well, awesome moments. But the game was also chock full of tragedy and sobering stakes. In a stroke of genius, the developer even addressed the common problem of what “infinite lives” does to our understanding of a situation. Knowing that the ability to come back to life over and over again would make a situation (in this case, war) seem trivial, they followed up every death with a black screen containing only a thoughtful quote about the nature of war: it’s dangers, costs, and importance. Modern Warfare is no War and Peace, but it is underrated in its artfulness.
Nonetheless, there are practical realities to think about, and we would be remiss if we wrote them off for the sake of artistic purity. There are those who are simply too close in time and/or proximity to the realities portrayed here to keep their composure long enough to play through them. There are also those who are simply too young or immature to see this reality for what it is: horrific and reprehensible. Those players should stay away or be kept away from this game, either by themselves, those who love them or by the ESRB’s “Mature” rating and the video game store’s refusal to sell it to them.
I still get a sinking feeling in my stomach, not just when watching the video, but when thinking of those theoretical emotionally stunted teenagers, playing that one scene over and over because it’s “just so fun.” Nonetheless, it’s crucial to remember that they’re corrupting the game, not the other way around. Those emotionally stunted individuals will find anything to pour their dysfunctions into, but it doesn’t put any of those things at fault.
Playing Modern Warfare 2 is no longer the no-brainer it once was. Gamers everywhere are now forced to back up and think deeply and in unison about the purpose and place of a game like this. My hope is that we think just as deeply in the midst of the action, with the bullets flying – especially when they’re flying at LAX.
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