By Daniel Ring
You begin in darkness, all you hear is the clicking of loading guns, and the quiet humming of an elevator. “Remember, no Russian,” says the leader of the group as the cramped space you are stood in fades into view. Seconds later, you hear the ping of the elevator, the doors open and you step out into a crowded Russian airport. Turning to a long line of people next to you, you open fire, slaughtering hundreds instantly. As the innocent people try to flee, you shoot them in the back. A horrific scene, but this is not real -- this is a video game.
The game is Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, one of the most popular games of the decade, and perhaps one of the most important. The “shoot-em-up” genre defines American video game culture, many of the best games of recent times have been part of this genre, though it is only this latest installment in the Call of Duty series that actually touches on the morality of such games. The game is trying to make the player think about their actions, and give a new perspective to a scenario that most only hear about in the news.
Looking deeper into the story behind the level, it’s clear that there are massive political undertones to the whole scenario. You are a CIA agent, posing as a Russian militant who is supposed to be posing as an American terrorist. The guns you are firing on people with -- M240s and M4A1s -- are weapons used by the American military. This isn’t the only part of the game that may be emotionally evocative for the American player; the plot jumps between different characters so later you fight in an invaded Washington, the Capitol building crumbling in the background and in the last few levels of the game you fight against Americans.
Obviously, this game has come under a lot of fire for including the controversial content that it does, it is clearly labelled with an “Mature” rating. The player is even given the option to skip the airport level within the game.
Being a very recent form of entertainment, video games still have a lot to accomplish. People still regard them as entertainment for children. This stigma, fueled by news groups such as Fox News, has meant that video-games have been under a lot of fire for promoting violence and desensitizing our youth. It is also incorrect -- the Entertainment Software Association website states that, “the average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.”
Despite the age restrictions that can be placed on consoles, developers are the first to be blamed for the exposure of children to the adult content of their games. The truth is that people just don’t take games seriously -- they wouldn’t allow their thirteen year old to watch a Tarantino movie, the same rule applies to video games -- and until such a time as people realize this, games will continue to be demonized by the media.