The Missing Conflict: How Call Of Duty’s Stories Went Awry

By John Walker on November 7th, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s the thing. The Call Of Duty modern campaigns really don’t need to be dreadful. I think, after so many ugly, stupid attempts, there’s a perception that it’s just the way it is, the limits of the genre, the best you can hope for. And this simply isn’t true. Sadly it isn’t the case for the latest release, and I think I know why. There’s a conflict that’s gone missing, and they need to get it back.

When COD shifted to the modern era, people immediately assumed that simply this would see it lose its gravitas, trivialising itself now it lacked the pre-built backdrop of a real, hideous war. These terrorist-fuelled guns-and-gadgets shooters just surely wouldn’t match up. But no, it’s not that simple. Because let’s not get rose-tinted here – there were a lot of awful World War 2 games. There were so many, in fact, that in the early 2000s the subject matter was met with the same weary disdain as yet another zombie game is now. There was a glut, and most of them were tacky and offensive, lazily importing the backdrop to save doing the hard work for themselves. COD stood out from this. Because they were damned great games, and they took their setting incredibly seriously.

This was, I think, because of a tension with which the games were made. I remember attending preview events for both CODs 2 and 3, and at both the same tension was incredibly apparent. People from one part of the development team would talk about how crucial it was to be authentic (and actually mean it), showing videos of interviews they’d conducted with WW2 veterans, weeping old men remembering the devastating horror that deeply carved itself into their lives sixty years before. The developers said, certainly with some puff, but also genuine sincerity, that telling those stories had become important to them, and they wanted to do it with respect.

Then someone else would get up and say how bloody incredible the explosions were going to be. Look! they’d exclaim, as they showed footage of a building on fire, and a tank being blown to smithereens. These people cared about authenticity too, but the authenticity of the fireballs, of the bluster and show. They wanted to sell the game on its spectacle.

These two extremes worked so well together for two or three games. It was this that was increasingly lost over the course of the Modern Warfares. Rather than speaking to broken veterans who told devastating truths, they spoke to current operatives in current wars, who gave government lines and speeches of patriotism and bravado. Honouring this meant abandoning honesty, because those whose lives they were attempting to portray were in no position to tell the truth. As a result, the games became unwitting propaganda, gung-ho demonstrations of a nation’s power over the inferior upstarts. Things had changed from the miraculous successes of scrappy, ill-prepared teenage troops, to giants with magic buttons crushing poor brown people.

With this, the spectacle side got to take over. Reverence for infinitely rich, ludicrously powerful armies is cheap. Rather than the near-anonymous cannon fodder of the early games, instead they attempted to generate pathos by giving us backgrounds to the soldiers we sort-of played, giving them conversations and character arcs. Where COD 1 had you play as a barely identified soldier for a few brief moments, before transporting you to the body of another unknown man, fighting for another country, in another place, Modern Warfare 2 and onwards had you playing as BIFF, TANKFACE and GRRRRR, or whatever they might have been called, and they swapped pseudo-bon mots with each other in elongated cutscenes, until one of them died in a non-interactive scene near the end. We were supposed to care because they were HEROES! And they were HEROES! because the game kept telling us they were, rather than because of anything you actually saw them do.

And you certainly didn’t get to feel like a hero yourself. Somehow, in this transition, the player character went from being an anonymous nobody who does his extraordinary best in horrendous situations, to an anonymous nobody who follows behind a bunch of shouting meatheads, sweeping up behind them. So crucial did the display of the events become to the development that the player could only get in the way of it all. If you allowed a person to control a character, run left or right, they might not look the right way as the skyscraper fell over! So dammit, take away their option to run right, and in fact take away their controls entirely to make sure they’re watching.

In fact, to ensure a player always goes precisely where you want them to go, the easiest thing to do is have them follow. If the AI is always just in front, showing you the path, then you can’t put a foot wrong. Sure, that means they open the doors, pick the pathways, decide when to stop and when to start, and encounter the enemies first, but at least the player won’t be distracted when the passenger jet crashes into the cruise ship. They spent two million dollars making that happen, and you’d better not be admiring a texture on a rock when it does.

With spectacle fully in control, and nothing honest to say about the lives of those fighting, there’s no room left for players. All you can do is make it go wrong, not follow the invisible script as they need you to. So instead you’re placed in the museum’s monorail cart, and told when to press a button to trigger the next display. Shooting other soldiers isn’t about gruesome survival, it’s about activating the next cutscene, turning the game’s so very expensive pages.

But post-9/11 war gaming doesn’t need to be this way. People very often cite Spec Ops: The Line at this point, and I’m not going to. Firstly because I think the game has its cake while stuffing it down its trousers, and secondly because it doesn’t need to be arch, satirical, or even openly critical to be a valid tale of modern war. It just needs to have some truth to tell.

Earlier I said that COD stood out from the wall-to-wall WW2 shooters of last decade because, “they were damned great games, and they took their setting incredibly seriously.” There’s no reason why this couldn’t be the mantra for the new games. Although it involves understanding the difference between taking something seriously, and taking yourself too seriously.

Modern Warfare, Black Ops and Ghosts all take themselves incredibly seriously. They present stories that range from infantile to outright offensive as The Most Significant Texts Of Our Time, with cavernously empty characters booming their leaden clichés as if each word is life-changing, while shit falls down all around them. Pathos is gone, entirely replaced by bathos, trite platitudes exchanged with faux gravitas under the moody green lighting of a high-tech radar screen. Nothing-men with a deranged belief in their own significance, explaining to each other just how IMPORTANT the situation is, and how little time there is to lose. With a meticulously animated frown on their ghoulish console-face.

Rather than taking their stories seriously, these are games that instead only tell you that they’re being serious, over and over, in the hope that you’ll eventually believe it. They’re fatuous experiences, delivered po-faced, by a mentality that believes only shouting provides emotional emphasis. And they need not at all.

The irony of it all being that those so effective and moving action epics in CODs 1 and 2 did it all having the characters barely speak at all. A letter written to home during a loading screen gave us a blink of insight into these soldiers, and then the war around them was the story being told.

A modern warfare shooter could present to me the realities of present (or imagined future) conflicts, without this chest-beating festival of roars. It could present it to me without having the characters feel the need to display their worn rubber band of brothers camaraderie at all. It could actually be about the war.

In transferring to the future, a peculiar mistake was made. In the World War 2 games, the stories told were those of real battles, real conflict, skirmishes from history books, testified by living former soldiers. They didn’t need to be about how gruff man with stubble was toward man with beard. They simply needed to say, “Bloody hell, war was utterly awful, and it went like this.”

Modern war is horrible. While people may want to be at war with certain groups, or want there to be conflict to prevent the actions of terrorists, no one (but for the mad) actively wants war for the sake of war. Except for the developers of Call Of Duty games. (And Medal Of Honor, and Homefront, and so on.) And that’s it – that’s the nub of it all. These are wars created and told simply because they want there to be wars. And this mentality, this creative ethos, leaks into everything the games become. It is war for the sake of war, and here are some gruff, brave men who are fighting it for us.

If these games could begin with an imagined hindsight, a conjured perspective on the aftermath of a fictional conflict, and then go back to tell the stories of the events that got them there, I think they could be incredible once again. It doesn’t need to be pessimistic, and it doesn’t need to be anti-war rhetoric. But it needs to be built upon a desire for honesty. Instead of telling us how ACE, TRUCKBOY and PUNCH prevented the foreigners-du-jour from blowing up the president’s grandma, they could tell us how the Bostonian battle between America South and the invading Swedish Imperials was turned by the deployment of the 19th Division during a tropical storm. There are your explosions, your enormous effects, your spectacle. But this time it’s not about five blokes. It’s about that battle, why it turned around, how America South defied the odds and repelled those Swedish scoundrels. The reverence might be imagined, but it needn’t be insincere.

It’s tougher in the present or future times, I admit. The relative simplicity of guns or guns with spikes on the end when it came to battle gives greater opportunity to a developer to capture the moments. When a war is fought with unmanned drones and bomb-delivering robots, controlled by buttons and levers in rooms in other countries, the gritty, feet-in-the-mud nature of war can be lost. But the games ignore this anyway, still portraying you and your invincible gang as needing to wade through rivers in order to shoot 1,500 identically skinned men in their distant faces. So continue ignoring it, and give us those battles in context, without fear that the player’s only contact with anything of substance would be missed if they ran to the left of the tree rather than the right of it. If the game was made of substance to start with, the paranoia that they’re looking when the fireworks go off would so quickly fade away.

Freed of the need to have the player follow, and instead allowing them to be one of many brave or unfortunate men in desperate circumstances, once again the Call Of Duty campaigns could breathe. They could be epic, awesome, dramatic and terrifying, in a way that they clearly so desperately wish they could be. But instead of trying to deliver it in such a clingfilmed world of falseness and characterless-driven plots, they could retell the tales of battles never told.

They need that tension back again, a group of the development team to pull against the spectacle team, to wrestle things back to that place in the middle that works so well. I think it could be done.

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289 Comments »

  1. 9of9 says:

    Still curious why there’s so much CoD: Ghosts coverage, but nothing at all on BF4′s singleplayer, at least for comparison =/ Surely, there’s as many, if not more interesting things to say there?

    • John Walker says:

      It’s genuinely because of a baby. Born at just the wrong moment for the person covering it.

      • Atrocious says:

        Call of Baby: Diapers

        Congratulations to whomever doesn’t get to write about BF4 single-player!

        • Gap Gen says:

          CoD: Ghosts 2 has a baby operative. Press F to have it dribble on terrorists, with QTEs to change its nappy before it cries and alerts the enemy.

        • SillyWizard says:

          DIAPERFACE!

      • Koozer says:

        Fire him. And the baby.

        • tigerfort says:

          Quickly! Bring me the baby launcher!

        • Dozer says:

          I’m pretty sure that Alec is part-owner of the site – perhaps he should fire himself?

      • Klydefrog says:

        Really RPS? A baby was born and you didn’t pretend it was an unpaid intern and have it review BF4′s single player? I’m disappointed.

        • MacTheGeek says:

          I guess it’s true after all — baby cats really ARE better game reviewers than baby humans.

        • Shodex says:

          I’ve asked my newborn baby son to review the BF4 singleplayer campaign and he says, “Blegh.”
          Since a single reviewers opinions of a game often fail to capture it truthfully I also supplied my own review, “Blegh. Barf. Waaaaaah.”

    • BobbyDylan says:

      Probably because, while BF4′s SP was much improved on BF3′s, it never achieves anything more than being bland and uninteresting. It’s run of the mill, unremarkable in quality one way or another. The maps are slightly larger (for some missions) than what you’d get in COD, but the same follies with scripted sequences is still there.

      Still, not god-aweful jet mission this time, and you can even open a few doors yourself, if the AI lets you, and is there to supervise.

      • yogibbear says:

        They let me plant C4 on one of the missions too!

        • RedViv says:

          But what about robots?

        • BobbyDylan says:

          Well… they made you run to a specific point and press a button. You couldn;t chose where to put the C4, or how to arrange it. They wont even let you do it if you AI pals glitch out and dont keep up. There was no player agency in that moment. I’m not sure it’s a moment even worth remembering.

          Though, what the C4 precipitated was fun to watch. Taking a trick from Crysis 3′s book.

      • 9of9 says:

        It has serious flaws and, certainly, the bar is not set considerably higher than CoD’s singleplayer that it’s so desperately trying to compete with. I just feel that if you do put CoD down as the (fairly low) benchmark, it surpasses it in interesting ways, that I’d enjoy seeing discussed.

        Narratively-speaking, as far as a military shooters go, it takes things into a considerably less macho direction and while the geopolitical posturing is about as inane in either one, the handling of characters is fairly well-done in parts. As I’ve pointed out in a previous discussion, it’s fairly noteworthy if only for the fact that it sets a surprisingly good baseline for writing female characters in games, particularly for a military shooter and – even more surprisingly – it’s a military shooter that passes the Bechdel test, which feels sort of significant, even though it shouldn’t.

        Going just by intent, while there is lots of ‘cinematic’ spectacle going on, where CoD’s mission statement ends up feeling more and more ‘Murica!’ with the latest iterations, BF4 (and three, to an extent) attempts to, at least, put a lot more emphasis on the interpersonal drama of its surprisingly varied cast of characters and far less so on the macho posturing.

        • BobbyDylan says:

          Yeah, the female colonel (or Major or whatever she was) was the most interesting character in the game and she only had about 5 lines of dialog.
          I found Hanna and Irish to be annoying and their “character drama” to be token and unfounded (unless I just assume that Irish is a racist), and their ultimate bonding as sunrise predictable. The ending offers absolutely no closure to the rather bland story (except to save the poor little us Navy from the mighty Chinese fishing fleet) and the ultimate choice of sacrifice meaningless. I didn’t care about the characters so I didn’t care who survived.

          At the end of the day, it was better than BF3′s by benefit of actually making sense. But was in no way remarkable at all. Not great, not terrible. Mediocre.

          • TriggRNC says:

            I plain hated the whole Hannah Irish generic well worn ‘they hate each other but in the space of 5 minutes you’re wondering if he’s going to propose on the spot’ shenanigans.
            O’m also glad they didn’t finish the “I’m called Irish because…” line. I smirked at It but no more

      • Neurotic says:

        I liked the jet mission. :-(

      • Battle Pope says:

        The reason most people I know played the BF4 single player campaign was to get the multiplayer unlocks. Just rip through it as fast as possible and once complete never look back.

    • jaguar skills says:

      COD used to have an interesting singleplayer with an afterthought of multiplayer and gradually morphed into the opposite. Battlefield did it the other way around, difference being nobody ever pretended to care about its SP. It’s literally a bunch of things that happen in a cinematic way to pop in a trailer for Joe Sixpack, I wouldn’t be surprised if the DICE/EA marketing department is the only reason they make it at all.

      • Runty McTall says:

        Nuts, ninja’d :)

      • sebmojo says:

        I thought the first Modern Warfare was a phenomenal game and did some things (the taxi ride at the beginning, the nuke, death from above) that have never been bettered. While I like the thoughtful tone of John’s Jeremiad, it’s worth noting where they got it right as well.

        • The Random One says:

          These are words that are true. The nuke scene, in particular, is a beautiful subversion of several videogame tropes.

      • sabasNL says:

        Exactly.

        Call of Duty once was one of my favourite franchises, now it’s just some competitive multiplayer cow being milked by a heartless machine or something. Whenever I hear CoD fanboys, I try to ignore them. Yesterday, I sold Call of Duty : World at War (or CoD 5) to a friend of mine. I didn’t expect any hard feelings, but when I gave the game to him, I somehow felt a little pain in my heart. That game meant a lot to me. The singleplayer campaign is still one of my favourite ones in my gaming life. It showed how horrible war is, something I haven’t seen in many other games. The mission where you, a Russian marksman, climb out of a fountain-turned-massgrave, and have to shoot the Wehrmacht soldiers when the noise of the bombers flying above cloak your rifle’s fire… Woah, just woah. And the final mission, where you plant the USSR flag on the Reichstag, just like in one of the most famous photos of WW2, that was really what I call a great ending. You heard Russians beneath and behind you celebrating. The victory over fascism, you could hear it. But you know that victory came at a great cost, and that the Red Army isn’t any better than the Wehrmacht.

        Battlefield never should have gotten a singleplayer, except for the bots in Battlefield 2 and 2142 (and the “Testing Range” in BF4) which can be usefull for new players, or just to test something. Battlefield is just a game where there’s potential for a singleplayer campaign, but no need. In BF2 and especially BF2142 (which was pretty well written!), the multiplayer maps told the story. I can still remember reading the story of 2142 in the loading screens of those maps. It gave the multiplayer a nice backstory and something to do while joining. I do have to say though, Battlefield 4 is exactly what I wanted. While I found BF3 disappointing, BF4 felt like a true successor to BF2. It literally combines mechanics from BF2, BF2142, BFBC2 and BF3. When you ignore the mediocre singleplayer, you get a multiplayer which in my eyes is true to the franchise, modernized to 2013.

    • Runty McTall says:

      I think direction of travel might also make a difference – if I recall COD started as a SP game and moved ever more towards MP, while Battlefield was more MP focused (BF1942 FTW!) and only recently started adding SP elements?

    • SuicideKing says:

      You could read the Ars review till then, i had a lot of fun reading that.

    • Shooop says:

      Just look up RPS’ and PCG’s “Well it’s not named Call of Duty> so we’ll say it’s a better game” verdict for the previous game. It’ll be the same thing.

  2. Cugel says:

    Excellent read!

    • MykulJaxin says:

      Agreed. I feel like this is a good summation of the various things we’ve been discussing over the last few days with various solutions theorized and outlined. Now to get someone at the top of the food chain to care. Maybe the rest of the gaming community are the ones who need to care?

      • Smashbox says:

        As long as it’s selling, nobody needs to care. It’s just bad art and we can give up any pretense that it has something to offer. Glad they’re able to make so much money selling schlock to people who don’t know there are better games.

        Great piece – kudos Mr. Walker.

        • madeofsquares says:

          Yeah, it’s sort of like the pop music of the video game world I guess.

  3. Tei says:

    Call of Duty uses the Quake 3 engine.

    Sorry, because Quake 3 is maybe the best engine ever made for arena shooters. But fall a bit too short for what COD is tryiing. The same way Fallout New Vegas is build on top Gamebryo. Is like the engine define the limitations of the franchise, and not the other way around. Imagine Call of Duty made with Gamebryo.

    • phelix says:

      Bugs as features! No 64bit optimisation in 2013! backwards flying dragons! DYNAMIC SNOW!

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        INFINITE TERRORISTS

        • Stellar Duck says:

          There already is. There are moments where it seems like they just keep popping up until you move forward.

          • Dugular says:

            Can’t remember if I read it on RPS or in PCG, but a journalist described it best when he said the infinitely spawning terrorists in COD were basically an arrow telling you where to go. Feeding the completely incorrect instinct of running TOWARDS the enemy.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Yea, that makes sense.

            I especially remember a part in Modern Warfare where the enemy was across a road on some roofs and stuff. I was in a small ditch or something so I figured I’d just shoot them all from there and then move on when it was clear. When I ran out of ammo I got the feeling that I was playing the game wrong, yet again.

            In fact, that’s been a common theme in any CoD game I’ve played: that I’m playing them wrong because I don’t precisely guess what the designer needs me to do for the next explosion to happen.

    • callmeclean says:

      Heavily modified quake 3 engine. I think the Call of Duty games look absolutely great, they are not the fanciest of graphics but the developers always put a ton of effort into making really great assets that all tell a nice story. Shame they can’t get the game play up to the same standards of quality these days.

      Modern Warfare 2 is what I consider the last good COD game. Many people hate it, but I feel it was the last one to really allow you to play for yourself and not really pull you by the nose. Story was a bit over the top, but I always think of it as being like a great over the top bond story with lots of twists and crazy scenarios like snow-mobile chasing that was fun!

      • SuicideKing says:

        True. Also fixed the infinite enemy respawn system of CoD4.

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          Crikey, are you sure, if you don’t advance they just keep coming. MW was my first and only venture into CoD and I hated it because of the constant respawning. It took me a while to realise you couldn’t just sit back take the enemies out, then advance. You have to advance, hence being a bullet sponge!

          • SuicideKing says:

            Yup, you can actually clear an entire area in most of MW2. The enemies also persist if you leave them and move on, so there’s a chance they come back.

            But they’re a finite number.

      • Tei says:

        I agree with the opinion that the game looks good . I must add the they care for the details, and put a lot of effort in making everything feels “right”. Is a really well done franchise.
        They are the #1 shooter, and the one on second position probably have half the quality on small details.

        Still true that if you put super-HD models in the Doom 2 engine, these assets will look good, but you will still have to live under the limitations of Doom2.

        The “heavily modifier Quake3 engine” is aceptable. They have achieved so much because of these modifications. But engines, like any software, have a lifespan. The COD engine is probably 65 years old in human years.

        • callmeclean says:

          “Still true that if you put super-HD models in the Doom 2 engine, these assets will look good, but you will still have to live under the limitations of Doom2.”

          I can still go back to the original Doom and have loads of fun with it. I can come from the newest fancy games like BF4 back to COD 2 or Doom 2 and not miss the advanced graphical features because I feel they are not really necessary to those games specifically. I have actually wondered how you would successfully create a new fully 3D game that captured the same cartoonish incredible fun that doom gave you… because I think the graphics was a big factor in why it was so fun.

          I guess my point is that graphics that convey character, detail and a clear sign of care and love being put into them that have been designed alongside the game and work well with it are much more important to me than generic advancements in graphical fidelity that come with new engines and don’t really add any character to specific games. Generic graphical enhancements I most look forward to are those that also give a cool new twist to game play… like the bumpy waves of the moving water in GTA 5 and BF4.

      • aldo_14 says:

        My undestanding was that, even back in the first game, all they (claimed) to have kept from the Q3 engine was the file loading & management system.

      • HadToLogin says:

        I wouldn’t call games made in 2013 with squary wheels to be “good looking”. In last 10 years graphics moved forward, we know how to make circles now.

    • SlightlyMadIvan says:

      Incorrect there. Quake 3 ran on id tech 3. Call of Duty Modern warfare through Call of Duty Black Ops 2 ran on a modified and constantly improved id tech 4 engine, used in DOOM 3 and Quake 4. COD: Ghost uses some new engine, probably based on id tech 5, the engine used for Rage. The reason the graphics stayed weak is to keep it at 60 frames per second on consoles. If Call of Duty had updated it’s engine during this console cycle, they would have had to compromise and lower the framerate, making it way less fun. I for one appreciate COD “stability” in that sense.

      • Pepper26 says:

        Double incorrect. cod1 was almost a normal quake 2 engine (id tech 2), cod2 was a HEAVILY modified quake 3 engine (id tech 3). Cod3 and all of treyarch’s games run an entirely custom engine that is made to feel just like the previous game by infinity ward/sledgehammer/raven/neversoft/whoever in terms of gameplay. a good example is how they didn’t quite get movement exactly the same in their first attempt with cod3. (the main exemption to this is WAW, which is a weird hybrid of id tech 3′s modifications in cod4 and their own custom engine from cod3.) cod4 is a modified cod2 engine. mw2 is too. all future infinity ward/sledgehammer/raven/neversoft group attempts after that have been further modifications on id tech 3′s modifications for cod2. id tech 5 doesn’t even use direct X. it uses open gl mainly. so it WOULD NOT be a suitable choice for well, the xbox. id tech 4 code is NOT in any cod game. also cod4 introduced FF, fastfiles which have stuck through the pc games in the same format since then.

        Long story short: It’s fucking confusing as shit, so let’s just agree it’s the “IW engine” with havok physics.

  4. bill says:

    Good read.

    The posts decrying CoD had gotten a bit dull. Not because they were wrong, but because it had all been said before, and because we knew what would be said.
    But this is much better, and does kind of get to the heart of where things went wrong.

    I don’t think it’s something that has only affected games. The fact we have ongoing conflicts and so people don’t want to criticise current soldiers. The fact that reporters are now embedded with troops and develop a connection with them. The way the US army has gone out of its way to develop links with movie creators (and offer them lots of cool equipment, as long as the story is approved).
    All of these seem to have meant that the current generation of war stories tend to be more about the heroics of those fighting than about the totality / horror of war.

    • Bull0 says:

      Yup. The games are the direct product of the era in which they’re developed. When the first Call of Duty games were out our whole relationship with war was totally different. We’re now living with unpopular wars that have lasted over a decade – we’re all traumatised and exhausted by what’s going on. Hence: trashy escapism and jingoism is selling better than authenticity. Hardly surprising, really.

      • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

        ‘We’ also won WW2, there was a definitive outcome, victory.

        http://www.davidstuff.com/usa/lincoln/bush-speech3.jpg This image defines the ‘difference’ in the modern day theatre of war that the USA is hell bent on playing out! There is no end game…….

        • realitysconcierge says:

          My god that was one of the stupidest moments that was such a blatant lie in the grandest scheme of things… Lo and behold five years later I’d still be accomplishing that same ‘mission.’

          • Baines says:

            Bush later said the banner was for that specific ship, as part of that ship’s own celebration for completing their mission, and not a Presidential statement about the war at large.

            I’ve no idea whether that is true or not. I’ve a feeling it is more towards the “not”. Even if it was true, his whole speech was a bad idea and the banner in the background only made it more so.

      • P.Funk says:

        Have you ever watched a film made during the Second World War? Its just as jingoistic. All the best WW2 films were made 15-20 years later.

        There is a lot of credence to the notion of needing time to generate historical perspective. Ironically it took much less time for it to happen with Vietnam given the political climate, but the modern climate is hardly similar to Vietnam. We’re so into the war on terror its tragic. So much jingoism, and so many applause to receive it.

        • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

          Dude, have you ever seen Generation Kill, or the Hurt Locker? An awful lot of the media produced today about the war on terror tends to be either politically ambivalent or blatantly anti-war. I didn’t see Green Zone, or In The Valley of Ellah, but the reviews suggest they were sort of the same deal.

          • P.Funk says:

            Generation Kill wasn’t really politically critical, it was more about the conduct on the ground and what it meant to the guys there. It was a fairly pure experience.

            Hurt Locker isn’t really about anything except the guys, again. Green Zone was a legit political critique, and it was ahistorical, drew a lot of flak, and will go down as a mediocre offering. Meanwhile we’ve got Zero Dark Thirty by the same director as the Hurt Locker and that’s hardly anti-war on terror now is it.

            There is a more robust modern culture than we had previously and so there’s more critical eye out there, but hardly enough to compare it to the firmly cynical 80s where we saw plenty of anti-vietnam sentiment, or the more balanced or playful 60s films of WW2 where you might even find a German character with a warm personality.

            I’ll say we’re in a critical phase when we can have arab terrorist characters whom we’re meant to sympathize with. The closest I’ve seen that is with Syriana.

          • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

            Man, I really should watch Zero Dark Thirty.

            As to your point, well, I guess you’re right. Generally my argument mindset shuts down once I see phrases like “robust culture” anyway. I know when I’m beat. Now I’m just thinking I really want a video game like Three Kings. There’s an anti-war film that was…kind of recent.

    • Laurentius says:

      Yes I like this article as well, it feels so genuine and is easy to relate to (unlike WIT and 3h WIT) as we all want to play better games and often feel disappointed with current realeses or state of favorite franchises.

  5. analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

    Good read,I have a friend who was in the Gulf in charge of a rocket laucher truck thing. He engaged the mass evacuation from Kuwait and saw the consequences of his actions. He still has nightmares about it. http://deoxy.org/wc/warcrime.htm

  6. Turkey says:

    CoD is way too big to ever change.

    The best we can hope for is a Saints Row situation where some of the devs break out to make their own competing franchise that probably won’t sell nearly as much.

    • Werthead says:

      I was thinking the other day it would be interesting if some of the ex-CoD developers got together with another publisher and made a similar shooter, but with wall-running, jet packs and mechs, and RPS got so ridiculously excited about it they posted the same preview video three times.

      That would be cool.

      • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

        Is that Triton Force? Where you play as bipedal aquatic lizards?

      • Turkey says:

        Titanfall? Didn’t know that was ex-COD guys.

        • Baines says:

          If you are serious about that comment, then yes, Titanfall is Respawn which was formed by Infinity Ward employees who left after the whole Modern Warfare 2 blow up.

          The departure is why Activision had to bring so many studios in to help (the remnants of) Infinity Ward complete Modern Warfare 3. (I’d read claims that a fairly good chunk of MW3 was actually Sledgehammer, more than some might expect and more than was claimed. But then again, Activision and Infinity Ward weren’t exactly promoting how bad the Respawn departure might have hurt them.)

      • EvaUnit02 says:

        Volition, Saints Row developer, has absolutely had nothing to do with ex-Rockstar North employees. Volition’s heritage is in Descent, the original 6 DoF FPS. On a related note, Rockstar North’s heritage is in Lemmings.

      • TriggRNC says:

        Would the mechs be balanced for lean ?

  7. bill says:

    On the other hand, I bought one of the early Brothers in Arms games in a steam sale for about $4 a few years back, because it was supposed to be reverant and authentic and involve some tacticss, etc..

    God awful dull repetitive linear game. I played about a third of it and then gave up due to boredom. And filed it under the “Crap – don’t play” category in steam. (which so far has very few games in it).

    As someone who managed to mostly skip the whole WW2 shooter thing, and hasn’t much interest in many of the modern-shooter games, I cant’ say if it was more or less linear than average…. but if games realy have gotten more linear than that then, … jeez.

    Incredibly obvious 3m wide corridors with no ability to get over the knee high banks? Check. Waiting for AI squadmates to tell you where to go and open gates? Check. Dull repetitive infinitely respawning pop up enemies? Check. Triggered waves and spectacles? Check. Checkpoints back just before the long repetitive part where you have to mow down about 200 enemies from a fixed emplacement before running across a field in a bombardment? Check.
    I gave up when I managed to somehow run ahead of the game and be already across the farmyard in the barn when the enemies started spawning there. So they were spawning behind and around me and I was picking them off by the 100s, but the game wouldn’t let me progress because I needed to be back across the farmyard to trigger them not spawning.

    I guess what i’m saying is that these games have always been rather like this… at least some of them.

    • Fenix says:

      Hm, I’ve only played Hell’s Highway from that series (not at release) and I thought it was ok. The gameplay was mediocre, but it had a story and tried to focus a lot of the game on it. It had many characters, and some of them I remember I found interesting. Though it was way too self-referential so I had no idea why things were happening quite frequently.

      Still, far better than the last CoD single player I played.

      • Iron Ladyboy says:

        It’s super long since I played any game in that series so rose tinted vintage goggles disclaimer.
        I remember the squad mechanics and flanking stuff as pretty fun compared to a lot of the other WW2 shooters at the time. It was best played at the higher difficulties. The multiplayer co-op missions where every player get to control his own fire team and coordinate tactics was pretty fun too.

  8. wild_quinine says:

    John, this is why I like your writing. You don’t stop until you get to the nub of what bothers you, and you share the journey impeccably.

  9. Oozo says:

    Good read, John. There is one argument that is somewhere in the text, but that could be elaborated upon: past wars have the immense advantage of coming with an agreed-upon narrative. (Gross over-simplification for the sake of argument, of course…) Like, who were the bad guys, who won, and so on, in a particular conflict. You can follow that, more or less, throw in a somewhat surprising viewopint, but nothing too challenging, and you are more or less fine.

    Future, or, even worse, present wars, though? They are minefields. You obviously chose a ridiculous example with Sweden, but I think there’s a reason for that: Make it, say, about South American vs. North American-wars, and you are in a deeply uneasy territory. There is a real difficulty there, I would say.

    Infinity Ward’s way out? Why, the James Bondificiation-route, of course. Just turn the amps up to 11, and nobody will ever be able to accuse you of being serious. (Jingoistic, stupid, all that. Racist even. But you can all lol it away.)

    It’s a copout, really, and a very bad solution. But one to a problem that does exist. This should not excuse anything, really… but maybe it might help explaining how we got here.

    • RedViv says:

      That is pretty much the problem, isn’t it? AAA games like these don’t want to be really grown up, they just want to do stuff that is wow such mature.

    • aDFP says:

      Nail. Head. Near-future warfare is, in marketing speak ‘cool’, and so is Michael Bay-style badly-directed, but plentiful and chaotic explosions. Actually, speaking of Bay, the gung-hoism of his movies isn’t accidental. The US military has a budget for movie assistance (you probably already know this, but hey), the deal being that Bay gets free helicopters, tanks, etc., in exchange for the film adopting a ‘certain attitude’ toward the US forces. If you look at almost any big-budget Hollywood action movie that involves US forces, you’ll see that ‘certain attitude’ repeated endlessly, and it’s an attitude that AAA games try to emulate, in order to feel more like Blockbuster movies.

      This is why I don’t think the next Call of Duty game will be any different. If the dip in review scores does affect sales, they’ll just go even more extreme with the next game.

      • Stochastic says:

        It’s frightening to think that CoD might actually have some success as a recruiting tool. Although I suspect that the type of people that are roped into military service by a videogame probably don’t survive bootcamp.

        • SillyWizard says:

          Unfortunately basic training isn’t a very effective tool to weed out awful people. And the worst part is that the lunatics who enlist because WARFACE tend to get off on a lot of the really inane, meathead aspects of military life, so they frequently excel. :(

      • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

        It started with the Reganisation of the military, Star Wars defence systems etc. I love a lot of Punk from the 80′s and Jello Biafra wrote a load of protest songs at the time. The scary thing is they are still so unbelievably relevant to this day. Swap the names, maybe just replacing a Snr. with a Jnr. and jiggle the countries a bit but the EXACT same scenario remains. It’s almost as if some people in power want ‘Modern Warfare US style’. Let Jello tell you quite correctly why this is…………..http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v5KnmVNURo

        • SillyWizard says:

          Also: 1984. I re-read it in 2010, and its continued relevance blew my mind.

          And: of course some people really want Modern Warfare US style. War is extremely profitable for a great many people who don’t have to worry about fighting, themselves.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            Touche: Winston; yup! I think the only thing that breaks the parallel is the restrictions on relationships, that apart it’s a prophetic indictment on the connected age.

      • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

        Dude, I said this in a comment above, but there is an awful lot of anti-war sentiment in big Hollywood war on terror movies. Green Zone, In the valley of Ellah, Hurt Locker (maybe), etc. What you don’t see is anything specifically critical of the men and women who fight these wars, but that’s another matter entirely.

        • WrenBoy says:

          I haven’t seen Green Zone but Hurt Locker is pure propaganda for the noble imperial warrior.

          • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

            What are you talking about? Its a film about adrenaline addiction. And PTSD, to a limited extent. There was nothing “noble” about Jeremy Renner’s character, and there wasn’t meant to be. Unless you’re talking about the other guys in his squad. You know, the one who gets shot, and the one who really wants to go home?

          • WrenBoy says:

            You are only fooling yourself if you think that a soldier picking up mental scars as he bravely does his job means he is not being portrayed as noble.

            But don’t take my word for it. Here is a summary from a well known arbiter of what is and is not art:

            ” When it’s over, nothing has been said in so many words, but we have a pretty clear idea of why James needs to defuse bombs. I’m going to risk putting it this way: (1) bombs need to be defused; (2) nobody does it better than James; (3) he knows exactly how good he is, and (4) when he’s at work, an intensity of focus and exhilaration consumes him, and he’s in that heedless zone when an artist loses track of self and time.”
            http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-hurt-locker-2009

    • Groove says:

      Speaking of turning it up to 11, my dream is for the Spinal Tap of modern shooters.

      I want something that keeps all the stupidly over the top parts of CoD, gives you back complete player agency and adds a sense of humor. I want to be put into an interminably long cutscene of serious military men with the option to punch them until they shut up, then to walk out of the cutscene and have the level load.

    • Shooop says:

      The real problem is making anything but this is not profitable.

      The games industry is not the movie industry. A well-made movie can be a modest financial success because the people interested in movies are so diverse. The people interested in games are nearly all pimply-faced teenage boys who make YouTube videos of them playing these games set to the sound of blenders filled with cassette tapes running while screaming racial slurs and how much they want to sleep with each others’ mothers.

  10. Novotny says:

    I hadn’t been very interested in this title until I saw screenshot 6 above: it seems you get to slay multiple Bonos. I might get it now

    • Gap Gen says:

      And in the latest one you can deploy multiple bonios.

    • Chaz says:

      I was just about to post the same thing, that it appears you get to kill an army of Bono clones; and that’s got to be good right?

    • thekelvingreen says:

      Killing multiple Bonos is good and just but it does mean that there is a world in which there are multiple Bonos, and that is too terrifying to bear.

  11. whiteadi says:

    which one was that sp with helicopters falling from the sky because of some emp or something?

    that had some nice missions and stuff

    • callmeclean says:

      Modern Warfare 2. Last in the series that was a good game.

      • whiteadi says:

        10x

        since then I got no nice sp, except Dishonored

      • mouton says:

        To each their own. I only cringed, until I had to defend a McDonalds against Russians. Then I lost interest.

        • callmeclean says:

          MW2 was made up of great levels like the one where you had to defend burger king. It was just a big open area with a few buildings; bank, fast food, petrol station and you had orders barked at you to defend them, so it was just you running back and forth with a few ai squad mates making your own way through all the enemies. Pure fun. Most of the MW2 missions were nice and open like this which is a big reason why I loved it. They usually had their linear sections for start and end, but opened up at least once into a nice big area for a while. Great level design.

    • SuicideKing says:

      Modern Warfare 2…though there’s every possibility that it was re-used.

    • Shooop says:

      MW2.

      It had nothing on the first game though. I still remember sweeping down under a highway bridge to help a tank crew while RPGs flew just overhead. I got chills, it was just downright creepy for some reason.

  12. psepho says:

    What a fantastic article.

    I think an honest and meaningful realisation of future war is a rather tall order. However, truer portrayals of current and more recent war is still woefully under represented. It is weird to me, for example, that gaming is still squeamish about Vietnam when people were making films about that war within a decade.

    • Stochastic says:

      The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty happened. But yeah, there’s no Zero Dark Thirty or Hurt Locker videogame. Maybe Kathryn Bigelow should take the helm of some of these modern military shooters.

      Also, great job John. These are the types of articles that brought me to RPS in the first place.

      • WrenBoy says:

        Zero Dark Thirty is a moral vacuum of a movie unashamedly regurgitating intelligence agency lies.

        • Grape Flavor says:

          Huh. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Zero Dark Thirty one way or the other since I have neither seen the movie nor obtained access to any information about the events it is based on, beyond that which is available to the general public.

          But you seem to know these things, WrenBoy, so why don’t you tell us what REALLY happened? I realize that information you would be divulging may be classified and releasing it may jeopardize your career as a secret operative or whatever, but now that you’ve teased it like that, it would be rude to leave us hanging.

          So tell us what happened. Were you there? Give us the real scoop.

  13. SuicideKing says:

    Excellent read, and it made a lot of sense.

    I have a feeling that Arma 3′s campaign might be the one you’re looking for. Though Craig’s probably more familiar with the game…you could watch him play, maybe.

    • Stellar Duck says:

      I played through the Arma 3 campaign yesterday and very much enjoyed it. While it did lead me around quite a bit it was a far cry from the stuff I saw in CoD4, MW2 and BLOPS (the only 3 I’ve played).

      And despite leading me a bit it still gave me plenty of freedom to do things as I saw fit. And Arma being Arma, what I saw fit was mostly crawling on the ground, frantically trying to figure out who the hell was shooting at me and from where and OH! That was my guy. I mustn’t shoot my guys!

      It had that feeling of just being a soldier in a screwed up siatuation. I wasn’t sure of the political context of why the AAF attacked and that felt right. After all, that’s not really something corporals are told. The general lack of information was nice.

      And for some reason, knowing that I could run anywhere on the island, made me not really want to. It’s a paradoxical thing, considering that I chafe at the bit in CoD and wish I could escape the rails.

      • SuicideKing says:

        This is true. I was confused as hell for a long time (after the attack) whether the AAF was friendly or not, because i thought CSAT had attacked. But it was comical, fleeing in a zig zag pattern across the countryside to avoid getting my ass shot.

        And yeah, i shot my own guy at the radar facility lol.

  14. melnificent says:

    A great read, You always keep going until you can explain your issues with games in greater detail :)

    COD always reminds me of guilty pleasure and shame with any excuse to not stop “My friends are playing it”.

  15. I Got Pineapples says:

    While I see what’s trying to be said here, I don’t entirely agree with it. I think there’s a kind of faux-maturity in this push that games about war must, on some level focus on the horrors of war. It’s just as myopic as what we’re getting from CoD and it’s just as overplayed to the point where it makes for tiresome shit. Just grim pofaced people reading All Quiet On The Western Front and nodding smugly. Perhaps it’s time in these conversations that we acknowledged Guns of Navarone was pretty awesome as well.

    This aside, though, my main issue with this line of argument is that it ignores the cultural space these games occupy. If there is, inarguably, a single head that video games have taken in popular culture, a single group that has been driven off to the lands of nostalgia and the cheap film financing of Bulgaria, it’s the R rated action movie, which is now all but a watchword for box office failure. Because video games live there now. Call of Duty, in particular, lives there now. Same audience of young men, same shooty type action and there is nothing wrong at all. The rejection of termite culture is one of the stupider aspects of video game criticism and Call of Duty should be Termite Culture.

    So, the actual reason we should be disgusted isn’t that it’s a shooty mcshoot action fest.

    The actual reason is that it isn’t doing it’s job very well. If you are trying to be a thing, you should be good at the thing you’re trying to be. If you are going to be an R rated action movie, be a good R rated action movie. You should at least have the same sense of energy as say, U.S. Seals 2.

    This is not a high threshold to cross.

    • tellrov says:

      Agreed. What’s wrong with CoD is entirely about the gameplay, and the rehashed nature of it. You can make a very good game that basically has the same story as Ghosts. Just like a good action movie, there’s nothing wrong with that.

    • Stochastic says:

      “I think there’s a kind of faux-maturity in this push that games about war must, on some level focus on the horrors of war.”

      Maybe I misinterpreted the article, but I don’t think that’s the argument John was advancing.

      • derbefrier says:

        Really? like half the article went on about that sort of thing. Its not an invalid opinion or anything but gameplay is the most inmportant thing in a video game. The story can be as silly or serious as it wants and as long as the gameplay is good everyone is happy. I mean let’s be honest, its a rare thing for a game to have a story worth mentioning. If the gameplay in the new cod was fun we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

        • pepperfez says:

          My understanding of the argument is that the weaknesses of the story (no organic development of characters, focus on spectacle over on-the-ground experience) infect the gameplay in the form of ever more tightly controlled paths and non-interactive cutscenes. When there were “authentic” stories of real soldiers, it was easier to fit them into an exciting game.

          That’s just my reading of the article: I’ve played none of these games and have no idea of how accurate it is.

        • derbefrier says:

          You know the more I think about it the more I think I might have dismised that side of the argument a little to soon. Last night I dove into ARMA 3′s campaign and while the gameplay is of course miles better than the story(at least as far as I have gotten wich is through the first chapter). It Really communicates a sense of helplessness. When I was running through the woods trying to figure out somewhere safe to go I felt truly vulnerable in the game. Just 2 soldiers hiding in some tall grass not knowing what the hell was going on. It felt more real than any cod game since the classics and I found myself actually caring about what heppens next. So I guess while gameplay is still the most important factor here story and atmosphere is no small role either and can also have a huge affect on ones expirience.

          • tormos says:

            I think that that’s an important point: verisimilitude and quality gameplay go hand in hand in this regard. Obviously this has its limits, as nobody wants to play a game where half your time is spent maintaining your weapon and finding somewhere to sleep in between battles. But a certain sense that you are one fragile cog in a huge machine that could kill you arbitrarily, rather than MASTER SERGEANT BIFF EXTREME, KILLING MOBS OF THOSE THIRD WORLD PEASANTS, not only makes the game more like war actually is but also improves the games.

        • Stochastic says:

          Quoting from the article: “If these games could begin with an imagined hindsight, a conjured perspective on the aftermath of a fictional conflict, and then go back to tell the stories of the events that got them there, I think they could be incredible once again. It doesn’t need to be pessimistic, and it doesn’t need to be anti-war rhetoric. But it needs to be built upon a desire for honesty. ”

          I think that’s one of John’s main points. It’s not that we have to be all glum and grim and anti-war but more that something as important as war needs to be presented in a sensible, even-keeled way without manufactured gravitas. The Eurogamer review perhaps said it best: “The opportunity was there to flip the Call of Duty script… instead, it’s another gasoline-fuelled romp through levels that feel like the last 30 minutes of a Roger Moore-era Bond movie on repeat.”

          To me that tonal inconsistency, the mismatch between the larger-than-life events of the plot and the serious way they’re presented, is one of the biggest issues plaguing modern CoD games. I think John refers to it as “bathos” above.

        • SuicideKing says:

          Yeah but a large part of the article also talked about the gameplay, or the lack of it. Thus the screenshots.

          The control system is well fleshed out, no doubt, just that there isn’t any real control in the player’s hands to execute, except “W” and “left trigger”.

    • Grygus says:

      I think you have perceived disagreement where there is none. He’s not upset because these games are The Guns of Navarone and not All Quiet on the Western Front; he’s upset because they should be The Guns of Navarone, but the execution is suffering because they think they are All Quiet on the Western Front. He suggests that they actually become All Quiet on the Western Front to fix this, but your position that they should embrace The Guns of Navarone is addressing the same problem: that it isn’t very good at being Guns of the Navarone. The problem isn’t that the story isn’t such and so, but that the game isn’t as fun as it could be because the game is so intent on badly telling its story.

      • I Got Pineapples says:

        My argument tends to be with games critics heading straight to All Quiet on The Western Front as a default solution for these things, because every time someone suggests ‘fixing’ shooty games that’s always the idea put forward, with the implication that it is somehow the ‘better’ or more ‘mature’ solution. My argument is both a fundamental disagreement with said implication and perhaps more importantly, the way it ignores the cultural space these games occupy.

        • John Walker says:

          But I really am not calling for the AQOTWFticifation of shooters. A point I make at least twice in the article, and underline in the paragraph that mentions Spec Ops. So I’m a bit confused about your angle.

          Meanwhile, I would LOVE to see an All Quiet style game – nothing like that has ever existed. Just imagine a game where you play as Islamist terrorists, sympathise with them, and ultimately be devastated when they’re attacked by US/UK troops. God, that idea would be more controversial today than it was in the 20s/30s.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            Have you ever read Manfred Gregors The Bridge, John?

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            I quote

            Geebs says:

            “Press X to stone woman”

            So to conclude……..

            Not a good idea.

            Maybe if you had gone for Nicaragua and Sandinista where the resistance movement was founded by women, that might have legs.

            Chumbawamba wrote a song about it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48H5zjSMgyg

            If you haven’t listened to ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’ it’s about time you did, fuckin great album http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMOilP9sz5U

          • I Got Pineapples says:

            Well, to put it a bit more simply, you’re arguing for the Serious Business view and I am saying that no, it should be a chest beating festival of roars, just a better one than it is and take issue with the idea that the former necessarily results in a better game or story than the latter.

            In fact, I’d argue that it may actually make for a worse game because that’s not neccessarily what the audience is here for because of, as I mentioned before, the cultural space it occupies.

            Essentially, there’s nothing inherently wrong with what they’re doing. It’s just they should be doing it better.

          • John Walker says:

            I have not read that, no.

          • Stellar Duck says:

            It’s been a decade or so since I read it, I think, but it contained a lot of shooty bang stuff and tanks what have you, while at the same time presenting a bleak insight in young men (boys, really) being forced to fight in a conflict they didn’t have a hand in creating.

            For some reason, I’ve always liked it more that AIQOTWF. Or at least liked it for different reasons. I think it would be easier to translate to a game if nothing else.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            .

          • WrenBoy says:

            @John Walker
            Surely Freedom Fighters is a game very similar to what you are proposing. You play as insurgents fighting a better armed invading superpower.

            Its americans defending their country from russians but its also an alternate history where the fictional russia appears to be based on the actual america. Its just an ok game but pleasantly subversive.

          • Gap Gen says:

            How about Lebanon: The Game of the Film?

          • Grape Flavor says:

            Ha, yes, that would be excellent. Yeah, you could have a neat QTE where you stone some immodestly dressed women or lynch some homosexuals or something. Maybe a short one-off level where you blow yourself up in a crowded market. Or how about a night mission where you blow up a girl’s school, or you have the option to tackle the level in the daytime and you actually get to go in the school and shoot a 14-year old girl in the head, just like that Malala chick.

            Emergent gameplay! Realism! It could check all the boxes. Great idea, John. Someone make this game at once so he can play it and write an article about how it made him feel.

            EDIT: Oh fuck, reading it again, John said he wants a game where you can sympathize. Well, I guess you’d just have to censor all that stuff out, like it never happened. No biggie.

          • Haplo says:

            That’s both a misrepresentation and an exaggeration.

            For starters, John never argued for a portrayal of the insurgents that was wholly positive. He definitely didn’t say we should whitewash the actions these groups take nor pretend that they never happened.

            It is entirely possible to sympathize with a person or a group of people who commit horrible actions or hold abhorrent beliefs. That is because at the end of the day, these people are, in fact, still people, and forming sympathy with them simply relies on taking the common qualities between two or more groups of people (in this case, insurgents/not insurgents) and highlighting them. Islamist extremists aren’t literally stoning and shooting 24/7. Even extremists have to sit down to eat, enjoy favourite foods, probably enjoy one type of book over another. There are probably some who are goddamned terrified of drones and some who probably end up sobbing to themselves when battles go quiet. Many of them almost certainly have children who they would prefer to grow up happy, and even if their idea of how to make that happen or the methods are wrong, we can identify with the intent.

            And that’s the point John is aiming for. Islamic extremists do not exist purely to occupy a villain position in the narrative of life. They do not exist purely to be a nemesis or an adversary to the protagonist. When an extremist picks up a weapon, he isn’t doing it because he wants to be Darth Vader. He has reasons and motivations, and the sort of narrative John is wishing for would be one which takes all the badness, all the horror of what this group does, and doesn’t justify it, but tries to make us understand how a sane human being can make that choice. How a person who does horrible things can still, at the end of the day, share some of our desires and even hopes.

            And understanding? Understanding is important. For a story like this, it’s not about justifying horrible actions or portraying bad people as not being bad. It’s about seeing both sides of a story, and perhaps at the end of it all, wishing that things could be different. Wishing that circumstances could be different so that these people didn’t choose the life they did, or that they lived it in a different way.

            Because ultimately, one could argue that the type of circumstances that lead to people to take up a life of stoning and shooting- is the exact type of circumstances that could be avoided if only they understood a little more.

          • Grape Flavor says:

            @Haplo
            Well darn, here I was pleased with my sarcastic post and then you go and ruin it by reminding me of all those things that I don’t disagree with in the slightest. Foiled again. Now I feel like a dick. I suppose I deserve it.

  16. ReservoirDog says:

    I think another problem is that you are also playing as a soldier fighting for a world superpower that we know is so powerful it would be very unlikely to loose a war. They ALWAYS have to resort to a very unbelievable and artificial way to strip the US of some of it’s awesome power just to give a little sense that there is a lot at stake. Maybe next time they should try putting the player in the shoes of the underdog, a soldier of a small country fighting against incredible odds. Also, the first Medal of Honor games were a lot like this Modern Warfare games, in the way that you played as a lone character or a part of an elite force that fought behind enemy lines against cartoonishly evil nazis, but you knew your job had very strong consequences on the overall war effort, what you had to do felt very important.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      There was a game where you played the Taliban fighting the US, using improvised explosives, roadside attacks, abduction and torture, etc. It was called Red Faction: Guerilla. Luckily nobody in the games media picked up on that fact because they called the player faction Freedom Fighters and the opposing faction evil.

      • mouton says:

        Oh please. While the game was fun, the setting was a cartoon caricature and had very little do with any actual conflicts.

        • DatonKallandor says:

          Yes, a huge corporation controlled empire invading a small arid one for it’s resources, dominating it through superior military technology, especially air power, installing their own puppet government, randomly searches of civilian homes, massacres and widespread torture of suspected “terrorists”. Yup nothing like a real conflict at all.

          Oh yeah and the main character just wants to find some work but is forced into radicalism by the random attacks of the invading troops.

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            That bears no similarity to any modern day events at all, stop being silly. Every one adores ‘peace keeping’ troops, I’ve watched the propaganda!

          • mouton says:

            Wow, this America thing sure looks evil. If it is even as half as evil as you portray it to be, then perhaps you should fund or join some organization that fights them. It would be immoral not to.

          • Virtz says:

            That’s… completely wrong and not the story of Red Faction at all.

          • Martel says:

            Shit, now I’m going to have to play that game, I might even own it from a bundle already. Not sure that was your intention, but you sold me on at least giving it a whirl.

      • ReservoirDog says:

        It’s less the Taliban fighting the US and more the french resistance fighting the nazis, because the Taliban, you know, are actually pretty awful. Still, you COULD make a game where you played as an Afghan fighter against the US, because they killed your family and you swore revenge, even if you had to join a group such as the Taliban. As long as the protagonist would clearly distance himself from those assholes, it would be alright I think. The thing is no major studio would ever do this because the war is still going and the US would not tolerate any widespread piece of media (aimed directly at enlisting age kids) showing sympathy for their enemies…

        • Geebs says:

          “Press X to stone woman”

          • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

            Indeed, maybe John Walker needs to rethink his All Quiet on the Western Front idea, maybe, who knows?

        • Muzman says:

          You could do an interesting game about Iraqi insurgents or something reflecting that: Initially keen to kick the US out; US causing chaos causes the rise/influx of worse people (Al Qaeda in that case); End up fighting both

      • Bull0 says:

        Taliban != simple freedom fighter, just btw

        • DatonKallandor says:

          That’s cause there’s no such thing as a “simple freedom fighter”.

          • Bull0 says:

            Yeah, that sounds clever, but in your example you used Taliban when the only thing your hypothetical rebel faction shares with the Taliban is superficial military tactics.

    • mouton says:

      There can be a lot at stake without the need for USA actually losing. It all depends on the writing. Sadly, most game devs can’t do writing and so go for the easiest options.

      • ReservoirDog says:

        Totally, playing Medal of Honor, or the WW2 CODs, you know the Allies will win in the end. It’s just that there is the feeling that you are contributing to something much bigger, something we all understand completely because we know the history of that period.

    • Nate says:

      Many years ago, I tried to convince a friend who was at IW that the Yugoslav wars of the ’90s were fertile territory for video games. (I still believe them to be: very interesting environments, diverse combatants and technologies, room for more than one kind of narrative about war, excellent reference material available, the list of reasons goes on and on.)

      My friend told me that something like that would never be done, because the US market is dominated by people who will refuse to play as a soldier for any real country other than the US. I think that’s really sad, and I’m not sure I totally believe him, but he was the one with the access to the market research, not me.

      • mouton says:

        I don’t think your friend really thought it through, as even Call of Duty series has you playing as a Red Army soldier in CoD2 and WaW.

        If they wanted, they could do it. And the audience would have liked it anyway. Alas, corporate decision-making.

      • elmo.dudd says:

        All of the Modern Warfare franchise has you primarily playing as British soldiers, American soldiers are present, but so are Russian ones. Your friend apparently wasn’t playing the games he was working on. The British save the day in Modern Warfare.

    • MrUnimport says:

      The thing is that America doesn’t need to be threatened in order to have a sense of danger, just the player. Just like the fact that America’s not being threatened much by Afghan insurgents doesn’t do much to reassure the Americans being shot at there.

      • Iron Ladyboy says:

        There should be more games based on early 90′s Steven Seagal movie(s). Slight overweight middle age Elite cook takes on a battleship of terrorists and submarine russians. A sense of constant personal danger and badass knife fights with Tommy Lee Jones.

        Press E to Gary Busey.

  17. mouton says:

    Rather than speaking to broken veterans who told devastating truths, they spoke to current operatives in current wars, who gave government lines and speeches of patriotism and bravado. Honouring this meant abandoning honesty, because those whose lives they were attempting to portray were in no position to tell the truth.

    That’s not true, though. There are plenty of testimonies from Iraqi and Afghan wars, soldier blogs etc. that do not embellish the truth. There is no “government line” they have to stick to, past not revealing current operational details. Of course, the fact that those conflicts are very recent makes the opinions more polarized, but the problem was never the lack of faithful veteran testimonies – it’s just the Activision team failed to include them.

    • Shooop says:

      I think the problem is finding them.

      Fewer people are willing to give you a candid “This is how it really was” look into modern conflicts these days, and I suspect it’s because soldiers’ perceptions have changed. I read SEAL sniper Chris Kyle’s book and by the end of it I was almost expecting him to declare god personally blessed every single bullet he fired and “God Bless America” blared from loudspeakers on every corner of Iraq while he was on duty.

      Soldiers today aren’t young men who worked in factories anymore who were handed guns, given a few weeks of boot camp and shipped off. They’re practically government contract killers, spending 5-6 years in bases being prepped for fighting so when (or if) they’re called to action they do it with mechanical efficiency.

      • mouton says:

        Actually, there were plenty of soldier blogs back when it was all more heated. I kept stumbling upon them without even looking for them.

        Of course different soldiers will give you differing accounts and some of them will glorify what they did – same with WW2 veterans. But you got tons of material from either side.

    • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

      As I posted earlier I have a friend who commanded a rocket launcher truck that took part in the massacre on the ‘Road of Death’ out of Kuwait. He has told me some of the stuff that traumatised him ‘the smell of rotting corpses, burning and napalm(petrol/diesel??) that filled your head from miles away’. I think he would regale his experiences if someone wanted to listen, would maybe help with his PTSD. Edit: There is or can be such a distance in the modern theatre of war where you just press a button and kill many, this is different to WW2 where a lot of soldiers missed on purpose with their guns. You now press the button and then see the fruit of your actions, not good for the head!

      • mouton says:

        Well, you also had big guns in WW2. You could drive a tank and blow up a house full of civilians just as well.

        • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

          True, though I think distance killing is more a part of modern warfare even in the infantry. Have you seen the stats for the Kuwait debacle.

    • Misnomer says:

      Play Medal of Honor: Tier 1

      Based on Operation Anaconda and the stories of the men involved. MOH: Warfighter isn’t quite on the same level, but the people they consulted on that one actually got fired for revealing classified information (and I think that stuff probably got redacted from the game, but that is just a wild guess).

      That series is dead. The developers that sought to bring that type of story back are gone. RPS helped destroy it with its very very poor reporting on the game. (By that I do not mean RPS should have given the game good reviews, but they could have at least treated the game as it was instead of treating like some crazy Tom Clancy/COD story. RPS didn’t do the research to know how the MOH games were treating the military or real conflicts. It was sloppy and poor journalism.)

      • John Walker says:

        No matter the alleged authenticity of the game, it was absolutely bloody awful. Not as fucking hateful as the sequel, but a tedious, crappy game. Hence our reporting that.

        However, it’s worth nothing that on the announcement the series was on ice, I wrote this piece appealing for them to continue with it:

        http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/01/31/medal-of-honor-cancelled/

      • Mman says:

        Medal of Honor’s promotion and hype was practically a recruitment pamphlet full of ~the noble modern warrior~ absurdity, and, outside of the surprisingly well done hopeless defense mission, I can’t recall anything in the game that made me think otherwise. It’s pretty much the perfect example of the kind of embellished one-sided propaganda (essentially) that this article is complaining about.

    • Muzman says:

      Yeah, it’s not that they don’t exist it’s that it is completely gauche since 9/11 to be much else than ra-ra about soldiering in the US.
      I don’t think it’s mandated by the government or anything. It’s more like one side of politics largely doesn’t want to hear about it, the other only cares about how great everything is and ‘Support the troops!’ etc (The military itself does have fairly big PR pushes though, through Hollywood particularly)
      US culture has nicely propagandised itself, in other words. The big name games are just going with the flow.

  18. Muzman says:

    There goes Walker, ragging on popular games content for guaranteed controversy clicks again. Someone fire him.
    This place used to be so much better when it had opinions the same as mine.

    (Sorry, it’s actually good. I don’t have quite the same fond memories of the original CoDs though. The had their moments. They do seem great in contrast to the present however).

    • tormos says:

      The best part about this argument is that they’re appealing to fantasy-conservative RPS which I don’t think actually ever existed.

  19. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I just wish COD would decide on whether it wants to be serious or goofy. There’s a bunch of crazy Michael Bay stuff happening, shooting in space and such and they expect the player to take it all completely seriously when I just can’t. That, and it’s always the over glorified ‘here come the yanks who can do no wrong to save the day and kick terrorist arse’. It hasn’t changed up since COD 4 in that respect. Does anyone remember the parody of COD called ‘Duty Calls’? As funny as it was, to me it summed up everything wrong with the COD formula perfectly.

    • elmo.dudd says:

      When you say “here come the Yanks” do you mean “here come the British”? Because the British saved the day in every Modern Warfare release. Including single handedly saving America. America peaks at not not stubbing their toes sometimes in that story arc.

  20. DatonKallandor says:

    Let’s not forget that CoD 4: Modern Warfare (1) had a singleplayer campaign that was genuinely good and innovative for it’s genre. They did the “no defined player character, you jump around in different bodies” really well. They had a great opening shocker with the player character getting executed, they had the whole “not everything is going to end well” with rescuing the downed chopper pilot only to have a nuke make everything you did ultimately for nothing.
    The problem is they thought that people liked it because it had big setpieces or over-the-top action, when the reason it was good is because it went against the established grain a lot of time. It didn’t paint it’s every character as a heroic ubermensch or make them utterly despicable and then try to justifiy it with vague american patriotism. Sadly that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since and I doubt that pattern is going to stop anytime soon. They don’t even have the balls to make the Chinese antagonists (one of the genuinely suprising things about BF4), but I guess at least they’re not calling them “North Koreans” but treating them like they were China in an effort not to offend.

    • rapier17 says:

      Other boons in CoD:MW’s favor were the differences as you switched between the two player characters & their respective missions – SAS missions would often start off quiet, with vocal chatter often being informal, leading to a firefight. The USMC missions were more ‘explosive’ and ‘dynamic’ with action thrown into the players face from the get-go and lots of military chanty-type-ordery-shouting. It made for great variety within the game.

      CoD:MW will always have a special place in my mind simply for Crew Expendable, the first actual mission when, with Price, Gaz & the other SAS chaps, you board a cargo ship from a helicopter in the midst of a rainstorm. You fight your way through the ship to find the special ‘cargo’ before the vessel is attacked by fighters, who hit it with missiles. Then you have to make your way out of the ship whilst the walkways collapse, water pours in, the ship pitches and heaves at unhelpful angles and then the mad scramble across the deck to the waiting helicopter before jumping for it’s lowered ramp. The moment when Soap’s arms scrabble for purchase on the ramp was a real sharp intake of breath moment – would he make it? Of course he would but it was tense and dramatic. Ah memories. “On your feet soldier. We. Are. Leaving!”

      • DatonKallandor says:

        The reason that mission was so tense is because the prologue where you’re “playing” the ousted and executed president is just before that. Moments before they’ve established a precedent that player viewpoint characters don’t necessarily survive. So when you’re scrambling to get out of a sinking ship leaping to helicopters – there’s no guarantee that you’ll make it just because you’re playing the chap.

        • Deadly Sinner says:

          Huh, I never thought of it that way before.

          Another point in MW’s favor is that they allowed you some measure of control even when the sequence was ultimately scripted. For example, when the nuke went off, you could crawl around wherever you like, or you can just sit there and the outcome will be exactly the same. There were no events that you needed to trigger or arrows to follow. In fact, I restarted the sequence because I thought that I had done something wrong. Same thing with the sniper part of the Chernobyl mission.

          Even though those sequences are technically cheating, they feel much more natural. They give me the feeling that my actions affect the outcome, even though the outcome is set in stone.

  21. SRTie4k says:

    There is a reason why COD is such a successful formula, and it was pretty much outlined later in the article. It’s war for the sake of war, not for any justifiable reason. And why would that make it so successful? Because your average 14-28 year old has long had dreams of being Sgt Joe McHero in his own war, carrying a rifle, grenades and C4. What war does he dream of killing bad guys in is entirely unimportant, all that matters are the stars of heroicism glinting in that average audience member’s eye.

    The majority of that audience has no actual concept of war as it actually exists, and never will, so they dream about it in a romantic and heroic way, how they see it portrayed in most forms of media. The details ultimately don’t matter, though. But the fact that COD lets those people feel like they’re experiencing genuine war cannot be understated (and could not be farther from the truth).

    • Stochastic says:

      Well said. I’m not against a little bit of self-indulgent fantasy every now and again, but modern military shooters seem to be very socially irresponsible in how they’re fueling their players’ delusions. Some (naive) people’s views of modern war might actually be affected by this on some level.

  22. fooga44 says:

    Call of duty has been teenage war porn since it’s inception. No one should expect any kind of narrative or story out of it. Stop regurgitating PR bullshit. The idea that any videogame depiction of war is ‘authentic’ and ‘shows the horrors’ is quite the bit of bs. No one can take tonnes of bullets get red jelly screen and be back to full health and still take the game seriously in terms of it’s depiction of war or story.

    • callmeclean says:

      “Call of duty has been teenage war porn since it’s inception… No one can take tonnes of bullets get red jelly screen and be back to full health and still take the game seriously in terms of it’s depiction of war or story.”
      The original COD had a health meter which required health packs to refill, no regeneration. Have you even played it since you are judging it?

      OT: Games don’t have to replicate the exact reality to properly convey certain elements of what it would have been like. No one is claiming that Call of Duty or any game can give you anywhere near a complete experience of war, or experience of it at all. The only thing I claim they can occasionally do is give you a little appreciation of what those men went through; I remember one scene from COD2 where you land on a beach and get shell shocked and knocked over, and then you just see another landing boat open up and and all the soldiers getting out of it gunned down by an MG. Then your back up with no more focus on it. I get quite worked up playing the games, I get exhausted and stressed. It all adds up to a pleasantly unpleasant experience.

      When playing Red Orchestra 2 I nearly have a heart attack every time I get shot; never knowing when your about to be killed gets you really on edge.

      • revan says:

        Umm, CoD can’t give you even a glimpse of what real-life soldiers go through. And I’m talking about soldiers engaged in an actual war. It’s nothing like what’s portrayed in the game. CoD is pure and unrefined propaganda when it comes to that. I’m talking about post WWII titles. Trust me on this.

  23. revan says:

    While I genuinely agree with every word, it all falls face first when this train-wreck of a game (slightly interactive movie would be more apt description) sells one billion in 24 hours.

    There need not be imagined wars of the present times. They can take those of the near past, like the Dissolution of Yugoslavia. Having lived through that sucker myself in Bosnia, I can attest it was very much modern and bloody, with numerous battles lending themselves to set-pieces. I get it, no Americans fought. But NATO Operation Deliberate Force in 1995 saw US involvement, albeit mostly from the air and sea, but you could take some creative liberties and insert a few US, British etc. special operations personnel if need be. Take the testimonies of people who lived through it and you will find some harrowing accounts. Or go back to 1992. for street fighting in downtown Sarajevo, around presidential building and elsewhere in the government quarter. Insert a few American spooks and watch it unfold. Bonus is the presence of modern, western and eastern setting in a single city.

    But problem with later COD games is that they are made by people who know absolutely zero about what real war feels like, so they can’t even create a proper one.

    • Subject 706 says:

      If handled properly, the dissolution of Yugoslavia could be a great setting for a game. So could Chechnya, Congo or any number of horrible conflicts. The problem is that the majority of large publishers tend to be extremely amerocentric.

      • Baines says:

        Even if a big developer made it, there would probably be complaints of trivializing and profiting off of real human suffering. Because both the victims and enemies would be real people. You know, unlike games set in the Middle East where we patriotically stamp out evil.

    • mouton says:

      “But problem with later COD games is that they are made by people who know absolutely zero about what real war feels like, so they can’t even create a proper one.”

      No, they are simply not interested. Just like Michael Bay is not interested in actual physics, they are not interested in actual war. They found their pop culture representation of war, it sells and they will churn it until it stops.

  24. DeepQantas says:

    Press “Left Mouse” to question nothing.

    • mouton says:

      Active combat situation is a very bad place for questioning anything, though.

      • DeepQantas says:

        Well… How about when you’re playing a videogame?

        • Ako says:

          THIS IS NOT A VIDEO GAME!

        • mouton says:

          If said videogame’s ambition is to give a feel of a combat situation, then it still applies.

          • DeepQantas says:

            Only if you don’t question it. You’re not required to follow the authors’ intent. They may punish you for going against the grain, but it’s a videogame, so what’s the worst they can do?

    • Iron Ladyboy says:

      I only have a right mouse. :(

  25. drewdupe says:

    Bravo! Always a pleasure to read your words Mr. Walker. I found myself nodding my head sagely and in agreement throughout the article.

  26. Drovek says:

    I remember all the wait and lead up to Call of Duty (1).

    It was a time when Medal of Honor had gotten stale, mainly because it was just a shooter with a WWII backdrop. They “consulted” to find out which kind of heroic actions would result in a Medal of Honor… turns out single-handedly winning a war is one of them, or something.

    Back then people were exited about a game that tried to be more realistic, at least in presentation. It had an amazing atmosphere, and those sound effects. The MG42 roared for once! This was also the time around Band of Brothers, so the two helped a bit to push towards actually giving some respect to the stories told by those who were there.

    I never got to play COD2 or 3, mostly due to circumstances.

    I did, however, play COD4. I loved that one: the story was ok, nothing groundbreaking, but it was carefully crafted and presented to the player with some memorable moments. I think I must’ve played through it some 4 or 5 times in total over the years.

    Then I played MW2, BLOPS, MW3. Nothing ever stood out there to make me want to replay them, I had to drag my feet to finish them… didn’t even bother with BLOPS2 and I don’t think I will with Ghosts.

  27. Meneldil says:

    Starcraft did a better job at portraying war back in 1998 than all modern CoD and CoD-wannabes.

    • Nate says:

      CoD? Nothing compared to starcraft!

    • Gap Gen says:

      Press F to turn to your feeble carapace into a gas extractor.
      Wait for your teammates to construct pylons so you can advance to the next checkpoint.
      Mow down endless waves of zerg, until you activate the trigger, which is your violent dismemberment.

  28. strangeloup says:

    To be fair, there were a couple of points in Black Ops the First where it threatened to be mildly interesting; the whole hallucination/conspiracy/alternate history angle could have been good if it was played up more. Could have put in all the weird CIA Project MK-ULTRA stuff, even.

    It’s a shame that all this was rendered virtually worthless by the EVERYTHING IS CONSTANTLY EXPLODING AND PEOPLE ARE SHOUTING ALWAYS along with the weedy gunplay.

  29. A_Rude_gesture says:

    Very well put! This is exactly why I’ve lost interest in FPS games.

  30. povu says:

    I think the Metro series did linear FPS with scripted moments fairly well. I’d be interested in seeing something like that in a military setting.

  31. Laurentius says:

    I first start with gameplay of MW (aka CoD4) . This game was first FPS (and i remeber DOOM and Wolfenstein ) in my gaming history that i found accesible and relatively easy to play. FPS were lost on me because i found them so fricking hard, i remeber were everyone bow down to HL2 and yes i thought that it was really good game but i was struggling to finish demo ( Ravenholme). And then in 2007 i was able to finish demo mission of CoD4, yeah i died a lot ( like a lot) but thanks to these features that are now massively criticized i found this demo mission so appealing. I was told where to look, where to go and what to do, finally I was able to cope with FPS gamestyle.
    Now storywise, I absolutly loath all this crazy atticks that make USA target of invasion and put Americans to the wall, it’s so ubelivable, jingoistic and mean-spiritied. Secondly upping the Boom and Bang completly undermines aby possible realtion i can have with its story. I can’t even give a miniuscule of my interest to game that proud itself with scene where USA soldiers topple Eiffel Tower fighting Russion invasion on France.

  32. malkav11 says:

    I agree that the direction you suggest would make for better Call of Duty games, but I have to once again reiterate that your premise that “the AI is always just in front, showing you the path” and “they open the doors, pick the pathways, decide when to stop and when to start, and encounter the enemies first” is false, or at least has been for every game from MW1 up through Black Ops II (I can’t speak for Ghosts but I strongly suspect it isn’t true there either). You can let the AI do most of this and admittedly occasionally the game does force you to (mostly through those unopenable doors, but those are actually pretty sparse in my experience). But you can also be the charge-ahead berserker taking no prisoners and first into the thick of things in the vast majority of all of those games. Sometimes you’ll get pretty shot up because you are, after all, charging blindly into a bunch of men with guns. But it’s totally possible and it’s the way I’ve typically played all of these games. And there are regular intervals when the games actually demand that you take the lead…and not just the bits where it wants you to call in artillery fire or blow up tanks or plant mines or whatever, but entire combat sections. It’s a more controlled experience than you’re comfortable with, I get that. But it absolutely isn’t one where you have to let the AI do everything fun and just wander along behind cleaning up. That would indeed suck…but it’s not Call of Duty.

  33. Misnomer says:

    This article again.

    Okay, it is getting better Mr. Walker, you seem to realize what you want in a FPS game a little bit more now. You aren’t asking for some unholy marriage of STALKER and COD anymore, COD 1 would be a nice place to return to for the genre. Still, you seem to refuse to completely give up on the idea that you can be both the infantryman taking orders and have the full freedom of an open world. Cake and eat it too indeed.

    Replay COD 1. Seriously, all the way through, with the same mindset. Realize that all those tropes and divided on rails missions are present in it and then reappear in COD2. You start out understanding and arguing about the treatment of the material, but you finish complaining about linearity and tropes in gameplay design again. These are different gripes and just because COD: GHOSTS embodies both doesn’t mean you should conflate them. Some of us would probably love another gameplay trope filled game with better story treatment. Fantasy RPG fans have been doing that for years.

    And… my ongoing gripe. Stop saying “brown people.” You think it is okay when you call down artillery strikes on Germans and kill hundreds of them, but the moment you have asymmetrical warfare with people in other nations it is suddenly racist. If you are going to do modern warfare, it will likely be asymmetrical. Sweden invading the U.S.? You will need to make up a ton of military hardware and ignore quite a few big things just to make that work.

    Just look at BF4. The entire plot of the game denies the existence of a capable air force or a navy with submarines for the three largest militaries in the world. In that game you kill ridiculous amounts of Chinese and Russian soldiers and see many many American service people die (of all races and creeds). So it doesn’t fit your racism thing and it jumps the shark heavily to reach your symmetrical warfare desires. BF4 is the absurd result of what you are asking for and it is still heavily inferior to the COD1 experience.

    So you are asking for no racism (or no non-whites being killed by the player character), symmetrical warfare, and serious emotional treatment. For John Walker, apparently Westphalian war between Western nation-states is the only warfare worth making into a game. Isn’t that a bit ethnocentrist?

    Stop using the phrase “brown people” as if it makes you clever. It just shows post-imperial guilt. By the standards in the upper portion of your essay, you would love a game that went in looking at what would have happened if Western powers had sought to intervene in Rwanda (perhaps a military treatment of the Far Cry 2 story), but if you use your “racism” and symmetrical warfare standards… that is a “racist” story at its heart. Still, I can imagine six or seven interesting ways to tell that story even if the protagonist comes from a Western nation so that they have access to the modern warfare arsenal.

    It is not about skin color of the enemies. It is not about the skin color of the good guys. It is about how the war story treats all the PEOPLE in it regardless of what side they are on. Your “brown people” statement doesn’t help game designers understand this at all.

    • Laurentius says:

      Well, how about we could be actually playing as soldier (pick a country here ) repelling US invasion ? Giving “modern warfare” theme it would be far more possible scenario then the onces these games came up with so far.

      • Bull0 says:

        Mm, American developers probably aren’t going to make that.

        • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

          The only game in my recent memory that actually had U.S military forces as the bad guys was Modern Warfare 2. So, uuhhh, don’t quite know what to make of that.

          On the subject of a game where you played as some kind of guerrilla/terrorist/resistance movement, if they did it right, you would be doing all kinds of fucked up stuff, like kidnapping and torturing the families of collaborators to spread fear, or assassinating local government officials to destabilize the fledgling democracy put up by the invaders. So yeah, American developers probably aren’t going to make that.

          • Bull0 says:

            Yeah, you get double-crossed by the other US SOCOM guys, and have to kill a few, but it’s hardly the same as fighting off an American invasion.

    • Geebs says:

      The reference to colonial guilt is entirely fair because the nastiest thing about these games is the whiff of colonialism combined with the relentless need to present the USA as being under attack. The WW2 games have the advantage that that war wasn’t, at least from some points of view, a war between vastly mismatched forces. Plus check out the rap at the end of MW1 for a full illustration of how CoD “gets” anything less than (1.0, 0.95, 1.0, 1.0)

    • mouton says:

      John Walker’s use of the phrase “brown people” is a reaction to racist and jingoistic attitudes towards Afghans, Arabs and predominantly non-white Muslims shared by significant part of American society. Since such attitudes are much less marginal then they should be and are reflected in the COD franchise, John’s use of the phrase is entirely justified.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        can’t disagree more nothing in COD justifies the invented excuse that it is based on any sense in the narrative that america just up and decided to kill people for being brown, hell the bad guys are russian in basically every game and i’m sorry but russia is a pretty white place and not just because of snow.

        Actually america seem more supportive of rights for Arabs, same with Israel gets tons of accusations of hating arab and yet the arab citizen of israel or the US have far better rights than any Arab country gives them, even the relatively mild ones like jordan, don’t match even half way on a basic thing like freedom of speech.

        I doubt arab muslims in America are envious of arab christians living in Egypt

        • mouton says:

          Portrayal of Russians fits the jingoist aspect pretty well.

          • airmikee99 says:

            Ironically, the term ‘jingoism’ was coined in 1878 in Britain to describe.. Russians.

            “We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do
            We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too
            We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true
            The Russians shall not have Constantinople.”

    • John Walker says:

      You know, you can attract a lot more flies with not being a sanctimonious blowhard.

      • Nate says:

        Excellent paraphrase! Although I do appreciate that misnomer took the effort to put it a little more carefully than that. It’s so easy for internet forums to become whirling vortices of hate, with each insulting one-liner provoking a response more nakedly aggressive than the last.

      • Arasaka says:

        Bloody hell, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black…

        • Grape Flavor says:

          The amazing thing is that we all know John said that with absolutely no sense of irony at all.

    • guygodbois00 says:

      Unholy marriage of STALKER and COD? There is nothing unholy about STALKER and it should marry whomever it bloody chooses.

      • Laurentius says:

        On the other hand many people were upsat about possible love affair between Call of Duty and Mass Effect so you know mésalliance and all that…

    • Walsh says:

      Pretty sure for half these games you are blowing away white people but whateves. John’s article is lesser for including the phrase because it’s only there to generate controversy and has nothing to do with the greater point of his article. The greater point of which is uh one paragraph for giving us more control over our character and the rest is uh don’t be so serious or be so but show the horror of war better or something? His shitty overwrought prose is so tortured this article is nigh unreadable.

  34. Lagwolf says:

    And we shall hear more calls for Battlefield and C.O.D. to just dump their single-player aspect completely. It sure isn’t worth $60 for either game if you only want to play a sub-6 hour single-player game.

    • Bull0 says:

      Well I hope they don’t, because the people who like a campaign AND some multiplayer will lose their campaign, just because a vocal minority don’t like the campaign.

    • malkav11 says:

      Don’t dump them. Split them. Because I tell you what, I don’t want that useless multiplayer baggage pushing up the price of the singleplayer by $30 or more.

  35. Twitchblade says:

    This is a pretty good summation of all the things I hate about the Call of Duty single player campaigns (Granted, the last one I played was Black Ops). I never had a problem with it, but after a year in Afghanistan, I came back and watched one of my friends play one of the more recent CoD games (The one where the Russians invaded Virginia. MW2?) and saw the player character perch himself on a hill and gun down Russians as they poured out of an APC. It felt like one of the more disgusting versions of wish fulfillment, and I haven’t touched an FPS since.

    I’m sure if I went back to to the older CoD games, it’d be more of the same from a gameplay perspective, but I think John is spot on in the sense that it’s not too much to ask for at least some semblance of sincerity while these games get pumped out. The US/UK have been deploying their military nonstop for the past 12 years or so, it’s not like there’s any shortage of people they can talk to about their experiences. They can even include a level where you go to a bazaar and haggle with with a shop owner to buy bootleg DVDs.

    As an aside, I don’t recall Black Ops being particular bad simply because everything about it was so ridiculous and it seemed to take itself so un-seriously that it basically landed in the realm of sci-fi.

    • Morlock says:

      CoD: Bazaar Simulator 2001-today. Haggle for a cracked copy of the newest military FPS.

  36. Loyal_Viggo says:

    John, great article but for one aspect… where is the mention of fighting Nazi Zombies? This is arguably the best feature of any COD title since it was first introduced.

    Please tell me that Call of Duty: Ghostface has a Nazi Zombie killing mode hidden in there somewhere…

    Please?

  37. P.Funk says:

    I think its ironic really though, this discussion of how CoD was so powerful with anonymous characters, and that this is the substance of their greatness in the first few iterations.

    Whats ironic for me is that my absolute favourite WW2 game from the early-mid 2000s was Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30. This game was nothing but a first person narrative of a character with a name, a face, and the game centred around you leading the same handful of characters around through the whole game. These characters were vivid, if a bit cliche. They really captured you because you’d start a mission in some innocuous place, and there’d be 2 or 3 of them arguing about Superman comics or something. Then you’d get your orders. What was the gig? Do something banal like clear a town, take out some guns, go into that field and kill stuff. The objectives were simple, as they usually are in real life, but the characters and the challenge was visceral. What was most gripping was the deaths. Characters died, and it was moving. That guy was with me for the last 5 hours of gameplay. The same voice, the same jokes, now he’s dead. It meant something.

    Certainly CoD can recover much of its greatness from returning to an anonymous “this is the front, you’re no hero, just try to survive” format but my instinct is that even if this works for them, its sad that they’ve failed so miserably in adopting a story format which is more than viable. The problem isn’t the format, its the people making it. You can pour just as much of that reflective tearful veteran interview substance into imagined characters as you can in anonymous battles.

    When I think about Brothers in Arms I remember fences, fields, ditches and bocage. I remember seeing animated dog fights above me as I walk through some bypass between firefights, and I recall how satisfying such a simple game was. Maybe we should strip the Michael Bay from modern shooters and we might find ourselves enjoying them again.

    Go watch some helmet cam footage. Tell me how many of these guys are blowing up buildings and hunting terrorists. The average soldier gets shot at, ducks for cover, spend a while figuring out where it came from, brings up some friends, calls on a radio, shoots some bullets, talks to his buddies, shoots even more, then pops a smoke grenade and withdraws. I see nothing of modern war in Call of Duty.

    • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

      That would be a hell of a difficult game to design. If you wanted it to actually be true to soldier’s experiences, you would have to simulate going days or weeks without any contacts, getting sketchy intelligence from the locals, and then suddenly you get shot at on one of your many patrols, or an IED takes out your Humvee’s tires, and then you rain bullets in the vague direction of the mountain that the fire was coming from until air support arrives. The closest I can think of is Arma, where there’s that one mission where you’re told to go hunt for the terrorists and you’re given a map with vague outlines of where they might be.

      • P.Funk says:

        I never said anything about going days or weeks without contacts or anything like that, just that the experience of Call of Duty is so radically out of touch with anything something I’d estimate like 95% of service members ever experienced in the last 10 years that there’s so much that could be done better. There is so little authenticity to modern CoD.

        Arma is the extreme other end, and its a very troublesome single player experience. It has none of the multi million dollar polish and the game engine is not the best for doing the more scripted single player experience than the multilayer sandbox which it excels as.

        Let me put it to you this way. If We accept that CoD 1 and 2 (at least) did a better job of representing the vaguest outline of a soldier’s experience in WW2, at least far better than modern CoD does, then its not like its hard to do the arcadey modern version of whatever they did with WW2. Imagine reacting to contact after getting an IED blow up your lead vehicle. You have to fight through the engagement, secure a better foothold, then you call in air strikes. Maybe you’re the JTAC and because of the wounded you’re pushed into a rifleman role and fight out of the kill box with the rest of the guys.

        I don’t need a weeks of tedium because frankly even WW2 didn’t involve as much action as the original CoD did. Find the flash point and emphasize them. Ghosts et al just do NOTHING to resemble modern war. I mean, we got people fighting on space stations for god’s sake.

        • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

          I was more talking about how to actually simulate the kind of stress and tension that soldiers go through in these conflicts, as in, to do that, you’d have to have a lot of gameplay elements that go against any sort of design sense. What you’re talking about is a Modern Warfare game that is just more realistic than the “invade America” bullcrap they’re so fond of now. Which is an idea I’d be way into, but, wasn’t it kind of already attempted by Medal of Honor (the first new one, that took place in Afghanistan)?

          • P.Funk says:

            I’ll be honest, I never played it. I’m inclined to try just so I can see why it sucked to hard.

            “The new Medal of Honor Warfighter game is inspired by and has been
            developed with Tier 1 Operators from an elite, international community
            This personal story was written by actual Tier 1 Operators while deployed
            overseas. In it, players step into the boots of these warfighters and apply
            unique skill sets to track down a real global threat, in real international
            locations, sponsored by real enemies. It doesn’t get any more authentic
            than Medal of Honor Warfighter”

            That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence though.

  38. GernauMorat says:

    Personally its the horrible politics of the recent series that really put me off – although I could probably tolerate shitty gameplay OR horrible politics, just not both simultaneously.

    • pepperfez says:

      Even worse, the horrible politics help create the boring gameplay.

  39. CedaVelja says:

    Anyone trying to monetize an FPS with the theme of “horror of current conflicts with people that you probably know inflicting the better part of the horror” is in for a failure.

    No mater how good it could be, that game would not be able to earn funding let alone earn a billion dollars on day one.

    • John Walker says:

      Yes, which is why I leant toward examples set in fictional future wars. Heck, it could be fictional wars on other planets. Just let the games be about the majesty/gravity of the war itself, not some half-arsed jingoistic nonsense about a rogue band of elite beardyfaces.

      • CedaVelja says:

        Further away from something that happened or involving something that you know and love, and it ends up being harder for people to connect to, and in extension to earn ridiculous amounts of money from.
        I mean no game is a “billion dollars on day one” without going for some serious hearth strings.

        And by the way truly a great article.

  40. Chaz says:

    Never really liked any of the CoD games, even right from the start in the WW2 setting. They all seemed quite gamey to me even then. I remember the first moments of playing the first one as you made your way across the field with the dead cows and then into the town streets. All the anonymous guys around me got mowed down more or less straight away, to be magically replaced with never ending stream of reinforcements. Then I got to a wall over which loads of Germans soldiers were flooding over. I hung back in cover popping out to whittle their numbers down; and after awhile I realised that those German soldiers just weren’t going to stop coming unless I ran forwards to hit some sort of invisible trigger. To do so I had to run through a hail of bullets blasting all and sundry around me like a crazed Rambo. A horrible cheap nasty mechanic that remains to this very day. That pretty much killed any respect or liking I may have had for the series right there. Those opening moments in that very first game, pretty much defined the entire series for me. Frankly I’ve found them all to be bombastic gung ho blast-a-thons. At the time I thought, nah! not as good as MOHAA. Popularising iron sights in FPS games was probably about the best thing that it did. Whilst it wasn’t the first FPS to implement iron sights, I think it was certainly the first big hitter AAA game to do so.

    • Baldanders says:

      The first level of CoD 1 actually had no endlessly respawning enemies at all (your allies did get replaced as they died).
      I still remember this because as a teenager I played the demo level about a dozen times to decide whether to buy the game.

  41. funkacrylic says:

    Great article.

    This reminds me that there was a time when I looked forward to playing single-player military shooters. While I never thought they were “masterpieces”, the older Infinity-Ward CoD games were always able to hold my attention. There was a much better sense of uncertainty that made them more interesting. You never felt truly prepared for a mission. You always felt disposable in the sense that you were just a small part of a much bigger conflict. Even if you died, you got the impression that the battle would still go on, and be won or lost without your help (even though you got to try again). It caused you to really dig for why you were fighting, and how you could possibly relate to the characters you were playing.

    This kind of uncertainty is what I think a lot of these more modern shooters lack. These newer CoDalikes try so hard to create these situations where “you are the last hope” or that “your teammates depend on your survival”. These Michael Baytastic plots are incredibly cut and dry, even showing that the missions and characters you play are “super-duper” important before you start the game (BO2, BF3, ect.). It’s takes away this whole feeling of uncertainty and disposability that made the first CoD games such interesting experiences.

    Like people have said, these shooters have always been linear. But they haven’t always castrated the player’s freedom to think for themselves.

  42. Monkeh says:

    Why keep making posts about a game you think is shit? Oh right, easy site hits.

    • airmikee99 says:

      Yeah! They should cover topics that people don’t want to talk about, right?

    • nanophage says:

      As a site about games it sort of their duty to cover said games. Even if they are shit.
      Incidently this article isn’t even really about Call of Duty but more about the genre using CoD as an example.

    • John Walker says:

      Once again we plumb the depths of lazy journalism by writing our thoughts about the biggest gaming release of the year on our gaming site. What are we like?

      Your boring comment that you or one of your many clones writes at the bottom of every article feels especially strange here, though. This is an article arguing for ways to make a particular game series better, so we can like them more.

      • Monkeh says:

        This particular article is kinda interesting, but it could’ve been posted at any time really, seeing as CoD has been like this for years now. Calling me ‘a clone’ because I make one comment on a CoD article, seeing as I’ve seen a bit too many lately for a game you guys don’t care about, whereas some great indie games only get one post, seems like a bit ‘boring’ to me (as you’d call it).

        But yeah, writing about a game release you don’t care about in three different posts in the week the game launches, makes me assume you’re just trying to get hits. Just like you automatically assume I make negative remarks on every CoD article. Could be wrong of course.

        • Squiffy says:

          The whole ‘articles as clickbait’ argument is completely asinine, but playing along for a second, why exactly is writing for ‘hits’ such an apparently nefarious thing to do? The only conceivable way I can see you’d have a legitimate reason to be angry is if the title of the article was provocative, but unrepresentative of the actual content e.g. clickbait.

          Whether you agree or disagree with its message, this was a considered and thoughtfully argued piece. So what the fuck is your problem?

  43. nanophage says:

    ” . . . giants with magic buttons crushing poor brown people”
    But that is the problem isn’t it. War, even of the modern variety, isn’t just about giants with magic buttons crushing poor brown people. I find it hard to believe IW or Treyarch ever interviewed anyone who was an actual boots on the ground soldier of the current war on terrorism, at least not someone hopped up on steroids. It does seem like all their notions of modern warfare came from a bad neoconservative books yelling about american exceptionalism and might makes right. It would be nice if a modern shooter tried to tell a story about the true realities of war. Maybe that “terrorist” actually has a reason for despising us? Maybe we dropped a 2k lb bomb on top of his fathers house, killing his entire extended family (even if his father was some sort of “terrorist mastermind.”

    To be fair not many WW2 games looked at both sides either. Very few allowed you to play as a Nazi soldier as far as I remember. There does exist tons of litterature from all sides of pretty much any conflict so I think boiling down the essence of war to mashing shiny buttons is lazy and in the end detrimental to gaming, and even civilization.

    • Jamesworkshop says:

      yeah the true realities of war where america is the morally worse than suicide murderers and people that hate america so much they claim the right to slaughter all the hindus in kashmir and all the christians in the philippines, all the black africans in darfur, all of this would stop if america stopped being so mean to them.

      • airmikee99 says:

        You don’t understand the situations in Darfur, the Philippines, and Kashmir, do you?

        The current government in Darfur was created in 1989 after a military coup, it is led by the National Congress of Sudan, which is an Islamist party that instituted Sharia law. The rebel groups fighting the government are trying to undo the military regime. Are you saying they shouldn’t? Are you suggesting they should just accept their religious, military government?

        Christians make up almost 5% of The Philippines 100 million people, meaning 5 million. Even using the highest end estimates from crazy religious blogs, 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising began int he 60′s, using realistic figures from not-so-crazy blogs, the death toll hasn’t even reached 10,000 yet. I don’t think 60,000, or even 10,000, comes anywhere close to 5 million, so are all the christians really being killed, or are you using hyperbole to make your point?

        Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus have been fighting over Kashmir for as long as recorded history. You’re really trying to blame one group for the problems? Well if you must do that, blame Britain.

        I don’t think anyone is saying those conflicts would end if America weren’t turning into an imperialist, nationalistic, war mongering state. I think most people are saying that conflicts America has created and started would end if America would end them. The Iraq War was 100% America’s fault, America put Saddam into power and armed him to the teeth. The Taliban can find its roots in the mujahideen, trained by the west to fight the Soviets. Al-Queda’s roots can be traced to the same anti-Soviet training from America and Britain, and they didn’t begin attacking American targets until America parked a military force right outside Mecca, can you honestly say the west wouldn’t react in similar fashion if an Arab army were parked right outside the Vatican? If America ever goes to war with Iran, it will be another conflict that America started, read up on Operation AJAX where Britain and America removed a democratically elected leader and put into power one of the worst dictators the middle east has ever seen.

        So again, conflicts that America isn’t involved in can’t be blamed on America, and they won’t go away if America stops invading other nations. But America’s problems that America caused will go away once America stops invading other nations. In short, study up on history if you want to have a valid opinion about historical events.

        • Jamesworkshop says:

          challenging their excuses only reinforces my point so thanks

          I’m glad only 5% is considered acceptable to you, too kind, too kind

          I don’t think anyone is saying those conflicts would end if America weren’t turning into an imperialist, nationalistic, war mongering state.

          oh yes the federal parliament of Iraq is a totally imperial operation, in fact half of those things are actually a shift in the US position that the support of dictator to gain a status quo is no longer acceptable or desirable, so in fact the USA is actually doing everything you are urging it to do.

          As was securing the independence of east timor, America the sociopath is a intellectual conceit for people that can’t raise beyond the standard of the iredentist, paranoia of michael moore where the Taliban are not trying to recreate a lost islamic empire and it’s america the only global power to have never been an imperial one but has suffered from an attachment on a rhetorical level to the british empire, which i will grant it, is trying to be one.

          Taliban and it sponsors are not freedom fighters, they are reactionary thugs for the saudi arabian oligarchy

          • airmikee99 says:

            What the hell are you talking about?

            I never said 5% is acceptable, I said Christians make up 5% of the population of the Philippines.

            Reading comprehension isn’t that hard, is it?

          • Jamesworkshop says:

            “all the christians in the philippines”

            i didn’t say all the people in the philippines were christian

            Reading comprehension isn’t that hard, is it?

            al-qaeda starting in Asia is precisely why I brought up kashmir in the first place hence why I link the two to america because you can’t separate them fighting al-qaeda in sudan and then afghanistan because that is a fight against the same people in kashmir, who targeted the Lok Sabha for bombing in new delhi

          • airmikee99 says:

            Last reply to you, I can feel my IQ seeping out of my brain trying to read your comments.

            I’ll break this down very slowly for you.

            1. You claimed all the Christians in the Philippines are being killed.
            2. 5% of The Philippines is Christian, The Philippines has a population of 100,000,000, meaning that there are 5 million Christians living in The Phillippines.
            3. High end death toll estimates for Christians in the Phillippines since the current conflict started more than 40 years ago is 60,000.

            Now, here’s where you’re getting lost.

            4. 60,000 IS NOT 5,000,000, not even close.
            5. So your claim that all the Christians in the Philippines are being killed has no basis in fact, it’s a figment of your imagination.

            I hope it makes more sense to you now.

          • Jamesworkshop says:

            they claim the right to slaughter all the hindus in kashmir and all the christians in the philippines,

            didn’t say all the christians were dead either

            never believed i’d have to argue so strongly against sectarian violence as being something I ultimately disapprove of

            efit wrong video link

          • Subject 706 says:

            Both you boys need to check your facts about the Philipines. It is 95% Catholic, a muslim minority of about 4%. But yes, it has a muslim insurgency on some of the southern islands.

        • airmikee99 says:

          RE: Subject 706

          You’re right, I was thinking of Indonesia.

  44. Jamesworkshop says:

    dont understand the comments, how is america getting invaded by russia 3 times in MW series alone, pro american

    mw1 americans make mistake get nuked

    mw2 americas CIA send a willing US operative with the intention of participating in a terrorist act , on one level the attack looks to be a false flag but actually you are an american following orders from the US intelligence services to aid a terrorist act

    , Americas general turns out to be super-BFF with the main terrorist leader

    mw3, america gets invaded again, Russia as it turns out can invade the continental US and both Britain, Germany and France all at the same.

    According to the main thrust of the modern era of COD it turns out america would have been annexed 3 times except for the involvement of the british SAS, that are the only ones that actually get any of the work done on tracking any of the terrorists down or figuring out what they are up to, and Russia must have some secret stealht tech to allow them to invade USA without any EU nation noticing and then invading those EU nations last, despite having been on the way, no in fact they double back on themselves

    • CedaVelja says:

      “mw1 americans make mistake get nuked”

      OR

      Brave american soldiers get nuked by filthy dishonorable terrorists

      Its all about how you chose to see it, the end is always the same, america wins and it always has the moral high ground, anything diferent cant and will not be accepted by the general public.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        actually yes the games narrative thrust is that only the SAS being amoral thugs is the only thing that can fix that mistake, hence the following level, MW3 ends in a peace treaty once russia realise the Nuke were stolen, that only comes to light because of captain price and his facial hair. hardly all conquering US, frightening the cowardly russians away.

        in fact i submit “a modest proposal” as the next subtitle of a COD game

        Allegiances? these are professional maintained military personal in national armies, the kind of people that already have existing certainties on who they fight for.

        If you wanted pro-american mentality you would follow the line that follows reality, the political aims coming out of american administrations is either about global security, often shorthanded to counter-terrorism or US foreign interest, N/k nukes is a larger question around Japan/China relations than anything else.

        You really think USA is trying to encourage a sense of fear of Russia, against any sense of reason that it intends to move weapons into sierra leone so it can manoeuvre it’s military to knock over the Eiffel tower.

        COD as i’ve demonstrated isn’t even america focused, it survives the wars by circumstance and needs rescuing at every turn, don’t mistake winning the battle for winning the war, in the short term America has the best tanks and planes and wins on direct confrontation but thats not how wars are concluded.

        The mentality of COD is actually a sense of loss that the cold war never reached a military conclusion with almost nothing to do with america’s global strategy to date, that to my mind is why the stories fall apart

    • John Walker says:

      It’s pro-American because it propagandises the notion that America is vulnerable to attack, and thus endless war overseas is the only thing protecting its citizens. Then in the games themselves, you play the American soldiers successfully thwarting the attacks of these invaders, eventually defeating them. The games never question to which side your allegiance should be placed, and never challenge the superiority of Americans over other nations.

      I really don’t state the above as direct criticisms of the games – they’re portraying an American perspective in a war – but they’re defiantly and unquestionably pro-American.

      • Laurentius says:

        And this scenarios are always least possible as well, Hell, it would make far better game if MW3 had story about USA invading Europe and blowing up Big Ben and topple Eiffel Tower.

    • Shooop says:

      Notice who’s obviously the good and bad guys.

      The Americans are never anything but god-sends to the peaceful people of the world compared to their enemies who gleefully detonate nuclear weapons without restraint and probably throw puppies into blenders in their spare time.

      There’s never any moral gray area like there is in reality.

      • Jamesworkshop says:

        play the level no russian

        mw2 americas CIA send a willing US operative with the intention of participating in a terrorist act , on one level the attack looks to be a false flag but actually you are an american following orders from the US intelligence services to aid a terrorist act

        A CIA phuck up involving supporting terrorist groups, no I see how thats all above board

        far better than the reality where america’s enemies like the taliban in pakistan now elect the guy responsible for shooting a schoolgirl on a bus to the head of it’s organisation, sounds a bit different to how a US president gets elected, maybe you would prefer it if America operated like that instead

      • Joshua says:

        I disagree with this statement vehemently.

        CoD4 has Americans invading a country with a lot of bravado, hoah-ism, and stuff. At the end, they all get blown up without having actually achieved anything. It’s the Iraq war, only the roadside bombings of the next ten years shortened to about a minute to hammer the point home. It also has the SAS running around, their actions only further escalating the conflict until the very end.

        Modern Warfare 2 has the hoah-istic TF44 running around doing errands for the greater good – they did not realize all along that they were actually doing the best they could to further destabalize the whole world. In fact, it is very heavily implied that the whole cause of events was made by Shepard: Makarov is a terrorist for hire, and the general mentions “how much it cost to put you in this place”. He is not talking about the human cost, but about the actual money. He paid for Makarov to blow the airport up.

        • Walsh says:

          This this, John is taking the idea of what COD represents in his mind and applying it to the plot of the games. It’s almost like he didn’t pay attention to the shitty stories of each game. And he excludes CODBLOPS, which have crazy tortured plots and no control over your character. And why is it all about America when the Brits are involved in every game?

      • Tim Ward says:

        I don’t recall this kind of moral ambiguity in the World War 2 era CoDs either. Because there’s just as much room for it in World War 2 as there is in the Modern Warfare franchise. DISCLAIMER: i only played the first one.

        Is the problem that we have different standards an expectations about games that tackle issues that are happening right now, or is it simply that the current Call of Duty games try and hand their entire single player experience around a story that simply isn’t very good?

  45. junglist 69 says:

    Nicely written , couldn’t agree more.

  46. NotQuiteDeadYet says:

    Hey John, I liked this article, but I really don’t think you should speak about what “the government line” is and isn’t. Some people have gone into these conflicts and come out hating what they’ve done and what the military is still doing. Others come out fully confident in the NATO mission of creating a democracy and lasting peace in a country that was once under a brutal theocratic regime. It depends on the person, but you, as someone who hasn’t (I’m presuming) actually been on the ground, aren’t in much position to say which one of the two is “the way it is”. Its a small thing, and ultimately not a big part of what you wrote, but I’ve always had a pet peeve about people speaking on the behalf of soldiers without much of a real notion of what soldiers have actually been through.

    • airmikee99 says:

      I don’t think he was speaking for soldiers, I think he was stating the fact that the government controls information about the wars right now and anyone speaking out about it is subject to some pretty harsh punishments. We have tons of stories about WW2 directly from vets that now contradict what the government said when the war was happening, that’s the difference. We’re still fighting the wars, so soldiers that are afraid of losing their careers and/or post war care, aren’t speaking out about what they saw fully yet. They may do so in a few decades, as WW2 vets do now, but the government line about the wars we are fighting is still in full effect.

      • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

        See, I don’t buy that. There have been plenty of soldiers who have spoken up against the war, and plenty of soldiers who have spoken for it. The only thing they actually face consequences for is if they give out useful information to the enemy, such as tactics, or troops movements. What you’re talking about may be true of the higher-ups, but there isn’t much censorship of the opinions of grunts. Look at Jarhead. Look at Generation Kill. Look at the entire movement of “Iraq Veterans Against the War”.

    • CedaVelja says:

      Why do you presume that soldiers are the only ones whos opinion matter?

      • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

        Because those are the people who have actually been there, and know what they’re talking about, and who you want to talk to when you make a game that is authentic to “modern warfare”. You could talk the many civilians who have been affected by the war, but they tend to be a bit harder to access for American video games development companies.

        • CedaVelja says:

          Just being there doesnt make them the leading source on what and why is happening in any conflict.
          If anything it makes them very much biased on the whole affair depending on their involvement and experiences.

          The reason why civilian who experienced war weren’t involved in this games is not because they were harder to get to, but because that would be a very different game that what we have before us, it would be something that most people wouldn’t like to see.

          • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

            Alright, then who should these developers be talking to if they want an idea of how to accurately portray war?

          • CedaVelja says:

            Anyone willing to tell it how it really happened, anyone with the ability to see the whole picture and not just what the media reports, anyone not scared by the said wars and too involved to be honest about them, anyone willing or able to sift trough the disinformation or flat out lies that the government conducting these wars tend to put out in order to wash their hands of any wrong doing they caused.

            It really isn’t hard to figure out the truth, its just hard to believe it once you know it, my point was that they don’t really want to tell us the truth. Its very hard to monetize the truth.

          • NotQuiteDeadYet says:

            “Anyone with the ability to tell it how it really happened”, yup, there’s our point of disagreement. I still don’t think you can really do that without first-hand knowledge of what actually happened.

          • CedaVelja says:

            So you chose that one because its the only one you can poke a little tiny hole trough.

            Do you really think that someone who saw their friends get blown by a IED is capable OR in the mind frame to be able to understand that the guy who set the IED is not a psychopath who just want to kill people, but an actual person who was shaped by the experiences around him and probably was pushed in the whole rotten ordeal.
            Not that i am making excuses for anyone, everyone faces the consequences of their actions sooner or later.

            You cant let a soldier decide if the war should be fought or why it should be fought.

  47. Noise says:

    Good article.

    “no one (but for the mad) actively wants war for the sake of war.” Well it’s never just for the sake of war, it’s war for the sake of profit. All throughout human history the rich and powerful convince the poor that they need to get into large groups and go kill the poor people in other places. They make up a threat that’s not really a threat at all (terrorism, rogue nations), get everyone scared, then send in the trained killers to acquire the oil and install puppet governments.

    • Subject 706 says:

      Your analysis of the causes of wars throughout human history is both ahistorical and simplified to say the least…

      • Noise says:

        Yeah at the start of the comment I was making a general statement about history and wars and by the end I had switched to talking about USA in recent times, my bad.

    • Grape Flavor says:

      Man, I bet the Americans were really disappointed when they found out Afghanistan doesn’t actually have any oil. Damn. Invaded that country all for nothing. Should have done their research, right?

      EDIT: Oh wait, turns out Afghanistan does have at least some fossil fuels, they’ve just never been tapped. China’s getting right on that apparently though: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/1228/China-wins-700-million-Afghan-oil-and-gas-deal.-Why-didn-t-the-US-bid

      Yeah, I actually like this theory of the US being these bumbling, pathetic Keystone Cops imperialists who invade countries purely for profit, then dump an incomprehensible fortune into the country and walk away with nothing. It’s pretty funny, because if these wars are about making a profit then they’re an even bigger failure than they already are.

  48. Jake says:

    staring nostrils tag

  49. MrUnimport says:

    I just want to say that Old COD’s stories of brave noble warriors slaughtering hundreds of Germans borrowed far more from Hollywood depictions of wartime glory than from grim reality. It may have been handled with a touch more subtlety, but the main difference between “oh man, WWII was great and I wish I’d been there” and “oh man, modern warfare is great and I’m glad we have all these soldiers nowadays” is temporal in nature.

    On the other hand I agree entirely with your point about historical context. Modern COD refuses even to create false historical context, as in a sense that there are big important things happening outside the player’s view. Things that happen in Modern COD are either initiated by the player, directly observed by the player and initiated by their superior officer, or initiated by the big villain while the player looks on helplessly. On one hand, it seems like a protagonist ought to be involved with the events of a story: on the other hand, it sure does reduce a major war to a series of personal actions. I feel again that COD4 struck an impressive balance between small-scale SAS missions with large effect and US Army grunt time where you got to see firsthand what was going on in the larger conflict. As an aside, Crew Expendable remains one of my favourite shooter levels, as mentioned above, despite the small scale black ops theme and the fact that your buddies do a fair amount of the man-shooting, because it was handled tastefully and had the air of a mission as opposed to a rollercoaster.

    I would very much like to see COD tackle a fictional war with the same gravitas as we accord to those of the past, where fights happen for less than personal reasons, where nuclear crises are not the order of the day, where armies clash and not just gruff operator types.

  50. KDR_11k says:

    If modern war is all about drones why not make a game about them? A proper action game where you fly a drone and shoot stuff?