Does Modern Warfare 2 Cross The Line?
Ever since its very humble beginnings, video games have always been a means by which to be entertained; it is through that form of entertainment that we can put aside our daily troubles for a few hours and become enraptured in the worlds and characters…
Ever since its very humble beginnings, video games have always been a means by which to be entertained; it is through that form of entertainment that we can put aside our daily troubles for a few hours and become enraptured in the worlds and characters that these games have to offer. In its purest form, this is what entertainment is all about, be it by watching a movie, going to a concert, or playing a video game; it is a distraction from the drudgery of our daily lives and of the chaos that surrounds us. On any given day, one can hear dozens of stories about the failing economy, celebrities hitting rock-bottom, and of countless innocent people losing their lives due to terrorist attacks across the globe. There is only so much that we can take of these constant negative reminders of the world that we live in, and as such we seek out forms of entertainment so that, if only for a few hours, we can go into a state of mind where these things no longer matter, and we live for the moment, focusing on the here-and-now.
However, what happens when something that we consider to be a form of entertainment hits too close to home?
This is a question that I personally never would have imagined that I could associate with any type of video game, so color me surprised when I hear about this so-called controversial level in Modern Warfare 2 that will undoubtedly offend some people. News of this controversial piece had leaked out a few weeks before the official launch of the game by way of video, and it had set the internet forums ablaze with discussions about the possible ramifications of the inclusion of such taboo subject matter. The curious gamer in me wanted to know what the subject in question was; however, the video showing off the level was swiftly removed by Activision. In retrospect, perhaps that was the best thing for me considering the initial shock would best be served when experiencing the level itself as opposed to just seeing it passively on a video. Even by seeing articles from various game websites about the level (which were spoiler-free) mentioning how this would become a huge topic when the game launched, I was still skeptical about how a game could possibly elicit such emotions from players. Little did I know how powerful the impact would be when I eventually had the chance to experience the level in question firsthand.
**BEWARE: MAJOR GAME/PLOT SPOLIERS BELOW*
**YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED**
“No Russian” is the campaign mission in question, and it has to do with your character, Joseph Allen, going undercover and infiltrating the inner circle of Russian Ultranationalist Vladimir Makarov. No real length of time is given on how long Allen has been undercover in Makarov’s squad, although one would have to assume that some time has passed in order for Allen to have gained the trust of Makarov. The mission begins with you, Makarov, and some of his associates in an elevator leading into Zakhaev International Airport in Moscow, Russia. Guns in hand, you wait until the elevator reaches its desired floor; once it does, Makarov tells the group, “Remember, no Russian”. You walk out slowly with the group into a crowded airport with people waiting in line to enter their respective airplanes to get to where they need to be. Your group stops walking, looking directly into the crowd, when they begin to open fire on the crowd, killing any civilians and security officials in their path. Any survivors of the initial shooting can be seen on their knees, pleading for their lives, though it is only a matter of time before one of Makarov’s crew finishes them off. This continues during the trek through the airport; any civilians in the way of Makarov and his men are slaughtered in a spray of gunfire. You eventually meet resistance in the form of FSB Spetsnaz groups Alfa and Vympel, of whom you must take out in order to reach your objective. Once you do, you follow Makarov and his men into an ambulance, where another one of Makarov’s men waits to transport you and your group out of the airport. Before entering the van, Makarov shoots you in the head, killing you. He then leaves your body on the ground to be discovered; the irony here is that Makaraov knew you were an American from the get-go and used you as a ploy to make it seem that the massacre in the airport was caused by Americans, which would create a national outcry from the Russian public for justice.
What makes this mission stand out, apart from the obvious slaughtering of innocent civilians en masse, is the fact that you are directly involved in the matter; YOU are in the terrorist group, and in order to play the part of being in Makarov’s unit, you presumably must kill civilians as well (though you could actually go through the section without killing anyone, as Makarov’s men are more than happy to oblige). Of course, this is not the first time in a video game where you can go and kill innocent people; this can be done in games such as State of Emergency, Crackdown and Grand Theft Auto. However, in those games the violence is so over-the-top that it feels cartoonish in ways, and as such you, the player, are disconnected from the experience and feel no remorse as a result of your actions. The same cannot be said when playing “No Russian”; Modern Warfare 2’s graphics engine uses a much more realistic look compared to the previously mentioned games, and it really is a jarring experience when you see this brutal massacre from a first-person perspective. The game slows down to an almost slow-motion pace when the slaughter initially begins, and it keeps this slower pace up until you have to deal with resistance; I can only surmise that this is done on purpose to make you feel more of an impact when you see these innocent civilians killed right in front of your eyes. What is particularly striking is when you see survivors, who are either curled up in fear, sobbing for their lives, or are injured from the gunfire, holding onto the wounds and crying out in agony. Since you are moving at such a slow pace, you cannot run away from this; the game will not allow you to do so, and as a result you are forced to see this form of mass genocide firsthand.
The mission is so powerful in its message that after a while, I felt as if I really did need to kill some of the civilians, in order to put them out of their misery. What does that say of me; am I a terrorist for killing these people, or am I doing the right thing in killing them to relieve them of their pain? There was never a moment in any game prior where I was placed with such an emotional and moral seesaw; I could not fathom was I was partaking in, and was considering if what I was doing was really worth it. Yes, at the end of the day all those civilians are just polygons, but the way in which they are rendered is so realistic that I could not help but feel absolute remorse for what I was doing, yet in order to progress in the game I had to follow through with this massacre [Editor’s Note: This mission is entirely optional, and you can skip it if you feel so inclined]. My initial reaction upon playing the mission was just a few moments of utter speechlessness. Truth be told, my mind was still trying to process all that I had seen and heard, and I felt uncomfortable afterwards.
In a post-9/11 world, seeing any act of terrorism will make even the coldest of men take notice. Reading about it or seeing it on the news is one thing, but actively engaging in a simulated act of terrorism is a whole other experience. Not only do you experience the brutality from the perpetrator’s perspective, but the sheer disregard for human life is really driven home. In a time where acts of terrorism and the killing of innocent people occur far too often that anyone could ever hope or want, a mission like “No Russian” in a video game is sure to raise some eyebrows and possibly offend some. There has already been a vocal response from many gamers on various forums and gaming websites which shows that Infinity Ward has achieved their mission in getting people to react to the mission. Especially given that recent events such as the Fort Hood Massacre are fresh in the minds of most, “No Russian” is something that can hit a little too close to home for some; thankfully, Infinity Ward gives players forewarning upon initial startup of the game and allows them to skip the mission entirely if they find it too much for their tastes.
If any game deserved an “M” rating, then Modern Warfare 2 would be a prime candidate; especially given the subject matter of “No Russian”, it is something that is most definitely made with adults in mind. There have been games that have touched on adult subjects, though no game has ever placed a player in the role of a terrorist, much less committing a bona fide massacre in a public facility. As touchy as the subject matter is, kudos has to be given to Infinity Ward for not buckling in under corporate pressure and sticking with the message that they wanted to convey in their game, regardless of the inevitable controversy that it would cause as a result. Modern Warfare 2 brings with it a paradigm shift in how we all perceive video games; video games are no longer just forms of mindless entertainment, as they can now become forums for social commentary and reflections on the world that we live in. So in conclusion, does Modern Warfare 2 cross the proverbial line of what a video game should or should not be? As with any other form of media, be it a film or musical piece, a video game has the absolute right to go against the established norm and make the player ponder and reflect on that which they experience through the medium while, and after, they play. No line has been crossed; instead, Modern Warfare 2 stands only as a powerful reality check of the volatile world in which we live in, and in that regard it is not guilty. After all, no video game can ever fully replicate the true atrocities that occur around us each and every day.
[Editor's Note: For those of you who do not have the game and would like to see the level in question, a video can be viewed below]