Call of Duty Devs Tell Us What It’s Like to Make a Game in the Wake of a Mass Shooting

It’s December 2012, and Michael needed a break from the office he worked in, an office that was home to longtime Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward. The mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that horrifically took the lives of 20 children and six adults had just happened, and he took a walk to a local grocery store. By chance, he also happened to be wearing a Call of Duty hoodie that identified him as a game developer, as many developers wear clothes related to the games they spend years making in isolation.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Now this is Waypoint.


I think the issue with Call of Duty and its ilk specifically isn’t that is has guns and its primary verb is killing people, lots of games do that. It’s specifically the fantasy the game is selling, which is absolutely core to the experience. I’ve had this argument with people, insisting nobody cares about the campaign anyway, whatever, it’s just a sport therefore politically neutral. (Besides the claims from the devs the games are apolitical, which we’ve established to no end is capital-B Bullshit.)

Increasingly as the series leaves WWII behind, it isn’t a Greatest Generation kind of universalism, where the entire society can be said to be stepping forward at once. You can criticize that view all you want, but COD is no triumphal march forward for the Common Man. No, it’s an isolating one, where soldiers are outside society while protecting society, and even eventually growing a contempt for that society and it’s rules.

And you know, maybe you can’t prove a view that games will cause people to pick up weapons and kill people. But I think Games Do Things to People, all as media does. Here we have this propagandizing work insisting that violence must exist, that threats are endless and infinite, that we must be endlessly armed and prepared at all times. That’s going to have effects, and not good ones.

Maybe you’re just that much more willing to decide that a few innocent people need to die in order to keep up a police state system. Maybe you feel just that much safer when the Senate decides the military needs another 85 billion nobody asked for. Maybe you’re just that much less willing to listen to reformers who tell you that the carceral system is ruining lives.


CoD devs need to look inward and assess their complicity in the rise in fascism globally before they start thinking they had anything to do with the rise in gun violence.


I don’t have much to add to this v. good post but, i did zero in on this as an extra funny common talking point when you consider the experience of VOIP in matches-- an experience many people have as teenagers/kids who don’t know well enough to turn it off yet-- is many people’s first real glimpse into white gamer men being omega racists. And if there exists an opportunity, they will 100% hinge their shittalk on the cultural/racial appearance/generalized story context of the red-coded forces and rarely the blue/green ‘good guy’ forces, unless they too have a visible racial or gender minority character present.

On top of that, if a dude in the chat claims to be in the military, you can bet the worst they’ll get is an “i dont believe you”, but otherwise people will often treat that person with awe and elderly respect, even if it’s actually just like, a bored undeployed 20-something.

There’s more than one vector of recruitment potential by more than one ideological group there, government-funded or otherwise. All of those potential groups are ultimately affiliated with penting up a desire for and comfort with using assault weaponry on human beings, though.


Some good news at least: Senators reach final bipartisan agreement on a gun safety bill : NPR

It’s not nearly far enough and it’s easy to be cynical and call it worthless. But this is progress in a flawed and failing democracy. We take those. We take the wins where we can find them and knuckle up for the next fight.

No, it’s an isolating one, where soldiers are outside society while protecting society, and even eventually growing a contempt for that society and it’s rules.

@BlueHighwind This point reminds me of a Jacob Geller video: Does Call of Duty Believe in Anything? - YouTube

As much as I agree that CoD has its role in the laundering of specifically American violence, I think the topic of gun violence and degree to which the series has juiced the demand for guns by younger people is much more significant.

The Gunsmith in Modern Warfare and Warzone, along with the absurd attention to detail in those game’s weapon handling animations has created an entirely new zoomer fanbase for tacticool weapons doctrine. Since Modern Warfare (2019) an entire closet industry of gun animation videos and reload compilation has sprung up on YouTube with millions of viewers. Most of the people making them aren’t even old enough to apply for a license.

As much as we like to point at CoD and say “the left hand of global Fascism, militarism incarnate”, the externalities are uniquely American. These games haven’t caused more hospitals in Yemen to get triple-tapped, but they have equipped a new generation with the basic knowledge of how to operate an AR-15 pattern rifle. And from the recruitment figures, that’s not resulting in more enrolments in the US military.


I think their choices with CoD create more avenues for violent ideology to take hold. CoD is sold globally, but the US is the only place where young men are subject to a barrage of right-wing and pro-military propaganda. The CoD devs make the choice to do things like reinforcing the idea that terrorists are everywhere, they’re trying to kill you because your freedoms threaten them and it’s essential you have the discretion to act on those ideas or there are dire consequences… when you could make a goofy game where you go into space and Hitler kills the Nazi collaborator, Ronald Reagan, in which your head gets cut off and reattached to a super-soldier body in the sequel.

The AR-15 is the gun of choice for mass shooters not because a game taught them it was going to kill the most people, the gun shop owner will tell them that trying to get the sale with unsubtle statistics like less recoil and a high number of rounds per minute

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I think that’s a fine theoretical argument to make, but not one that’s actually supported by any evidence or quantifiable statistics. Politics is not actually downstream from culture, and how these game fashion individual ideology is something is debatable at best and completely impossible to draw any reasonable conclusions from.

What we can quantify however is the number of comments on the MW2 gameplay trailer about the weapon handling, the detailing on the models, and the choice of weapons. Gamespot has its own wildly popular show on its YouTube channel where Forgotten Weapons-associate Jonathan Ferguson reviews how game weapons look and function versus their real life counterparts. The popularity and interest in that content, and its relationship to games like Modern Warfare is clear and readily observable.

Saying Call of Duty is making the world more fascist is probably a correct statement, who knows because we’ll never be able to tell unless another Senator uses it to justify a no-knock raid 24-style (and even then, 24 was just a show made by a right-wing producer around the time the War on Terror kicked off. It was just putting a Hollywood sheen on the best practices of American anti-terrorism operations).

Saying the new Call of Duty is having a huge impact on the interest in real-world firearms from young adults however, is both quantifiable and it’s implications more dire given recent events.

I think too often the conversation derailed by accusations that violent video games are the cause of real world violence; there’s very little evidence to support this claim, as Patrick Klepek highlights here. I feel quibbling over cause-and-effect ends up being a distraction. The problem at hand is that games like Call of Duty are part of it. It’s a part of the USA’s gun culture. It’s a part of a lot of things; the military-industrial complex, 21st Century jingoism, modern AAA gaming culture, and one of those many things is that it is inevitably inseparable from the the politics of guns in the US. We can’t pretend it’s not. But unfortunately I don’t think we really know what to do about it.


There’s literally a line in Modern Warfare (2019) when you show up as air support and unload the minigun where one of the operators says “Guns, guns, guns!” More than any other line in the game, it sums up the game’s central design ethos: your principal verb is “shoot,” your choices for adverbs all have bullets, your language is violence. It would take a fairly dramatic reimagining of what Call of Duty is to even begin to take it to a healthier place, but we’re all about better worlds being possible. We game for a reason.

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