'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' Can't Decide Whether War Is Bad or Badass

An Infinite Warfare sequel was never going to happen, but that’s what they should have done because Infinite Warfare was good. The setting was cool, and the story got back to the basics of “acts of heroism performed by everyday soldiers” which is what this series has always been best at. AND YOU HAD A VERY GOOD ROBOT FRIEND.

Instead we get another “gritty” entry in the subseries that just feels more and more uncomfortable in our current landscape of Forever War where people born after 9/11 will be able to serve in the US military this year. Cool beans.

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This reminds me of my feelings about MGSV, and how the ending of that game, accidentally or not due to that game’s obvious unfinished state, had this feeling of total coldness. Kojima is obsessed with the American Empire and how bad it is, clearly. You’ve been fighting in the Third World for so long and defeated every villain you set out to defeat, so what are you still doing here? There’s no final closure, no big payoff and victory parade, just an endless quagmire of content that you can sink infinite hours into. Even after winning every battle you’re still there, still fighting, often relighting old missions, with no clear goal anymore. And at a certain point you’re collecting nuclear bombs, giant robots, and an army of thousands to do… what with? Well to keep feeding your own military industrial complex which keeps you fighting which keeps you feeding your war machine.

I can’t imagine Call of Duty pulling off such a tone because the game needs to be “fun”. There was nothing fun about the last few hours of MGSV, just confusion and an anti-climax, and an admitted ham handed reveal that you were the bad guy all along, and the only way out is just to stop.

I don’t think MGSV’s finale makes a great game but it does make a better statement than whatever this game is trying to do.

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But hey Price is back, remeber Price? And uh… Ghost’s cool mask? His mask was real cool wasn’t it? Now go shoot child soldiers and buy our loot boxes, we are so generous for not having a season pass.

Going to drop one of my favourite pieces on Modern Warfare (the old one) that was written around the time of the remaster launching: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/10/shock-and-awe-the-political-influence-of-modern-wa.html

I imagine that the legacy of that game and the various levels in it that came to define the series (as well as the critical opinion of MW) will hang over this new game, both in how it was developed and how we talk about it. Which is why I find the aforementioned reassessment of Modern Warfare to be a worthwhile read, especially for lines like this:

While conscientious critics may still find story elements subversive, the language of scenes like “Death From Above” and even “Shock and Awe” have become more familiar as demonstrations of power, both within the campaigns and as killstreaks in multiplayer. If anything, “Shock and Awe” has become a tenet of the series, a justification for the increasing display of force, proof of an evil that must be stopped.

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The trailer for this sure did read as special forces guys breaking into people’s homes to murder them while they sleep. Real cool. Thanks Call of Duty.

I hate this.

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Props to them then, they must have did their research on the SAS?

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IW: You know what, this call of duty is going be real, ask the hard questions about war

Me: okay… what?

IW: Don’t you think the war on terror is just a bit more complex than you might think? What do you think about that truth bomb champ?

Me:…

Gamers: wow this is some real cultured shit, but more importantly do you have raytracing and a season pass

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“Tier 1 operators” all operate this way.

I wish people would stop putting them on a pedestal. They aren’t “honorable” or noble warriors or whatever.

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I posted my trademarked and patented take on Twitter already but it’s this. For context, I’ve been playing Black Ops 4 lately and don’t like it much: BO4 is a trashfire game in terms of tone but at least it has “this is a soulless power fantasy” plastered all over it in neon paint. New MW is going to be more insidious, going for critical acclaim for its tone while also appealing to the gun nut fascist.

I used to really like Call of Duty, but I don’t like the marketing pretending it can truly be a venue for which to tell a deep or profound story about war. Every attempt in the series will always and has always been undercut by twitchy action gameplay that makes you feel like a badass, and this marketing is straight up misleading imo. I feel icky in an AC130, sure, but an hour later I’m sprinting trough a desert gunning down hundreds of faceless people with an M4 Carbine while triumphant music plays. I don’t trust that this will be any different.

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Starting from a point of “war is different than it was 10 years ago, now it’s bad” and then stating an idea of “we must do this bad thing to maintain order” within the text of the game, is some world-class ideological defeatism.

Like, who knows how much of this is PR doublespeak funneled through project leads, versus the project leads themselves genuinely believing in these ideas, but it doesn’t matter either way. The same bad ideas about military foreign policy are expressed.

It definitely does feel like it’s playing to that phony prestige angle that gamers gush over these days.

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When Russia double taps your dad with air-to-ground missiles, its bad. When the SAS does it by storming your house in the middle of the night, its good, but we are allowed to feel kind of bad about it. By moving the setting to Not Chechnya, it lets the the American/British forces be the unequivocal ‘good guys’.

These games that celebrate T1 operators taste especially sour so close to the Behenna pardon. Those guys are professional war criminals, and no American game is gonna be able to engage with that in any meaningful way.

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I got my first ever “let people enjoy things” today because of this game! Am I a real critic now? I need to start linking my patreon.

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Well, no AAA American game, at least. I can definitely believe that something less driven by corporate interests and fan service might construct an effective critique.

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Yeah, I think I was jumping the gun there. I recall Unmanned from a couple years back did a pretty good job engaging with the detached horror of drone warfare.

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Since no one’s brought it up I’d like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that this is the same series that gladly partnered with war criminal Oliver North. You know, for the authenticity. I found this interview with Kotaku that has some just fantastic quotes:

Kotaku : But he’s a controversial figure. Some of our readers said explicitly they consider him a traitor.

Lt. Col. Hank Keirsey, military advisor for the game: Did they really?

Kotaku : Yes

Keirsey: I think it’s because he’s on Fox News. Probably. Do they know what he really did?

Lamia: So, you know we’re not trying to make a political statement with our game. We’re trying to make a piece of art and entertainment. … If you’re trying to create that fiction, for us to have met with him as we’re creating our fiction is totally appropriate.

“It’s not a political statement” has apparently been in use since 2012.

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02%20PM

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There is much wrong with the framing of MGSV’s message but as a polemic against the colonial eradication of indigenous culture - and its roots in capitalism - MGSV is pretty fucking singular.

I think the way MGSV ends is perfect because as a game about the intersection of capitalism and empire, it ends unfinished and broken by the demands of the very forces it’s attacking.

Unlike the original Modern Warfare, MGSV is self-aware enough that analysing the intent behind sends you down a weird, reflexive rabbit-hole where the game’s development conditions and its message mesh together into a unholy theme-soup that still reinforces the overall thesis, whereas MW’s whole Bush-era anti-war critique is almost completely undermined by the combination of Captain Price’s whole thing and the devs saying they thought all that war shit kicked ass.

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Went down a rabbit hole reading all the articles everybody else put out about this today, and was disappointed to find in doing so that the Call of Duty Twitter account has an emoji with Captain Price wearing panoramic NVG in all of the announcement tweets. I guess it’s making me particularly uncomfortable because I’m the sort of person that this aesthetic appeals to.

This encapsulates the COD problem pretty well, that it can’t do a “war is bad” without the “badass.” The infamous AC-130 sequence in old Modern Warfare might have had something to say about the cold detachment of killing people who can’t fight back, but it also left you with a gee-whiz appreciation for the aesthetics of grainy IR imagery and the power of modern weapons (or at least it did for me). I believe them when they say they’re trying to say something with this game, but if part of what you’re saying is “wow, those panoramic NVG are so cool!” the rest isn’t really going to stick.

Reportedly the game is going to be set in a “Syrghanistan” for the Middle East part, which is not hugely encouraging either.

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Here’s a thing that’s fucked up: in every war shooter you can pick up and use enemy weapons, which is by far the biggest indicator of an intent to commit war crimes. In the U.S. military you have to account for every discharge of a weapon, so questions will be asked if a prisoner is found to have been shot with standard issue 5.56mm rounds. Pick up a weapon from an enemy combatant though, and you can do whatever the fuck you like as long as your buddies in the unit aren’t going to rat you out.

The notion of “weapon variety” in these games excuses a extremely common practice in the U.S. military of using found armaments to commit atrocities that can’t be directly linked back to them. The phrase “It’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six” is a common aphorism used to justify these crimes. Better to shoot someone who is visually indistinguishable from a civilian with a weapon and ammunition you’re not accountable for than risk your own safety.

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I find it so funny how they just spouted a bunch of ‘deep’ “war is hell” quotes as if they were saying something really profound.

I mean, this is still Call of Duty we’re talking about. They don’t have to really say anything profound. If they can do even a mediocre job of criticizing exactly their own shit, it might open at least a few eyes.

It’s nothing for them to be patting their backs over, I guess, but it’s also good that maybe they are at least trying to do something besides make another game where you celebrate killing brown people from some ambiguous middle eastern country. Which, this game could still end up being exactly that anyway.

So, you know what, who the fuck knows?