So IndustryGamers and others are reporting a new controversy surrounding Infinity Ward’s upcoming Modern Warfare 2: it looks like, for at least a small portion of the game, you will play as a terrorist, with the objective of gunning down civilians in an airport terminal. It’s sparked quite the little inferno.
I’m okay with this, and I’ll tell you why. But I do worry about the mainstream kneejerks… and I’ll tell you why.
I’m okay with it for exactly the same reason IndustryGamers is: it doesn’t appear that this action is presented as good, you’re not rewarded for it, and by making such a scene interactive, Infinity Ward will be able to amp up the human experience of innocent casualties in a terrorist attack. I’d also add, beyond what GameDaily says, that games have every right to include dangerous content like this, provided they adhere to certain constraints of taste. Everything Infinity Ward does is tasteful, and in many ways the addition of this interactive scene is reminiscent of a scene from the original Modern Warfare… you might recall it… helicopter? Explosion? It was arguably the most shocking, gut-wrenching, and unexpected thing that could have occurred, right up there with Sephiroth gutting Aeris in Final Fantasy 7. The company is tapping new ground and does so in revelatory ways.
The reason I worry is that mainstream coverage won’t go into that level of rumination. They’ll just blare GAME ALLOWS TEENS TO ACT OUT TERRORIST MAYHEM and leave it at that. Now, of course, the best way to force the mainstream media to accept that gaming has every right to deliver often uncomfortable themes is to simply do so and weather the inevitable storm. This is a particularly thorny issue, being terrorism, and I hope both Infinity Ward and publisher Activision/Blizzard and preparing to get ahead of the potential onslaught. Just a little spin will go a long way.
Here’s a funny thing, though: you play as a terrorist in many games, and you do get rewarded for it, but no one complains, because the victims are the bad guys, and innocents are just considered collateral. Think about Half Life 2: Gordon, Alyx, and in fact the entire resistance, are terrorists, terrorists who destroy property, murder peacekeepers, and conduct armed insurrection. Hell, by the time Episode 2 gets going, you’ve destroyed an entire city, surely still containing innocents, despite evacuation efforts. Not a peep from the news.
It’s funny how things like semantics (or, if you prefer, spin) can change ideas so easily. One man’s terrorist is another man’s heroic revolutionary, and one man’s innocent is another’s target. It looks like Infinity Ward is making an effort to communicate the dual nature of conflict in Modern Warfare 2, and provided everyone’s prepared for the possible backlash, I applaud ’em for it. Do they take it too far? Heck, I don’t know. The aforementioned shocker in the original Modern Warfare went pretty damned far and they were lauded for it. Schindler’s List goes pretty far too. Sometimes you need to show the horror viscerally if it’s to be thoroughly comprehended by the audience. As usual, the only difference here is that it’s a game, and games still aren’t afforded the same creative freedoms as other media.