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Russia has banned sales of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, the hottest-selling video game of all time, because it contains a scene in which civilians are massacred at a Russian airport.
[Update: Activision Blizzard released this statement today: Reports that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has been banned in Russia are erroneous. Activision only released a PC version of the game in Russia which went on sale on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Other countries have formal ratings boards that we regularly work with. However, Russia does not have a formal ratings entity. As a result, we chose to block the scene after seeking the advice of local counsel.]
The controversy has helped draw attention to the game, which sold an estimated 7 million copies on its first day of sales last week. But the heat is also causing a fair amount of political backlash.
Russia is the first nation to respond by removing it from sale and recalling all copies sold. Some British members of Parliament have also called for a ban on the game. As we noted in our perspective piece about the controversial scene in Modern Warfare 2, the game player has no choice but to participate in the slaughter scene. The player is an undercover operative who has infiltrated a terrorist cell. The player thus accompanies the terrorists as they slaughter the civilians at an airport in an attempt to provoke the Russians into launching a war on the United States. The player can join in the slaughter, but cannot stop the attack by shooting the terrorists.
Game developer Infinity Ward and its owner, game publisher Activision Blizzard, allow the players to choose whether to participate in the potentially offensive scene at the beginning of the game, but it is handled as if it were a last-minute choice. The scene itself does not present the player with a moral choice. And those who opt out of the scene are given no explanation or alternative scene that allows them to catch up with the plot development. The airport scene is central to the plot because it explains why the U.S. and the Russians are fighting.
Infinity Ward is planning to submit an edited version of the game within a month that it hopes will allow it to be restored to store shelves in Russia. The loss of the Russian market isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme, as high piracy rates in the country have historically made it a small market for Western developers.