NOTE: Contains some Spoilers
With the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on 11/10/09, a bit of controversy has arisen. In one sequence of the game, you play an American soldier, turned CIA operative, who has infiltrated a group of Russian terrorists. The scene, titled “No Russian” begins when you get off an elevator at a Russian airport and walk towards the security checkpoint. A crowd of civilians and security agents are unaware of the armed men in bulletproof jackets behind them. Seconds later, the AI controlled terrorists open fire on the crowd, mowing down everyone in sight. You can fire upon them as well, but are not forced to. This scene and what follows are so graphic that the game prompts you several times, asking if you would like to skip it all together. I played through it and here are my thoughts.
At first, I pulled the trigger along with the terrorists figuring, “Hey, it’s just a game. I’ve ran over people on the side of the street in Grand Theft Auto; this shouldn’t be any different.” On first blush, it’s not. You feel no immediate connection to the civilians. The gunfire from your machine gun is incredibly loud and the screen fills with smoke and debris. That all changes as soon as you let go of the trigger. You hears the screams of both men and women as they try to find a place to hide. You see people laying on the ground wounded and then a terrorist walk up and shoot them point blank. You see people trying to help the wounded only to get shot down yourself. Most disturbing of all however is the pace of your walk. Your character slowly and methodically walks through the airport; the run button is disabled. I found this exceptionally chilling as you slowly meandered through the dead with screams and gunfire the only sounds.
The question that people have been asking is Is this right to play in a video game, where you are controlling the character? I think it is. Video games are compared to movies all the time but are never allowed to address the same issues. I have seen many movies that are far more disturbing than this: the Saw movies, Hostel, Requiem for a Dream, Pan’s Labyrinth, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan. All of those movies handled disturbing matter and were praised for it (by awards if not box office tallies). I think it’s high time a video game be allowed to take on an issue other than saving a princess from a castle or stopping another alien race from invading. I think this level provides a reminder of the atrocities of war, especially the war on terrorism. It’s been over 8 years since the Twin Towers fell and maybe its time we remember what loss feels like. We are not the only ones who have suffered from the hands of maniacs and I think setting this sequence in Russia is a great, but grim reminder of that. We should never forget the horrors of the past and video game developers should have the freedom to remind us of those horrors, especially when tastefully done as the were here by Infinity Ward.