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Editor alert: This post has a story spoiler.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 will debut tomorrow as one of the most anticipated video games of the year. It is almost guaranteed to be one of the best-selling games of the year.

But the game contains a controversial scene that may be disturbing to users, according to a report on the Kotaku game blog. In a video posted on Kotaku, the scene shows a family using a video camera to record their visit to London. Then a truck pulls up ahead of a young girl. The truck blows up, killing the girl and the family, and then it spreads poison gas through the air. The camcorder falls to the ground and shows the aftermath for a few seconds. The scene is certain to generate broader, negative media attention for Activision Blizzard, but that may either help or hurt sales of the game.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 stirred an outcry over a controversial scene dubbed “No Russian.” In that scene, the user has no choice but to participate in a massacre of civilians at a Russian airport. The scene is integral to the plot, since it enables terrorists to spark a war between the U.S. and Russia. But the scene was so graphic in its depiction of the violence against civilians that it raised an outcry. That created a huge mass media awareness about the game among audiences far beyond video gamers.


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Kotaku reports that the scene in Modern Warfare 3 is not interactive in the same way as No Russian and isn’t a full mission. After the No Russian controversy, Activision Blizzard created an option that allowed users to skip the controversial scene. The new game also has the same kind of option. The scene is part of a larger attack on London. I have played the game and the scene fits into the larger context of a terrorist-instigated world war.

As Kotaku notes, scenes depicting young children being killed are new to gaming. Hollywood, on the other hand, routinely has scenes where kids are killed by bombs or terrorist shootings. Such scenes are an easy way to evoke viewer emotion. Based on material already released, there is plenty of other disturbing material in the game. But this is one of the scenes clearly marked for gamers to skip.

Michael Condrey, co-founder of Sledgehammer Games, one of the studios that made the game, told USA Today that “Call of Duty isn’t about gratuitous violence. It’s not about creating controversy for that sake. It’s really about taking you on a ride emotionally and, at times, that puts you on some really exciting blockbuster scenes and some epic cinematic moments,” he said. “Other times it plays on your emotions … and, at times, maybe makes you feel some things you haven’t felt in a game before.”

The game is rated Mature, or aimed at those 17 and older. And by and large, Activision Blizzard and its developers Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games have made Call of Duty games that are respectful of the sacrifices made by soldiers in defense against terrorist acts. In no way do the games celebrate terrorism.

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