Call of Duty Terror: Activision's Contribution too Little, Too Late Edition
I am proud to be an American. While it is not the most popular thing to say in some parts of the world and we often joke about being the "ugly American." I am proud and Activision's choice to involve players in a terrorist act is neither who we are or who we want to be. We are a country of ideals. When our government falls short of our ideals, and it does, we can freely challenge their actions and ultimately vote them out of office. At our best, we challenge ourselves to achieve goals which appear insurmountable at the outset.
Challenges like John F. Kennedy's challenge to go to moon:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
Ronald Reagan's challenge "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear down this wall."
Al Michael's commentary when the young, inexperienced US Hockey team beat the Russians in a particularly tense time politically:
"Do you believe in Miracles"
These are just a few that came to mind and I can't think of these events without getting emotional. They are American dreams turned to reality. They draw on Thomas Jefferson vision of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," He knew these rights come at great cost "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure" and the cost should be respected. Men and women put themselves in harms way and gave their lives for Americans to have these choices. By placing a CIA terrorist mission in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Activision is making the choice to dishonor the very people who provided the company with the ability to make the game.
From time to time our resolve and our commitment to our ideals are challenged and we rise the occasion by answering the challenge and leading by example. We, along with that of the rest of the world, faced a challenge during World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor our President Roosevelt called upon the nation to support an effort against a very real threat to our liberty as a nation and to free nations around the world. He recognized the challenged and called for a unified response, not terrorism.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.
Two and a half years later when he sent our soldiers onto the shores of Omaha Beach on D Day, he described very real boys in a very horrible situation.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
The soldiers did not want to be there. They answered the Call of Duty. Hence the name of the game. The first Call of Duty game was created to tell the story of real people stepping into harm's way to answer their nation's call. Young kids were risking their lives to save the world. They were not trained killers with a bloodlust or pretending to be terrorists. They were scared young men who should have been at home playing baseball and drinking too much beer at the fraternity party. Instead they fought for our freedom. The freedom to practice the religion of our choice, the freedom to set and pursue our own goals, and the freedom of speech. Within that freedom of speech is our right to put whatever we want into a video game. Activision chose to include a level where Americans engage in a terrorist exercise in an airport. But just because they can, does not mean they should. There decision dishonors the people who fought for their rights and puts our country in a bad light. Is this really who we want to be?
The latest installment of Call of Duty allows you to play a character who infiltrates a Russian terrorist organization and engages in a mission in which you kill civilians. Activision issued a statement trying to explain their position.
“Yes it is. The scene establishes the depth of evil and the cold bloodedness of a rogue Russian villain and his unit. By establishing that evil, it adds to the urgency of the player’s mission to stop them.
“Players have the option of skipping over the scene. At the beginning of the game, there are two ‘checkpoints’ where the player is advised that some people may find an upcoming segment disturbing. These checkpoints can’t be disabled.
“Modern Warfare 2 is a fantasy action game designed for intense, realistic game play that mirrors real life conflicts, much like epic, action movies. It is appropriately rated 18 for violent scenes, which means it is intended for those who are 18 and older.”
But the explanation falls far short. These types of portrayals do happen in movies and there are scores of the Government is dirty plots in other linear media. But there is an increased level of responsibility when it comes to a game. There is something different when you ask someone to pursue a terrorist mission in a game and give them a reward for completion. It is condoning the behavior and telling the world we do it. The player is driving the action, not observing. The player is being forced to actively participate rather than observe and react. I remember sitting in the audience at the E3 when the 360 was being introduced. The graphics were something we never saw from a console. When Call of Duty was shown, it looked like we were killing people and when a person was shown being hit by a car, the audience gasped. Not the "way cool" gasp associated with video games, but the "ooooh" gasp of watching Faces of Death. This console generation added unprecedented realism and it is being abused.
Activision's responded you did not have to play the mission, but that is not enough. Rather than a reward for avoiding, or a consequence for pursuing, you just skip it. The atrocity is there, but you can choose to ignore it and move on. Isn't this the very thing we are accused of as a nation? If the goal was to show the depth of evil, and the company feels compelled to show it, let it be played out in front of the player so the player can see the evil, rather than forcing the player to participate and try to rationalize his or her behavior after the fact.
It is too easy to look at it and say "it is just a game," but even setting aside the higher goals of the original game, in the world in which we live, we cannot afford the lack of self respect which drives an American company to portray our citizens in this light. Terrorism's presence is a horrible evil in our world. While we do not have to ignore it, our role as purveyors of medias for world wide consumption should be to condemn it. The messages portrayed in our media inform the world of who we are. Messages cross culture through film, television, books, magazines, the web and with the migration into mainstream, games. What we launch on the world stage is interpreted by people who have no other access to our country as a reflection of who we are. When people who do not like our country or want to do harm to our country use this piece of media in support of their argument, they will not say it is a just a game. They will say it is American. I am not talking about a propaganda spin aimed at gaining "hearts and minds." It is not Activision's responsibility to rebuild America's status in the world. But it is a poor decision to proactively decide to include this level in the game. Given the opportunity, should we choose to portray ourselves as terrorists? The choice to portray our soldiers in this type of mission not only dishonors the franchise, but dishonors the soldiers who fought and those who gave their lives for us to have the freedom to make a game like Modern Warfare. It is only worsened by putting the Call of Duty name on the package. Activision tried to address the issue through statements and more recently a contribution to the Call of Duty Endowment, but it is not enough. The level should not ship. In this case, it is not just a "fantasy action game" and it is not social commentary. There is enough fodder out in the world, that we really don't need to provide more? Why do that, when you can do this?
Do not confuse my position with censorship. Censorship is a government action taken to suppress content. Our Constitution protects us against such an action. My position is a reflection of my voice from a country where I am aloud to use it. They are free to do what they want and I am free to express how I feel.
I tried to do it, but I really cannot say it better than Ronald Reagan in his farewell speech to our nation. I hope Activision is listening.
An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn't get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-'60s
But now, we're about to enter the '90s, and some things have changed. Younger parents aren't sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven't reinstitutionalized it. We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom — freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection.
So, we've got to teach history based not on what's in fashion but what's important: Why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing of her late father, who'd fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, "We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did." Well, let's help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won't know who we are. I'm warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let's start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual. And let me offer lesson No. 1 about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven't been teaching you what it means to be an American, let 'em know and nail 'em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.