November 8, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Controversy

Troy Benedict Says Welcome to Call of Duty: Shark Week here on The Goozex Report! A week-long blitzkrieg of articles and news stories surrounding one of the year's most anticipated video game releases: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Be warned that this article might contain some general spoilers. If you've purposely avoided reading anything about Modern Warfare 2 in hopes to witness the game with untainted eyes... well, then you're not doing a very good job by reading this article! There are no plot-ruining spoilers revealed here, but there is some discussion about the opening scene of the game further below, that might take away some of Modern Warfare 2's surprises.

When people think of controversy and video games, the Grand Theft Auto franchise and lawyer/crusader Jack Thompson generally come to mind. In reality, games are marred with controversy all the time, even seemingly harmless titles like the Nintendo DS's Scribblenauts has had its share of controversial discoveries.

People like to complain about anything, and the best place to complain about things is through the Internet. And who are some of the biggest users of the Internet? Gamers!

You might not be aware, but the Call of Duty franchise has had its share of controversies. To some, these issues are insignificant, to others they're worthy of petitioning over 100,000 people to influence the developer/publisher to make changes. Here are some of the more recent controversies surrounding the Call of Duty franchise.

With Call of Duty: World at War, PETA the animal rights organization, took offense to scenes in the game where the player killed attack dogs. PETA also didn't like the multiplayer perk that allows the player to unleash a pack of attack dogs on their enemies. In order to help promote a kinder, gentler portrayal of dogs in the Call of Duty games, PETA sent Activision copies of Nintendogs. Activision responded by saying that the dogs were included in the game for authenticity, as they were used extensively during World War II, and didn't feel that the in-game violence towards the attack dogs condoned or endorsed cruelty to animals.

There have been subtle jabs between the two development studios who make the Call of Duty games: Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Many argue that the Infinity Ward releases are superior to Treyarch's. Infinity Ward has worked on Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Treyarch has developed Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty: World at War, as well as the Wii port of Modern Warfare 2 called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex. (Whew! Talk about an overuse of colons!) Regardless of the developer, the Call of Duty games are huge commercial successes, and are always amongst the top of the list of most-played multiplayer games on both the 360 and the PS3. In my opinion, I do think that Infinity Ward continues to push innovation through its Call of Duty releases more than Treyarch does. That being said, Treyarch is going to have some big shoes to fill with 2010's Call of Duty title, as Infinity Ward set the bar pretty high with Modern Warfare 2.

Perhaps the most drastically overlooked controversial issues that could have been resolved with a little common sense, was the recent YouTube ad for Modern Warfare 2. The video clip features the voice, as well as an in-game likeness of, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. He discusses how randomly throwing grenades in multiplayer is "for pussies." The video clip ends with Cole Hamel's character being tagged with a ridiculous amount of grenades and he is then blown up as he shouts out an expletive. After the action fades to black, the name of a fake interest group, "Fight Against Grenade Spam" is shown. The acronym is F.A.G.S. The most offensive thing to me about this video isn't the video's "rawness" or its acronym, but the sheer idiocy in planning and execution that must've gone into the production.

Did the video editors simply throw this advertisement on the Internet without getting higher approval? Ultimately, the video was pulled from the official YouTube page when the Internet started heating up. Perhaps this was a well-planned marketing scheme, subscribing to the notion that "there is no such thing as bad publicity." To me, it reeks of "it sounded good at the time" amateurism.

Developer Infinity Ward was also rumored to have disabled the ability for Xbox Live users to use the party chat feature during ranked multiplayer games. Party chat allows Xbox Live subscribers to chat amongst their friends regardless of what game they're playing on the Xbox 360. To me, this makes perfect sense for ranked multiplayer games, as ranked online matches is where a player's win/loss record truly matters and is where the more serious gamers play. As I understand it, when a player dies, their communication channel is cut off as to not assist their teammates by giving away enemy positions while their character is in limbo. Party chat would circumvent this this "disconnection." Like I said, this rumored decision makes sense to me.

The PC version of Modern Warfare 2 had PC gamers up in arms in October, after Infinity Ward stated that multiplayer on dedicated servers would not be allowed. To console gamers, this doesn't seem like a big deal, but to the PC gaming enthusiasts it is very much so. Select groups in the PC gaming community called modders, like to get under the engine of a game and modify aspects of it to create a unique online gaming experience. Sometimes this is importing new character models, or changing a weapon's rate of fire or even its effectiveness. Most of the modding that is done is harmless, but modding an online game can make for a very unbalanced multiplayer experience. Infinity Ward's reasoning behind the exclusion of dedicated servers was to keep online matches as free from cheating and griefing as possible. With a pay-to-play service like Xbox Live, I expect the game publisher/developer as well as Microsoft helps to ensure a fair and balanced online experience. I know too many online gamers who have quit playing certain games altogether because other players took advantage of glitches in the game, and a patch to stop the "cheating" wasn't implemented fast enough.

But it doesn't stop there.

Another series of downsides to the PC gaming experience for Modern Warfare 2 recently surfaced. According to Joystiq.com, Infinity Ward confirmed during a Best Buy online chat, that in addition to the PC version having a 9-vs-9 player limit, there would also be no way to kick players from ranked matches, and there would be no console commands. Again, for console gamers, this doesn't seem like a major issue, but to the PC gaming enthusiasts, it's extremely limiting.

Of course, we can't talk about controversy and Modern Warfare 2 without mentioning the game's opening scene, where you assume the role of a group of terrorists who walk through an airport killing innocent and unarmed civilians. Infinity Ward had stated that the player does not have to participate in the killings. Having such a shocking opening, whether or not the player openly participates in the murder of innocent people, could lead to a lot of media denouncements of the game after its release, especially after recent news of the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas on November 5th. Will more conservative news outlets, like Fox News, heavily condemn Modern Warfare 2 for a possible glorified look at violence through the eyes of a terrorist? Again, is this a brilliant marketing scheme for Modern Warfare 2, or is this an attempt to inject some much needed emotion in the video-game medium? People say that games aren't art because there's no emotional connection. If the game elicits a response, even if it's one of extreme discomfort and anger at the events unfolding, could Infinity Ward help push the industry forward in this regard?

William Shakespeare once said, "What is in a name?" When you're referring to Modern Warfare 2, nobody is really sure. When the game was first announced, Infinity Ward was promoting it as just "Modern Warfare 2." The Call of Duty branding was blatantly missing. This, of course led to all sorts of rumors and speculation. Was Infinity Ward creating a spinoff of the Call of Duty series? Activision finally confirmed that the standard-edition of Modern Warfare 2 would feature the Call of Duty brand logo to show its association with the Call of Duty franchise.

Check back here all week long for more articles about the Call of Duty franchise, including the first impressions of the highly anticipated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.


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