As we write this morning, many gamers in New Zealand are playing what Activision has touted as the “biggest entertainment release in history.” Whether that’s true of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 remains to be seen – once the waters have calmed Activision’s accountants will don their visors, sharpen their HB pencils and get to work crunching the numbers. Leave the casserole in a microwavable dish on the bench, honey.
What we do know, however, is that media chatter around the game has reached saturation point. Modern Warfare 2 has been an inescapable headline grabber with enough clout to be variously championed and chided by special interest groups seeking to steer the debate for the promotion of their own agenda.
Yesterday, Modern Warfare 2 went before England’s parliament: “Is the Minister aware that at midnight tonight a new and violent videogame called Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is to be released?” asked Labour’s Keith Vaz of Sion Simon, Culture Media and Sport Minister. "It contains such scenes of brutality that even the manufacturers have put in warnings within the game telling people how they can skip particular scenes.”
Sure enough, Modern Warfare 2 was Vaz’s vehicle for placing the UK age-ratings system back on the agenda. “Given the recommendations of the Byron Review ... what steps is the government proposing to take in order to ensure these violent games do not fall into the hands of children and young people? It’s not about censorship, it’s about protecting our children.” Vaz had taken up copy earlier in tabloid rag the Daily Mail, saying, “I am absolutely shocked by the level of violence in this game and am particularly concerned about how realistic the game itself looks.” An ironic endorsement in some circles.
Fellow Labour MP Tom Watson called Vaz out, asking, “Does the Minister agree that it would be better for this House to support the many thousands of games designers and coders and the many millions of games users, rather than collaborating with the Daily Mail to create moral panic over the use of videogames?” before departing and creating a Facebook group called “Gamers’ Voice”.
Watson describes the group, which has at the time of writing received 9,314 members in just over 24 hours, as a “pressure group” and a “game-changing move for parliament”. Others would call it a lobby with no teeth.
“There is a legitimate debate about how you handle difficult content. What we've really got to do is educate these young MPs to realise the scale of the industry and the cultural significance of the industry, because they've just had three years of Keith battering on about the industry, about the content,” says Watson. Too true.
But the wrangle in the House of Commons comes on the heels of a wider fracas. As we reported last week, the Australian Council on Children and the Media threw up their hands in horror at a gameplay video depicting acts of terror. The clip was followed with a poor-taste viral video that closed with a tongue-in-cheek homophobic acronym.
Today, the BBC’s Radio 4 threw their hat in the ring, with reporter Marc Cieslak saying he was “saddened” as Modern Warfare 2 had disproved his belief that the games industry had grown up, reports eurogamer.
Asked if the controversial content had shocked him, he said, “I wasn't shocked by it but I felt a little bit saddened. I thought the games industry had moved beyond shock tactics for shock tactics sake and that's what I thought about this level [wherein players shoot unarmed civilians]: it's controversial for the sake of being controversial. I didn't think it necessarily needed to be included in the game.”
Cieslak rounded out his position by saying he found it unusual that it hadn’t occurred to Activision that Modern Warfare 2 might garner this kind of response while they were developing the title. Now who’s being naive?
The fact of the matter is that the discussion has been pulled in so many directions that it’s stretched out like an old t-shirt. But there are two things we can be sure of: Firstly, that the fires will die down just as quickly as they flared up. And moreover, we can now decide for ourselves whether there’s any merit to the hype.
Read our console review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and stay tuned for our PC review later today.