Controversies surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a first-person shooter video game released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows on November 10, 2009. In addition to being a critically acclaimed best-seller, the game has been surrounded in controversy since its release mainly due to its violent depiction of a terrorist attack on a Russian airport. It has also come under fire by the PC community for its lack of dedicated servers and other features present in previous Call of Duty games, and from the Xbox 360 community for disabling the "party chat" system during some multiplayer matches.

The game was also released with a major glitch affecting its multiplayer mode; multiple accounts of players hacking the multiplayer on all consoles; and an in-game Easter egg which was deemed homophobic. Infinity Ward has also received criticism for producing a viral video that uses the word "fag".

"No Russian"[edit]

“For that level we were trying to do three things: sell why Russia would attack the US, make the player have an emotional connection to the bad guy Makarov, and do that in a memorable and engaging way. In a first person shooter where you never leave the eyes of the hero, it’s really hard to build up the villain and get the player invested in why he’s bad”.

Mohammad Alavi, The Designer responsible for "No Russian"[1]

"It isn't really relevant whether that makes you enjoy the entertainment experience even more because you're being naughty (à la Grand Theft Auto) or it engrosses you further into the story and makes you resent your actions. What's relevant is that the level managed to make the player feel anything at all."

Mohammad Alavi, The Designer responsible for "No Russian"[2]

An optional level early in the game entitled "No Russian" has the player assume control of a deep-cover CIA agent and former Army Ranger named Joseph Allen, joining a group of Russian ultranationalist terrorists enacting an airport massacre. The name comes from a briefing from the terrorist leader, Vladimir Makarov, who tells the player's character and the other gunmen not to speak any Russian throughout the scene by simply uttering the words "Remember - no Russian". Although the player is technically allied with the terrorists, they are not forced to kill any of the civilians themselves to fulfill the mission's objectives. Civilians scream and run in terror, the injured crawl away leaving a trail of blood, and some try to drag others to safety, only to be shot with bloody results. The player also cannot kill the terrorists themselves which would result in failure of the mission.[3]

The player is warned prior to starting the single player campaign of the mission's "disturbing content", and can choose to skip the mission at no penalty. If the player chooses not to skip the mission in advance, they are still given the option to skip the level at any point. The player receives no penalty for skipping the level and there is no "score" calculated for killing the civilians or airport security officers; also, there are no specific achievements or trophies earned during the mission. They must, however, fight off FSB troopers on the tarmac. At the end of the level, Makarov reveals his knowledge of Allen's true identity and kills him before escaping. The presence of the body of an American agent at the massacre tricks the Russian government into believing that the United States is responsible, leading to a Russian invasion of the United States.[3][4]

Reactions[edit]

A screenshot taken from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It details the game shown from the player character's perspective as the character shoots into a crowd of civilians in a fictional Russian airport. However, the player may pass this part of the mission without firing at all. A warning is also shown on starting the game for the first time offering the player the choice to skip the mission altogether if they may find it offensive or disturbing.[4]

Russia[edit]

This controversial mission was removed from the Russian PC version of the game. It was originally reported that sales of the console editions of Modern Warfare 2 were delayed in Russia due to an ordered recall, but Activision has called this report false. Activision stated that they made the decision to remove the "No Russian" mission from the game prior to the game's release as they did with the Russian PC version which was released before the console versions. The decision to remove the mission was made after consulting with local counsel since Russia has no formal ratings board. The only other body who has the authority to pass ratings on video games in the Russian Federation is the Television and Film Classification Board (CRRS), who refused to comment on the controversy.[5][6][7][8][9]

Japan and Germany[edit]

The Japanese version of Modern Warfare 2 was modified to give players a "game over" if they kill civilians.[10] This modification was also done in Germany.[11]

The Japanese version of Modern Warfare 2 also included a major mistranslation in which the line "Remember, No Russian" was incorrectly replaced with "Kill them; they are Russians" (殺せ、ロシア人だ Korose, roshia-jinda?).[dead link][12] This has created confusion with the storyline as much of the plot hinges on what occurs at the airport and the motivations behind it. Many players are opting to import a US version of the game rather than the localized version with the mistranslation.[13][14] Square Enix has mentioned that no errors from the translation will be fixed in the game due to "technological limitations",[15] pointing out the game was made for one language only.[16]

United Kingdom[edit]

The game was discussed briefly in the House of Commons after the issue was brought to the attention of MP Keith Vaz, a longtime opponent of violence in video games, with fellow Labour politician Tom Watson arguing that the level was "no worse than [scenes] in many films and books" and criticising Vaz for "collaborating with the Daily Mail to create moral panic over the use of video games".[17] Modern Warfare 2 also received significant criticism from UK religious leaders on BBC One during a segment which discussed whether violent video games were dangerous to society. Fazan Mohammed of the British Muslim Forum compared the game to the works of Joseph Goebbels, commenting that while people called it merely entertainment, Goebbels himself said that Adolf Hitler's films did more to psyche the German people up for war than his speeches did and as a result, calling it entertainment was not enough justification.[18]

However, Staffordshire University game design expert Dr. Bobbie Fletcher and Future Publishing's James Binns disagreed with this, defending Modern Warfare 2 from the criticisms. Binns commented that video games should be held to the same standard as film, television, and books, that all of these media provide something for children and something for adults. He added that instead of making video games only for children, that children should be protected from adult video games.[18]

Chief executive of the London Jewish Forum Alex Goldberg criticized the scene, stating that "Surely this puts the gamer in the position of being a terrorist", commenting that it "forces" the players into a scene where they are allied with terrorists killing innocent civilians. Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, retired Bishop of Hulme, stated that the BBFC should have cut the scene, stating that he finds it sick if any players enjoyed playing a terrorist killing other people. "TV agony aunt" Jennifer Trent-Hughes stated that the scene made her cry, stating that she was "sick to her stomach" and was frightened. She added that the people screaming and blood splattering on the screen was awful, and her 15 year old son had to cover his eyes.[18]

This particular mission led to the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 being the first game in the series to receive an 18 rating from the BBFC.[19]

United States[edit]

The Salt Lake Tribune editor Vince Horiuchi called Modern Warfare 2 the most controversial video game of the year, citing the "No Russian" scene. He commented that the imagery and interactivity was too much for people right after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. He found the scene to be in poor taste, comparing his stance on it to that of film critics' opinions of slasher films such as Friday the 13th, questioning whether Infinity Ward could have made it a cutscene or allowed players to be a horrified onlooker or to intervene, stating that the game does not allow players to retaliate against the terrorists and forces the players to kill FSB, the Russian security service.[20] In a CNET.com article, Chris Matyszczyk criticized the banning of Modern Warfare 2 for consoles and editing the PC version to remove the offending content. He stated that while Infinity Ward likely knew controversy would result, that the Russian government was overreacting, adding that if Salman Rushdie had written such a scenario in a book, the government would probably not ban it.[21] GamesRadar named it one of the 10 most shocking game moments of the decade, commenting that it will either result in more hard-hitting scenes in video games or stricter gaming legislation.[22]

X-Play described the level's presence as an important catalyst to the overall plot of the game rather than a scene inserted for shock value.[23] In a review for Game Informer, Adam Biessener wrote that while the level "makes the player a part of truly heinous acts", he also notes that the "mission draws the morality of war and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad guys cannot." Biessener concludes that it is one of the more emotional moments in the game, is "proud that our medium can address such weighty issues without resorting to adolescent black-and-white absolutes".[24] In their review, Atomic Gamer editor Steve Haske dedicated a portion of the review to analyzing the stage, describing it as a "good first attempt at providing some commentary of the nation's current political climate, if a botched one." He added that taking such a risk legitimizes the video game industry, but also that its execution failed to give players a motivation by introducing the characters involved in earlier missions.[25] The Escapist editor Andy Chalk called the controversy nonsense, stating that a handful of Russian terrorists should not be a reflection of the entire Russian state.[26] Mercury News editor Gieson Cacho called the chapter the most controversial of the levels in Modern Warfare 2, stating that most people would become sick to their stomach after playing this sequence. However, he adds that the impact fuels the rest of the game's plot as well as making a comparison between it and the Omaha Beach scene in the film Saving Private Ryan.[27]

Australia and New Zealand[edit]

In an article by The Australian, editor Stuart Kennedy criticized the scene. He stated that it added nothing to the plot and didn't help players progress, and that the "cynic in him" found it to be a marketing ploy. He felt that the scene was included due to not much being added from the original Modern Warfare.[28] Stuff.co.nz editor Gerard Campbell stated that while he was unable to shoot the civilians, his friends were willing to do so, one of them choosing to "blast through the airport". He added that not only did it seem out of place from the plot, but it also seemed like a last-minute addition to generate controversy.[29] Leonard Lai of the Spartan Daily stated that while he watched the scene, he could only wonder why it was included and what Infinity Ward was trying to tell people with it. He questioned whether it was necessary to have it even though it was skippable, and why it couldn't have been presented in any other way.[30]

When the scene became widespread before the game's release, the Australian Classification Board were pressured to reconsider the rating of MA15+ for people 15 or older to R18+ for people 18 or older, the latter rating making it illegal to sell in Australia. In the end the classification board said they had no control over changing the rating unless an appeal was lodged to the Australian Classification Review Board. Jane Roberts of the morals campaign organisation Australian Council on Children and the Media was one of the various individuals to call for the banning.[30] South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson called for changes in Modern Warfare 2's rating from its current MA15+ rating to R18+, which would essentially ban it, due to the presence of the "No Russian" mission, saying the game "allows players to be virtual terrorists and gain points by massacring civilians."[31] However, this statement is incorrect; no "points" are earned for killing civilians,[31] and outside of the airport massacre sequence, shooting civilians or friendly NPCs result in the player being reprimanded and forced to restart from a previous checkpoint. Despite Atkinson saying he would submit his appeal, there was no record of one ever being submitted.

Criticisms[edit]

Xbox 360 version[edit]

Many players have expressed concern about Infinity Ward's decision to remove the ability to use party chat while playing in certain multiplayer playlists. Players still have the option to alter their privacy settings, restricting it to allow communication only between Xbox Live friends, or to use "private chat" which allows communication to one other Xbox Live subscriber. This was partially fixed with the inclusion of a Barebones Pro playlist that allowed party chat in Xbox Live.

PC version[edit]

Criticism has arisen of changes made to the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 including the lack of dedicated servers, latency issues of the listen server-only IWNET, lack of console commands, lack of support for matches larger than 18 players, and inability to vote towards kicking or banning cheating players immediately.[32] When asked about the removal of console menu commands, Infinity Ward responded with, "We would like you to play the game the way we designed and balanced it."

Defending their decision towards the lack of dedicated servers, Infinity Ward maintains that IWNET will "put you in the game that will give you the smoothest gameplay possible without you having to manually find a server with the best ping." In addition, it is stated that the utilization of Valve's Anti-Cheat system will eliminate the need to worry about "joining a server full of aim-bots, wallhacks, or cheaters. Or relying on the server administrator to constantly be monitoring, banning, and policing it."[33] However, Valve's anti-cheat system was designed to punish cheating, not to prevent it, by banning cheaters after a random delay.[34] Taking a different view, Ars Technica writer Ben Kuchera wrote, "At launch, this will be one of the most locked-down, inflexible, and gamer-unfriendly [games] ever created."[32]

An online petition was launched immediately after the announcement of the changes to the game's multiplayer aspect, urging Infinity Ward to reconsider its stance, with over 200,000 signatures.[35] When asked for a comment on the petition, Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling stated that it “definitely made a big wave, and the response will not be ignored. I’ll ensure everyone at IW sees the petitions and responds to it.”[36] The game went on to beat its predecessor's first week sales without yielding to any of the demands [37] but had dropped down to 39th place on the PC after three weeks, a decline not shared by the console versions.[38] Shortly after release a screenshot was circulated on the internet showing a number of members in one of the boycott groups on Steam playing Modern Warfare 2.[39][40] By May 2010, coders unlocked the developer console and managed to recreate the effect of dedicated servers.[41]

Other controversies[edit]

"Don't ask, don't tell" Easter egg[edit]

After the weapons tutorial at the beginning of the game, an Easter egg can be found in which a trooper asks another trooper if he "has ever seen a grown man naked", followed by asking if he is "still gay?". After a few laughs the trooper says he's kidding and adds "don't ask, don't tell" referring to the US military's don't ask, don't tell policy of the time which allowed homosexuals to serve in the military as long as their sexual orientation remained secret. The policy was abolished on September 20, 2011. The first half of this easter egg, however, is a reference to the movie Airplane! and are direct quotes from the HBO miniseries Generation Kill. Infinity Ward has been accused of being homophobic before (including the F.A.G.S. video). Infinity Ward has not made an official statement concerning the accusations.[42][43]

Javelin glitch[edit]

The Javelin glitch caused online opponents to explode upon death, killing anyone within 15 feet (and even further with the “Danger Close” perk). In response to its growing misuse, Infinity Ward issued a statement that a required update was in the works, and collaborated with Microsoft to issue Xbox Live suspensions for anyone exploiting the glitch. Ars Technica editor Ben Kuchera criticized the suspensions, stating that Microsoft should not be banning people from the service, because taking advantage of something found in the game's code is not cheating. By definition, it is exploiting, another practice frowned upon by players, along with glitching and hacking. He further stated that any permanent bans prevent the console from ever being playable online, making them "basically dead." He added that people would often sell such consoles to GameStop and online sites such as eBay and Craigslist.[44] Despite the Xbox Live bannings, Sony stated that they would not ban anyone on the PlayStation Network for exploiting the Javelin glitch.[45] Tyler Barber of GameSpy commented that Sony likely carried out no bans due to the service being free and as such gave them less incentive to track down offenders. He added that he does not feel bad for anyone banned, saying that people who took advantage of exploits made games unfair.[46] According to Infinity Ward's Community Manager Robert Bowling this exploit has since been corrected as of version 1.06 released on December 11, 2009.[47]

F.A.G.S. video[edit]

A viral video was released about an organization called "Fight Against Grenade Spam" or "F.A.G.S". The video depicts Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels delivering a fake public service announcement decrying the use of grenade spam, calling it "for pussies", before he is blown up by many semtex grenades being thrown at him.[48] This quickly created controversy, with writers such as Denis Farr saying it shows an acceptance of homophobic insults on Xbox Live. Brainy Gamer editor Michael Abbott stated that as both a father and a teacher, people need to teach to kids that this is not okay. Game Critics editor Matthew Kaplan stated that the current marketing attitude comes from the present day culture of cynicism and self-centeredness.[49] Game Informer editor Philip Kollar and freelance writer Mitchell Dyer criticized the video's language and tone as well as the acronym used. Kollar, in response to a reader saying he was overreacting, disagreed, stating that he was not doing anything to boycott the game or suggest others to do so, and was merely criticizing Infinity Ward for making a video that promotes an aspect of Xbox Live that they should be shunning. Infinity Ward employee Robert Bowling responded to this, stating that he felt it was more a social commentary joke than it was promoting the act. Dyer responded to this by saying that due to its poor execution, it appears to be promoting such "assholer-y". Ultimately, Bowling commented that while he could appreciate concerns over the video, he found the gag to be great and removed the video. Kotaku editor Owen Good agreed with one of the site's readers who stated that the controversy could have been avoided if the marketing department had called it "Fight Relentlessly Against Grenade Spam" or "F.R.A.G.S." (Referring to the frag grenade) Good denotes the video as pointlessly provocative and criticized certain readers and commentators for what he describes as attacking anyone who takes offense as being politically motivated.[48] As a response to the original video, EA released a spoof of it, entitled "Friends Really Against Grenade Spam" or "F.R.A.G.S.", as a part of a series of videos to promote the release of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Featuring its own baseball pitcher delivering the message, New York Yankees' CC Sabathia, he stated in the video that "In Battlefield: Bad Company 2 grenade spam isn’t going to prove quite as effective as one might find in competing games of this particular genre, not with destructible buildings, adrenaline pumping weapons and more vehicles than you can count."[50]

Favela map painting[edit]

On 2 October 2012, a YouTube video was uploaded called "Message to Infinity Ward From Muslims - رساله ل الشركه" saying that in a bathroom on the map, there is a picture frame above the toilet with writing that says "Allah is beautiful and He loves beauty". In Islam, it is forbidden to say anything about the Islamic religion in a bathroom.[51] The map was then removed from all public playlists on 6 October 2012 after the video went viral.[52] It was later put back into rotation on 23 October 2012 after a patch got rid of the texture on the frame of the picture. It has yet to be put back into rotation for the PC version.

References[edit]

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