Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and ‘othering’


I booted up Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare lastnight, for the first time since its release. I remember enjoying playing through the single-player campaign (I’ve never been much for online multiplayer) way back in 2007, and being staggered at some of the visuals, even with it running at lowest settings on my old Toshiba laptop. The reason I’m playing through it again is for inclusion in the published version of my PhD thesis.

Eight years later, the opening chapters of the game really hold up from a visual point of view. Yes, games have come a long way, but the sheer rollicking action of the training sections and cargo ship prologue mask some of the less crisp edges and other visual shortcomings.

Hilariously, though, the game is really bad. It tries to do so much in such a short span of time (rough play-through, from memory, was under ten hours?), and in so doing draws on every cliche of Anglo-American foreign policy for the last hundred years. This, however, makes it perfect for my thesis.

The first key element is the ‘othering’ of all races, nationalities, religions and genders. You’re safe if you’re white, American, Christian, and male. But even the British — one of whom the player controls for a significant part of the game — are heavily caricatured and stereotyped. The first words out of your superior’s mouth are ‘What kind of a name is Soap, eh? How’d a muppet like you pass selection?’

The antagonists of the game are… Arabs? Russians? Hell, throw in the North Koreans and the Chinese and everyone’s covered.

The primary antagonist is a fellow named Khaled al-Asad, who leads a separatist group in an unnamed pan-Middle Eastern country. Naturally, said country is rich in resources, hence the international interest. The player is introduced to al-Asad while the camera is situated inside the head of the President. As the President, you’re driven through the streets of an anonymous city, and every stereotype is there: people being shot, people shooting, people running, children playing soccer, a firing squad executing civilians, helicopters and jets flying overhead, wild dogs chasing random people. You arrive at a public space, where al-Asad is finishing a rallying speech to the separatists. He calmly wanders over, levels a gun at your face, and pulls the trigger.

The gross over-generalisation of these early parts of the game is deplorable, but you can’t deny the compelling spectacle. I certainly can’t deny I’d like to get back into the game right now.

What is it good for?

This War of Mine

Based on a recommendation from my good friend Joel (his excellent writing can be sampled at his equally excellent project The Ladyist Experiment), today I started playing 11 bit studios’ hyphenate extravaganza This War of Mine. I sunk about two hours into the game, and feel I’ve barely scratched the surface. As such, what follows are my very rudimentary notes on the early experience of the game. Continue reading “What is it good for?”

Destiny breaks many indie records

I’ve been spending the odd hour or two mucking around with Bungie’s latest reasonably small indie game Destiny*. In a combined play time of about 4-5 hours I’ve managed to ascend to level 5 – hopefully this will increase with some more free time over the next couple of weeks.

Destiny, despite being a small indie offering, has garnered a great deal of critical attention, with gamers and critics alike being very quick to point out its shortcomings. From the lack of discernible story, to what story there is being full of gaping chasms, to problems with mechanics and the integration of RPG elements, to problems with its being a not-that-great shooter, people love taking potshots at small releases like this one.

In my small engagement with the game, I don’t really have a problem with it. My review of the game is a resounding slight shrug, but playing the game is a joy, and I’ll keep playing, and it’s hard to understand why. The game plays like a pared-back Halo, with the integration of some pared-back elements from Skyrim and Mass Effect, set in a gloriously detailed and rendered solar system that’s just damned fun to fly around.

The game markets itself as a sci-fi shooter with some RPG elements. And, lo and behold, the player is required to shoot things in a sci-fi environment in order to level up and choose some bonuses. Hardly groundbreaking, but I’m not sure what everyone was expecting from a low-budget, indie developer like Bungie.

* Irony. In point of fact, Destiny cost exactly US$72.3 bajillion to make over its 279-year-long development (No One, 2014).