Breaking: for the nineteenth consecutive year, the new Call of Duty the video game does not offer a thoughtful pacifist critique of human affairs. As usual, the latest in Activision’s annual first-person shooter series isn’t exactly War and peace. Try War and more war.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II opens with a ripped-from-the-headlines war crime set in the recent past. The player must pilot a missile through a remote desert valley to assassinate an Iranian general named Ghorbrani – clearly a thinly veiled reference to the real-life 2020 drone killing of Qasem Soleimani ordered by Donald Trump.
Simulate the extrajudicial killing of Soleimani to launch a “What If?” à la Tom Clancy’s story of a special ops unit preventing World War III is far from the game’s only politically questionable narrative choice. The seventeen-mission globe-trotting campaign also sends players hunting Mexican drug cartel members along the US-Mexico border wall, which involves pointing a loaded assault rifle at civilians in a Texas town to “defuse” the situation. The game also turns a tourist district of Amsterdam into a war zone in order to catch terrorists.
Given the ugliness of the spectacle, it is not surprising that many journalists reacted by throwing insults. Critics called Modern Warfare II “deaf”, “cynical” and “invertebrate” with “moments of violence that feel at best uncomfortable and at worst morally questionable”. All of this rings largely true. But it strikes me that we still have the same superficial conversations about media messages and their impact on players.
Is the most harmful thing about Call of Duty really just the shit of its writers attacking world politics? What if the real danger is not that gamers are indoctrinated, or even turn to violence in the real world, but that they are trapped in an extractive and increasingly severe cycle of gambling addiction that diminishes their quality of life while filling corporate wallets?
I don’t mean to sound too dismissive of the “Call of Duty is problematic” crowd. After all, I’m a finger-wagging former game reviewer and credentialed content policeman.
Ten years ago, on Christmas morning, the front page of the New York Times quoted me expressing reservations with Medal of Honor: Fightera Call of Duty clone that sold guns and knives directly to players. I had just written a viral essay about my annoyance that anyone could shoot a brand name assault rifle in Medal of Honor then purchase the real one through the game’s official website, which as I told the Time“looked like a virtual showroom” for real weapons.
I cited as an example my nephew Aidin, a Call of Duty devotee who had just been suspended for bringing a gun to school. A nagging little voice in my head wondered if Aidin was about to commit gun violence, and if Call of Duty and similar games were the gateway drug to get him there. Weren’t these shooters just an overt marketing tool for death peddlers in the civilian firearms industry?
Many of my media colleagues agreed with me, and in the face of growing backlash, Medal of Honor the publisher Electronic Arts has severed its licensing ties with the arms manufacturers.
Yet something funny has happened in the decade since I wrote that essay: I’ve been proven to believe in a direct correlation between war games and real life behavior. . First-person shooters continue to attract millions more users, but firearm homicides have been declining for most of the 2010s. There has been a recent increase in firearm homicides since 2020, but the assess death by firearm remains below the levels of previous years. My nephew stopped touching guns shortly after my dad passed away in 2017. Turns out my dad, who had an extensive collection of guns, introduced Aidin to gun culture. fire, and Call of Duty was only the extension of an interest cultivated by a member of the family.
Meanwhile, psychological studies – even those that cite my essay as an influence – have struggled to find a strong link between the digital and a positive affinity towards guns, let alone real-life gun violence. . And in particular, the American army does not obtain substantial support Call of Duty to bump. According to Activision, more than four hundred million people worldwide have played a Call of Duty party at least once, mostly Americans. But the Pentagon says recruiting numbers are at their lowest since the end of the Vietnam War, with the military missing its targets by thirty thousand soldiers.
The reasons for this are varied: the pandemic has cut off access to military prospects in high schools, an improving job market has led to less financial pressure to move into the military, and high rates of obesity among young people exclude military service. Not only are video games not enough to offset these trends, but in February, Army Maj. Jon-Marc Thibodeau claimed that video games make quality recruiting more difficult. “The skeleton of the ‘Nintendo Generation’ trooper is not hardened from the activity prior to his arrival,” he said.
The game becomes the only game in town, with over 90% of kids playing in some form, and so the army isn’t giving up. Recruiters have attempted to infiltrate Twitch, Discord, and other first-person shooter communities in search of potential soldiers, prompting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to sponsor a House amendment to ban the armed with such activities. “War is not a game” she says on Twitter. “We shouldn’t confuse military service with ‘shoot-em-up’ games and contests.”
AOC’s efforts are commendable and these recruiting activities should be illegal. Nonetheless, it’s increasingly clear that despite the best efforts of the military, gamers don’t necessarily confuse wargaming with warfare and don’t trade in their Xbox controllers for assault rifles after playing. Call of Duty. They just squeeze their controllers harder and harder.
Activision Blizzard occupies the lowest circle of hell in an industry defined by the worst aspects of capitalism and corporate greed.
Admittedly, I am biased. In the middle years, I worked as a Q&A tester at the company’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California, paid barely ten dollars an hour to sit endlessly in what we called “the dungeon”, a cramped, sweaty, windowless basement where we searched for bugs in the next so Call of Duty World at War. Almost everyone who worked in the dungeon on a daily basis were temporary contractors — with no health care or unions — who could be fired at any time, which often happened between projects. You would finish a game and then be shown the exit, staring for weeks or even months without compensation.
My former co-workers have been making strides in organizing these days, but Activision keeps trying to bring them down. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company unlawfully retaliated against unionized workers at Raven Software, a subsidiary that works primarily on Call of Dutywhere workers made history when they formed a union in May.
The software giant has also been the subject of several lawsuits claiming its “open ‘frat boy’ environment has fostered rampant sexism, harassment and discrimination with 700 reported incidents occurring under the watch of CEO Robert Kotick.” Last year, a report from the the wall street journal found that Kotick had known for years about the rampant sexual harassment in the company but failed to act. And last week, a Swedish public pension fund sued Activision and Microsoft, claiming their massive $69 billion merger announced earlier this year was rigged to protect Kotick’s portfolio.
How is Activision worth as much as Croatia’s annual GDP? Much of that money is stolen from gamers through predatory “microtransactions” — a $67 billion industry involving in-game transactions that ask gamers to snuff out real money to buy digital goods in order to to gain a competitive advantage, or to splurge in the game’s haze on attractive cosmetic items. Often, these microtransactions are designed to mimic slot-type gaming with a random reward system. About 40% of the $5.1 billion Activision Blizzard reportedly made in 2021 came from in-game purchases like Call of Duty“Battle Pass” and various gun decorations.
These games and microtransactions are intentionally designed to psychologically trap players in a cycle of addiction. In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized ‘gaming disorder’ as a mental health problem, and it was officially added to the International Classification of Diseases this year, with an estimated sixty million drug users. . Half of Millennials and Gen-Zers play games more than eight hours a day, and nearly a quarter play more than thirteen hours a week – a figure that has increased since pandemic shutdowns prompted more time screen.
These figures coincide with plummeting mental health and rising rates of depression among young people, as well as deteriorating physical health indicators. Americans are increasingly sedentary, isolated and alienated. Video games, while often providing a fun distraction and a convenient way to connect socially online, too often function as a balm, which can never truly satisfy what ails us. For gambling, Americans are sacrificing their physical and mental health, forgoing real-life relationships for online gambling friendships, and shelling out ever-larger chunks of their already too-low wages in a fog of addiction.
That’s why ultimately, what I find most distressing Call of Duty in 2022 is not his inherently conservative politics, we need a good guy with a gun. It’s that with contemporary video games, the medium is the message, and too much of our daily existence is made up of pixels to shoot at.
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