call of duty: a very modern (warfare) way of remembering

11 11 2009

From armchair warriors to Armistice Day. In my previous post I reflected on the irony of a boxing victory coming on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, when we call to mind the consequences of violence. Then I was reminded by a comment of another even greater irony: the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on the 10th November, the day before Armistice Day itself. This video game has incredible graphics, the most realistic and life-like gameplay ever. Except, of course, you don’t die. It is warfare for fun.

just for fun

Contrast this with the scene in Wooton Bassett yesterday, or in Fort Hood. And then there was the execution of the Washington sniper. And then all this ridiculous furore over Gordon Brown’s letter to a deceased soldiers mother, cruelly exploited by The Sun. Could it be that the same people who got all animated over that letter are the same ones  sitting down to shoot the baddies from their armchair? The same people applauding the sniper’s execution who are learning sniping from the safety of their X-Box?

real people

I can see the attraction of playing these games. The graphics are incredible, and they are ‘just fun’; it is not real war. I think it pulls you in more than watching a violent film does, as you control the action and pull the triggers, but maybe it is no worse. Maybe. And maybe it does release a latent aggression that many people feel, in a safe and neutral place. Maybe it is no different from the war games boys have played since time began, shooting each other with guns made from broken twigs. Maybe.

Except that the images are so graphic. Even the trailer comes with a “17” certificate and warning of “Blood, Drug References, Intense Violence, Language”. I don’t think this is the way to relax, to chill out. I don‘t think scenes of shooting civilians in airports are helpful, suitable or appropriate. It is, of course, your own choice to do that. And, of course, no-one under 18 will be playing the game (ahem).

I am not saying we should not play any war games. I am simply drawing attention to the complex narratives about warfare going on in the media, and the stories we are learning and telling about what it is all about. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it real? Is it removed?  Does it really matter? I hope that across the X-Box live community today, there will be a 2 minute pause at 11am to remember not the toy soldiers, the graphically re-created soldiers, but the actual dead soldiers, the actual dead civilians, the graphic and horrific damage done to human bodies, human communities and human minds. From armchair warriors to Armistice Day. That would be a very modern way of remembering.

real soldiers

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13 responses

11 11 2009
Sam Jones

very good, very true but I still want the game 🙂

12 11 2009
Kevin

Thanks Sam – and I am sure that is the response of most people who actually play the game 🙂 !

12 11 2009
c2drl

Don’t drug users say the same thing about their fixes. It doesn’t do any harm. Sorry but it does, this amount of graphic violence dulls your response to violence and causes you to react more agressively in situations.

Doesn’t the bible call upon us to have moral fibre and to give up things like this, out of choice, for the sake of gods love.

12 11 2009
edgsoni

Ah, war. What is it good for?
Is there an Old Testament “Round ’em up and strike ’em down and and steal their land and thanks be to God” version coming soon?
Or maybe a Christian Zealot “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” version?
Ethics and philosophy are such fun, aren’t they?
I’m more of a Subbuteo man myself, of course…

15 11 2009
scott

I remember a few months ago in church when I got talking to a young lad who had recently served out in Iraq. He had to leave the army with mental illness after suffering extreme stress. Not surprisingly he didn’t like talking about his experiences but it was clear that whatever he saw and took part in was impossible for the majority of us to comprehend. Those currently serving or who have given up their lives, or the silent minority who come back with health issues (amputees, depression etc) deserve all our support and respect – whatever our views on the current conflicts that are taking place.
At the same time I read recently that video games are quite popular for relaxation among troops serving overseas in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan. How do soldiers manage to play FPS (first person shooters) games etc when they are faced with unspeakable horrors and constant danger? Do they provide a way of stress relief or anger management? Do they only play Hannah Montana games and leave violent or shooting games alone (I doubt it but who knows)?
What is clear is that video games are quite complex in their morality and we as Christians are probably playing catch up in how we respond. For example how do we respond to the Call of Duty game and others like it? How do they sit alongside films, TV and other forms of media and entertainment?
I have played a significant portion of the game (inc. that scene with the civilians). To be fair to the game itself it’s not that good graphics compared to ‘real life’ so it still ‘feels’ a lot like a game. Also while ‘that scene’ was a mistake (in my opinion) – it was trying to do something that formed the basis of the whole plot.
The premise of both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games are that you are trying to prevent terrorists from carrying out their plans (and admittedly shooting lots of people and vehicles in the process!!). In that ‘scene’ it marks a point where one of the main characters poses as part of the terrorist group undercover and then has to attack an airport. It’s meant to be hard-hitting and make the player feel uncomfortable and that it is ‘bad’ to do these things. At the end of this narrative the player is discovered as an undercover agent and is killed -this starts a chain reaction which results in conflict – negative action leads to negative consequences. I don’t think it works artistically or a part of the game but that’s why it’s there! It’s quite a small proportion of the total game but it’s there nonetheless for that reason and/or to generate a little publicity! What tends to make Call of Duty games popular though and ‘good’ (rating) is that the story is very immersive but that is in the sense like the plot of a ‘Rainbow Six’ book (or another Tom Clancy novel) rather than just the shooting itself (plenty of those on the market). Also the online multiplayer!
So is it bad or good? I am still a little undecided on whether it is really right or wrong? However I do have a couple of suggestions. Firstly does a game promote violence or even lead to real violence? I’m not sure video games such as Call of Duty really do that but it would be interesting to hear any research on the subject. Secondly what morality if any does it promote? While it is violent, it still has the ‘good’ guys portrayed as better than the ‘bad’ guys. I wouldn’t play the highly rated Grand Theft Auto series simply because it makes committing crime fun and the bad guy is essentially the hero. Finally, to be fair, it is an 18 certificate. Maybe we as Christians should be encouraging parents to make sensible decisions as to what children can and can’t play. I don’t like horror films but if I watched one at the cinema I could probably deal with it and take it as it is. Watching a horror film when I am primary school age is very different. Perhaps when parents take note of what certificate a video game is, rather than just assuming it’s a children game (games very popular now amongst 18-35’s) then they may get handled more responsibly.
P.S. Great blog!

16 11 2009
c2drl

Well Scott there is plenty of so called research, here is just a small sample:

http://www.apa.org/science/psa/sb-anderson.html
http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/violence/effects_media_violence.cfm

Like so much “research” these days the answer depends on who paid for the research and what answer they wanted. There is plenty more if you Google video games violence research, so if you look hard enough you will find something that supports any view you want.

To me it seems obvious. We would no more accept that watching pornography was harmless than we would commend sacrificing infants on the altar. We understand, intuitively that it is bad and has a bad affect on people who watch it. Why would violence be different. The more you watch it the more inured you get to it. Video games are more dangerous because there is the potential for greater involvement than ‘passive’ watching. Game technology is great for teaching because it is so realistic and involves the player – think about it!

I don’t think we can claim that the video games are the cause of so much violence, but for sure they imitate it and this brings the circle round and next time the violence is more acceptable. I don’t play these games so I don’t have direct experience, but it fills me with horror that so many people do. How we stop it I don’t know, its probably not possible but imwould put it up there with drugs as a threat to society.

17 11 2009
Kevin

Thanks Scott and c2drl, you both make interesting points. It is good to hear from someone who has played Call of Duty, and can see it from both sides. Here are some key points I think:
1. do these games ‘normalise’ violence, make it seem an ordinary part of life and an OK way to live? Or are they so removed from ‘real life’…
2. are they different from books and films that have violence at war (e.g. Tom Clancy, Bourne…) because they actively involve us in the decision-making, rather than us passively watching…
3. is it right to compare them to the effects of drugs and pornography (I’ll ignore the child-sacrifice reference as hyperbole, c2drl!), in the way they creep into our heads and affect our morality…
4. do they give us a poor basis for judging real warfare and conflict, because of the lack of consequences. I know I think I could do a better job than Capello with England because I play FIFA 10…
5. if people are going to play them (which they are), can we find a way to use them for good, e.g. in questioning morality, in considering consequences…
6. as for the research and whether they ’cause’ violence, I agree that there is something in me that intuitively tells me some things are not healthy. maybe a lot depends on the context the games are played in and the attitude that goes with it. But then, as Scott says, Call of Duty is by no means the worst offender, and at least does have ‘goodies’ and baddies’, and a narrative of ‘fighting for good’.

Interesting stuff!!

17 11 2009
c2drl

Ah ha!

So video violence is OK if it is in the context of a ‘just war’! What an interesting concept. So before you sit down to play you ponder the casus belli and ethics of the war about to be fought, and as you engage you carefully use only appropriate force to achieve the God inspired ends. You get no pleasure from the violence but a deep peace from being on the side of right! And of course you are immortal in this game.

Well I’ve never played one of these games and didn’t realise that is how it works. I thought the pleasure came from being involved and I believed that the violence was an integral part of the experience. I thought is was exposure to that violence that made us hardened to death and pain of others.

You see this is the problem, these games make violence so common place we have stopped thinking about it.

17 11 2009
Edgsoni

Sometimes I wonder what the point is in asking: “What is the point?”
And other times, I think pointing may be a very good thing indeed.
But what is my point? Or, indeed, what is the point of me?
When is a war not a war? When is an attack not an attack? When is a victim not a victim?
Is a skirmish in Blogland healthy, if it’s dressed up as a debate; or unhealthy, if it’s really just an excuse for a verbal punch up? Words are our deadliest weapons. But there’s no real market for virtual reality word games, sadly.
I think there may be a key distinction between media like virtual reality games and novels (and Tom & Jerry cartoons!), which are rooted in visual imaginations coming creatively to fruition via artificial delivery processes (i.e. pictures); and other media such as pornography and skin-flick / horror movies, which need to use real people to put in the pictures in order to tell their stories.
Is that maybe why films and porn are much more interesting but, probably, more damaging and sinister? Because those people really are real, aren’t they?
Disclaimer: Few brain cells were harmed in the writing of this waffle…

17 11 2009
Kevin

Edgsoni, I think if there is a crucial distinction, then that is it – the use of real people in depicting cruelty or horror or violence or whatever, and the use of “artificial delivery processes” (great phrase!), which create a distance between us and the action. If it was all like a big pacman then that is fine, but the closer it gets to ‘reality’ the more worrying it becomes. Things like comics (and now video games) have always depicted female characters (for example) in skimpy clothes with big guns – a male fantasy – which in a comic strip or film seems less harmful and almost pornographic than real women in real films. But is it?

There remains a distinction between the real and the ‘un-real’, and I think it is our responsibility as thinking Christians to be the ones who watch and guard and pray – and act- when that distinction becomes too blurred. Not out of anger, but love. For some, that time has come.

18 11 2009
scott

Slightly avoiding the main point but I get concerned about two things.

Firstly, (regardless of right or wrong of each individual title) the lines between the different genres are becoming blurred and they can be present on the same media. For example the nintndo wii which is generally thought to be aimed at a ‘family’ or ‘younger’ audience now has games which delve into survival horror or gore. While granted the graphics are far from real -should we be concerned that there needs to be clear distinction between one thing or another. What message does this send out if any?
Secondly, I am concerned at the ‘Daily Mail’ approach to topics that is connected to responses from society and also sometimes in Christian circles. The notion that we can express cynical or ill informed views without really engaing with the topic (not something happenning on this blog). How will the millions of people who engage with a worldwide gaming industry on differring levels respond to a Christian response (or any response) where the only headlines focus on the extremes or mis-representation. Should we as Christians be properly engaging with this media and rather than expressing ‘blanket’ negativity instead help debate between ourselves (as the belonging to thesame family in Christ) and with others to engage and inform.

It’s a clumsy set of comments, both gramatically and instructure, but I hope the points are obvious!

18 11 2009
c2drl

Scott, I agree with you that we must engage with this and other aspects of society and of course that response must be well informed – not something we are necessarily good at partly because we tend to cut ourselves off from things we find challenging to our comfort zone. Its easier to caricature than to find out the truth.

I must admit I get a bit twitchy when I see the words “a Christian response”. It probably says more about me than anything else but I get this image of people quoting the bible to those who don’t believe and probably misconstruing the text anyway. We must engage in the debate in the public square, as Paul did, and to do so we must marshal the arguments and express them in terms that will resonate with those of the secularist faith and others. The bible and the Holy Spirit must inform our own lives and thinking but will cut no ice in the outside world.

I think that is where this blog and others are so helpful because we can share experience (you have played these games and I haven’t) and sharpen each other’s thinking. Then we need to get out there explaining the issues and the effect these things can have, backing it up with proper research. Too often we just give up. The fighting needs to be done, not in the video games but in public debate.

1 06 2010
10,000 thank you’s « the blog of kevin

[…] read posts: 1. eastenders: gay, pregnant and religious 2. the unlikely profiterole 3. call of duty: a very modern (warfare) way of […]

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