I’m Cool With Awful Evocations of Terrorist Brutality In Modern Warfare 2


About a week ago a bunch of shenanigans popped off regarding some controversial scene in the forthcoming Modern Warfare 2. There’s an optional scene that depicts a bunch of pinko Russian terrorists that carve up an airport with bullet spray. The player assumes the role of a terrorist, and well, shoots up innocent civilians. Not unexpectedly, a thousand-million people shit their pants in outrage, swore to boycott the game, et cetera. Australia, bored with counting its kangaroos and starting up Outback Steakhouse franchises decided it wanted to reconsider the rating they gave the game.

I’m completely cool with it.

It seems pretty obvious that Infinity Ward is trying to rock a nauseating angle with this scene. The entire expression seems to be a means to depict the horror of terrorism. Infinity Ward themselves conveyed as much in a statement:

The scene establishes the depth of evil and the cold bloodedness of a rogue Russian villain and his unit. By establishing that evil, it adds to the urgency of the player’s mission to stop them.

I imagine there is going to be a visceral, disturbing aspect towards controlling a character slaying a bunch of innocent people. Furthermore, I think it’s an interesting method to evoke such feelings. Infinity Ward takes the unique media of video games to literally put the player in the pants of a pinko murderer. It’s a way of depicting terrorism that may be unique to video games. Sure, there could be first person narrative in a book, or a point of view perspective in a movie, but actually playing the role of the terrorist?

Sort of unique.

I can appreciate that there is a disturbing agency to the situation. The player, as the terrorist, is asked to pull the trigger and kill the civilians. It’s a bit different than simply guiding the player through a first-person perspective. Instead they’re responsible for mauling the player with bullet-spray. Is there a difference between making the player view the atrocity, and making them commit the atrocity?




Perhaps it’s an attempt to build some tactile horror at committing the crime. The player, acting as the terrorist, manifests guilt at their own actions. They themselves feel guilty for the behavior, and as Infinity Ward suggests, thereby wants to stop the terrorists even more so.

Speaking only for myself, I’d find the scene disturbing. I’m not really cool with shooting innocent people – go figure – and being asked to do so would create exactly the vibe that Infinity Ward was going for – you know, man this is fucked up, and I want to barf a little all over my shirt. I can still recall with nausea a few scenes from Modern Warfare that had me queasy – playing the part of the captured agent, or crawling out of some sort of vehicle, forgive me I forget the particular, and dying after a nuclear blast or some shit.

It’s disturbing. And I think it’s supposed to be.

It’s hard to imagine how you can take this episode, scene, whatever, and parlay it into Infinity Ward condoning, or blessing terrorism. Especially when they explicitly state that the entire moment is intended to craft a moment where the player is all, you know, what the fuck, this is horrid. Is depicting any scene in the media of terrorism a way of condoning it? Or is it when you assume the mantle of a terrorist, that it becomes condoning? And is that even only when you’re culpable for murdering people as the terrorist?

Invariably and probably with good cause, people are going to point out the choads of the world. You know, the juggalos and the mouth-breathers that will go Columbine and enjoy shooting the civilians. Yeah, they’re out there, and deny it would be pretty naive. Infinity Ward tries to address that to a certain measure, stating that this is the only moment where a player will be able to shoot civilians. And even further, that should a player do so in other moments in the game will result in some FISSION MAILED type shit.


So is it disturbing? Sure. And why shouldn’t it be? I know that again people will point to the agency, and suggest that there’s a difference between watching terrorists commit murder, and committing the atrocities yourself as the terrorists. Maybe there’s something there. Maybe it is tasteless. But who cares?

I think there’s something to be said for Infinity Ward’s right to be tasteless. I mean this in the same sense that I feel it is within the rights of any medium of expression to be tasteless. There are countless television shows and movies and books and graphic novels and albums that are tasteless, and I’m not sure they deserve the BAN STICK just because people find them appalling. Is it crass? I don’t think so, but maybe you do.

Does it trivialize death? Sure, maybe. Countless other mediums do. Personally I think it’ll bring home the concept and awfulness of terrorism that might not be done in other ways. Agree to disagree. Carry on.

Maybe that’s why this topic is so great. It’s already aroused debate about the appropriateness of this scene, and aroused a discussion of the depiction of terrorism in the media. Maybe it drives home the crappiness of taking a life. The irony being that throughout the rest of the game, the player is nonchalantly mowing down humans like it’s the new black. But at the end of the day, for me, not only is it achieving the horror of terroism, but even if it failed to do so and trivialized it, I think Infinity Ward has the right to make that mistake.