Like an obscene inchworm, a wounded woman crawls across the commons area of a Russian airport in desperate search for cover from the brutal terrorist attack raging all around her.
This is not a description of a recent attack. Rather, it is a video game mission, a mission in which the player is required to slaughter (there’s really no other word) many innocent civilians for the greater good of keeping his CIA cover and stopping further attacks.
It is the latest iteration of Call of Duty, a popular first-person shooter game and sure-fire weekend study destroyer. It has recently been released to some commotion, both because of the popularity of the game and because of the above mission.
Critics are calling the game overly violent and morally problematic. Innocent civilians? There seems to be something different between the faux killing of an enemy in battle and the imitation of killing an innocent person in cold blood.
There are also the ever-present arguments that video game violence, given their realistic depictions and participatory aspect, encourages violence and aggression, especially in younger children who have a harder time telling reality from fiction than adults do (or so they say). Critics of Modern Warfare 2 perhaps contend this is simply an especially egregious example.
Then there are the slippery slope arguments – what’s to stop us from inventing a video game in which one actually simulates torture of some kind, and not for the greater good, but just for the hell of it? Imitating torture becomes entertainment.
Indeed, what is stopping us from doing this? Actually, it’s already done; all the same criticisms were made of Marquis de Sade, of pornography, of violent movies, of violent comic books, of graphic musical lyrics. There are examples in each one of these genres of morally reprehensible acts, but the
consequences that were supposed to precipitate from them, well, just never did.
Or at least not in the over-the-top moralizing way we usually hear. There are studies indicating violent video games can at least correlate with increased aggression, though not with particular violent acts as such.
But, studies show no link between the kind of depicted violence and the aggression. Even cartoonish violence (remember Earthworm Jim?) correlates with aggression and even across age groups from children to adults – the graphic nature of Modern Warfare would no more cause violent behavior than any other first-person shooter.
Which brings up another important point. It’s easy to score ethical golden stars by criticizing games, and there are plenty of new violent games coming out all the time. Modern Warfare 2 just happens to be highly anticipated – easy pickings for critics wishing to shore up their family-values image.
There is even an argument to be made that the graphic nature will be a turn off to some players who would otherwise wish to play the game. It might just be too much for them.
At any rate, all you can do is see for yourself and play the game. Or don’t.