Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is wrapping up a, by all accounts, successful multiplayer beta weekend. But, this year’s upcoming Call of Duty is not without controversy, especially in today’s day and age, and calls have been made for Modern Warfare’s censorship. Perhaps the most recent of which is the inclusion of a kill streak called “White Phosphorous,” which when activated, drops the chemical of the same name on a target position. The ‘controversial’ weapon inclusion has had a lot of press surrounding it, as well as said press saying that Infinity Ward should remove the kill-streak from the game. Certain outlets seem so bent on trying to persuade an audience, even goings so far as having a former US service member write a piece arguing why including white phosphorous in-game is bad.
Various media outlets calling for censorship, and make no mistake the call for removal of white phosphorous in Modern Warfare is a call for censorship, damages video games as a form of art, and should absolutely be denounced.
Video Games Are Art
Video games are art. If you’re an enthusiastic gamer, this notion probably isn’t new. However, if this idea is new to you, then at the very least, video games are some form of artistic expression. For modern AAA games, development requires thousands of man-hours by hundreds if not also thousands of various developers. Ranging from programmer to literal art director, they are all artists who share the same artistic vision. And as a result, some of the best experiences in media can be had.
Call of Duty, for as much hate or criticism as it’s gotten over the years, is still regardless a form of art. Infinity Ward has a specific, artistic vision for Modern Warfare. We kind of have an idea of what it is, based on various developer interviews and statements, that one goal of Modern Warfare is to try and depict the grittier, less talked about parts of war. Effectively, a goal to push people out of their comfort zones when playing the game. All of this, in order to make a point: war is hell.
The argument that the inclusion of white phosphorus glorifies its use is fallible as well, for the simple fact, that Modern Warfare is a video game. It’s as simple as that. No matter how much of a form of art, it may be, at the same time, it is also entertainment. Modern Warfare isn’t real. It is all pixels displayed on a TV screen or computer monitor. By extension, none of the people in Modern Warfare are real. They don’t feel pain, or excitement, or happiness. When media, like we have, permeates through a society as it does, it’s important to always keep the separation of what is real, and what is fake. It’s one thing to use white phosphorus on real living, breathing humans, and another to use it on what are effectively ones and zeros.
Another point that has been made is that Modern Warfare’s use of white phosphorus is a lot more casual, then say a more “morally just” depiction of it in Spec Ops: The Line. However, this argument lacks perhaps one of the most important things to an argument: context. Context is everything. And in the brief samples players have had with white phosphorus in Modern Warfare, they’ve all been in a context-less multiplayer. There’s no narrative around it because multiplayer lacks context. Until the game releases, we won’t know how exactly the game treats white phosphorus. Who knows, maybe the chemical substance will come up in a campaign mission, and it will be deemed “justly handled” then. But already screaming for the censorship of it without being given the full context is ridiculous.
Exercise In Power
While you could sit here all day and debate the merits of having various weapons in a video game, the bigger picture is getting missed by focusing in on this one subject. I believe that the calls for censorship of Modern Warfare don’t come from a place of genuine moral concern, but rather from a place of feigning outrage. This fake outrage is quite simply an exercise in power. An exercise in power done to exert control over art. Just because you don’t want to see something in a video game, doesn’t mean others don’t. It’s the same argument as saying that other people shouldn’t enjoy a painting because you don’t like a specific color the artist used.
It’s just your opinion, and if you don’t like the piece of art, then that’s your opinion. Because it is art, you are given a choice of what to consume, and I would recommend you view a piece of art you like better, as opposed to trying to change something to better fit your preferences. If you don’t like something, don’t view it. But let the artist’s express their vision as they see it. If you don’t like their expression, then find another artist’s expression that you enjoy.
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