In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, major cities come under attack in a series of violent vignettes. Sometimes, innocent people are killed. The game posts a warning, early, that some scenes are upsetting, but commentators have to exploit the emotions of players and gain media coverage.
Activision says this is unfair. The company’s publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg believes games should be held to the same values as movies, which are often lauded for uncompromising scenes of war and conflict.
He commented, “There’s a sense that games are more exploitative in a way that The Hurt Locker — which also was designed as form of entertainment — isn’t. I think they are an art form, and I think that ‘too soon’ criteria is not applied to things like Green Zone. Or United 93. There will be a time when we look back and find it quaint that video games were so controversial. I think the active ingredient to changing that attitude is time.”
He added, “The producers didn’t create The Hurt Locker as a public service; they did it to tell a story that they thought needed to be told. It was a piece of entertainment that they sold. And, yet, that’s not viewed as exploiting current events. It’s viewed as somehow artistically interpreting and commenting on current events. The creative process of making that movie and making our games is very similar, but they’re received differently.
“The narrative of Call of Duty has been much more good guys and bad guys, and brotherhood and the journey and the battle. I don’t think that’s an indictment. It’s a choice, one that’s maybe a little less literary and a little more action-oriented in terms of its foundation. I don’t think that means the narrative structure of Call of Duty is lacking, though. I can name a hundred other movies that are not like Black Hawk Down, but you don’t leave questioning about the heroism and the bravery and the action and the sort of extreme experience of battle.
“We’ve told the stories that the developers want to tell. I don’t think we’ve made choices based on avoiding or aiming for commentary. The story and the characters have unfolded with great intent from our developers.”