Only a few more hours before Cataclysm, but I’ve got plenty to talk about before then. I wanted to focus on something that I had heard about but not encountered for myself until Saturday, when I first fired up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I was completely disturbed by a run through of the mission titled “No Russian.”Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I’ve been playing games for a long, long time. I’ve played fun games, family games, puzzle games. I’m no noob at first-person shooters either; I can remember playing the original Wolfenstein 3-D when it first came out and Blake Stone shortly after. I’ve played Doom, Quake, Counterstrike, Half-Life, a handful of the Call of Duty games before this one. I have to say though, that this was the first time in a long time that I was seriously disturbed while playing a game. It starts out pitch black. You don’t see or hear anything at first. Then suddenly you hear some scuffling and the familiar clinks of weapons being assembled and loaded. Then you hear the sound of kevlar jackets being zipped up. The lights come on and a dark haired, wild-eyed Makarov tells you, “Remember – no Russian.”
“No Russian” puts the player in the boots of an American CIA operative, Joseph Allen, as he tries to earn the trust of a nasty Russian, V. R. Makarov. To get closer to Makarov, Allen has to go along with Makarov’s brutal plan of terrorizing an airport. Along with a few picked men, Makarov leads the assault on the airport. Each man is armed with a bullet-proof vest and fully automatic machine gun, which they fire freely at the panicking civilians.The mission is designed to emphasize the absolute brutality of Makarov; he is willing to do whatever it takes to get his way. The player cannot move at their regular pace, instead they are locked at a slow walk speed, so that they are forced to soak up the sights and sounds of the terrible massacre as they follow Makarov and his men. The music is also completely different from every other track in the game: the entire track is low ticking beats, simulating perhaps the rapid heartbeat of Allen. There are also several moments where people will try to surrender (only to get shot) or try to crawl away to safety (also get shot) or try to save others by being heroes and attacking Makarov’s squad (they die too). The only thing that isn’t present is the killing of children, which I am sure is a conscious move on the part of the developers as doing so would move the game from Mature to Adult Only section of ESRB. It is still a harrowing experience. It’s a difficult mission to play through, not because the resistance in the airport is heavy, on the contrary, only a few security guards armed with small pistols stand in the way of the massacre, but because it’s hard to be in the shoes of the bad guys when they are doing something so heinous. Many of the other missions penalize the player for shooting civilians, but here the player can shoot any number of civilians they want, including zero. The player does not have to shoot any civilians in order to progress the mission. There are a few security guards and Russian FSB (think SWAT) who will fire, but in terms of murdering civilians, the player doesn’t have to partake if they don’t want to. In fact, the mission isn’t required to advance the storyline at all. When I first launched the game I was confronted with a warning message saying that some of the missions in the game were disturbing, and that I could opt to skip them. I figured that this was more of a parental control than anything else, allowing for parents to control whether or not their children played the more mature scenes. After clicking the button that said I would want to see the mature content, I got another message, the “No, seriously; some of this shit is fucked up,” message, and again clicked OK. When I played through the mission again for this quick report, I also noticed that by hitting ESC, the player has the option to skip the current mission, and the confirmation dialog has a “Disturbing Content Warning.” I’m not sure how the story is advanced if the player opts out of playing this mission. I can only guess that the informatoin is given to the player in the form of a cinematic or more elaborate mission briefing for the next mission. What is most disturbing to me about this mission is how plausible I find it. I don’t want to get overly political here, but I have always been cynical of the security at airports (and of Homeland Security in general), I don’t feel any safer with the added security in the post-September 11 world. I believe that if someone had access to one of any number of firearms and had the determination and willingness to die, they could cause a massacre as appears in this game. And that there is little that authorities could do to stop it from happening. That’s a very, very scary thought.
There are many other emotionally powerful things in the campaign, which I will go over in future posts. Overall, the campaign is a blast and very well written, scripted, and organized. I’ll just leave it at that for today.