New Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign might be a tone deaf mess

Shacknews got to check out a preview of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's new campaign gameplay at E3 Judges Week, and some elements will probably rub some people the wrong way.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is coming back with a bang this year after Black Ops 4 shipped without a campaign. The team at Infinity Ward has spent some time figuring out how to reinvent the game's single player experience. Perhaps shipping without a story mode would have been fine, as the preview of the new game's campaign is undoubtedly going to rub some people the wrong way.

"War isn't black and white"

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is trying to make a statement with the grey area of war, and it might not resonate with some players.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is trying to make a statement with the grey area of war, and it might not resonate with some players.

Infinity Ward stressed at their E3 Judges Week presentation that they were aiming to make a COD campaign that encapsulated the complex world. Their thesis is that war isn't black or white, but it's instead morally grey. In this world, one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.

This led the team to come up with more complex characters and highlight the emotional connection of the uncomfortable realities of war. Infinity Ward deserves credit for their attempt to push the boundary of the video game medium, but there are likely to be some unintended consequences.

"Ripped from the headlines"

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aims to bring authentic realism to its campaign by ripping stories right from the headlines.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aims to bring authentic realism to its campaign by ripping stories right from the headlines.

Infinity Ward has stated that they really wanted to make a new take on the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare formula, and to do so they put players in some relevant situations inspired by stories they have seen in headlines or from chats with real-life military combatants. They hope the result to be a gritty and authentic single player campaign, but some people may find that the developers have taken some liberties with their efforts to create a game grounded in authentic realism.

Death to... Russia?

The night vision campaign scene had some very troubling moments.
The night vision campaign scene had some very troubling moments.

Our E3 Judges Week extended gameplay preview featured two scenes that definitely toe the line of edgy and offensive. The first scene involved a night vision strike team clearing out a terrorist hideout. Players will have to make snap judgements to not shoot apparently innocent people while taking out the bad guys. There were some moments that involved violence against women, but the game tried its best to show that those brown people were terrorist sympathizers even though they are just wearing plainclothes. While the scene was unsettling, the second clip really went over the top.

The second clip takes you through a journey of a young girl growing up in a war-torn Muslim country. The beginning of the clip starts with her underneath some rubble following a bombing in her town. Her dead mother is revealed shortly into the clip, and by some miracle her father was able to get her out from underneath the debris. They head to their house to make sure her brother is okay.

Once at the house, some chemical warfare gas attacks begin. Russian soldiers are occupying their town, and one roided out freak ultimately enters their home. The young girl and her brother watch as their father fights with the Russian soldier and is eventually killed. It was at this point that the preview lost me.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aims for realism, but covers up some of the harshest truths of the American occupation of Muslim countries.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aims for realism, but covers up some of the harshest truths of the American occupation of Muslim countries.

Given the odds of defeating a giant Russian soldier would be pretty low for a young girl, I believe that the developers really broke from their own goals of realism and tip-toed on the lines of blatant racism. Players gain control of the young girl at this point, and the goal is to stab the soldier with a screwdriver repeatedly and then scurry away. This happens several times until ultimately the brother and sister duo take down the Russian soldier with his own gun.

In the face of running away or murdering someone, the young girl in the game instantly chose to become a killer. This is a blatant stereotype of Muslims and it doesn't even hint at the morally grey area of warfare. This scene perpetuates stereotypes of Muslims in occupied territories, and it does so in a sloppy fashion.

If the scene ended with the kids entering a stealth mission to get away without being noticed by Russian soliders, it probably would have sat better with me. The idea that a young child instantly becomes a freedom fighter is nonsense, as most kids would be too terrified to do anything. If this game wants to be real, those children would have been murdered by that soldier or they would have run away. The idea that these two kids would take down that Ivan Drago-lookling soldier was rather hard to believe, but video games right?

Team America

There was no mention of United States occupation of Muslim countries in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gameplay preview at E3 Judges Week.
There was no mention of United States occupation of Muslim countries in the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gameplay preview at E3 Judges Week.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's campaign also sidesteps the elephant in the room when talking about the global war on terror. The United States has and is occupying more Muslim nations than Russia. There have been more rallies with "Death to America" being chanted than anti-Russian sentiments in the Muslim world over the last two decades.

If the goal of Infinity Ward was to create a campaign that was ripped from the headlines and focused on authentic realism, they should have had the guts to address the American occupation of the Muslim world.

The decision to demonize Russia is not especially surprising, but the omission of the United States is far too convenient. The campaign will create asymmetric warfare where freedom fighters will fight terrorist warlords and Russians, while Tier 1 soldiers will fight Russians and terrorists.

I shouldn't be surprised that yet another Call of Duty single player campaign will offend some people, and perhaps the game is not made for me. This game will undoubtedly find its usual fan base, but it is my opinion that they have missed the mark on making a critically-acclaimed story that is edgy and real. Instead, what I saw at E3 Judges Week has me concerned that the final product will be a tone deaf mess that borders on sterotyping Muslims to be predisposed to violence, which is the opposite of the tenants of Islam.

There was a great opportunity to paint Muslims in a better light in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but unfortunately this game will likely miss the mark. We reached out to Infinity Ward for comment, and have added their response below:


In the context of the full game, the girl’s actions are portrayed as a relatable act of self-defense during extraordinary and dangerous circumstances. Her life is threatened, as is her brother’s. She is forced to choose an act of self-preservation or else perish. This is a choice anyone might make regardless of race, creed, or nationality, and our goal as storytellers is to have players who experience this sequence empathize. As a team, we also worked closely with consultants to ensure our fiction is respectful to all the cultures we portray. Modern Warfare tells a story from multiple perspectives and shows how the pressures of war can bring diverse peoples together in the face of forces that threaten them all.  

 - Jacob Minkoff - Campaign Gameplay Director


As I said above, the feelings that some players may feel from this gameplay design decision are likely an unintended consequence. I believe the team at Infinity Ward made these choices in good faith, but that ultimately doesn't change my opinion on the matter. 

CEO

Asif Khan is the CEO and majority shareholder of Shacknews. He began his career in video game journalism as a freelancer in 2001 for Tendobox.com. Asif is a CPA and was formerly an investment adviser representative. After much success in his own personal investments, he retired from his day job in financial services and is currently focused on new private investments. His favorite PC game of all time is Duke Nukem 3D, and he is an unapologetic fan of most things Nintendo. Asif first frequented the Shack when it was sCary's Shugashack to find all things Quake. When he is not immersed in investments or gaming he is a purveyor of fine electronic music. Asif also has an irrational love of Cleveland sports.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 30, 2019 11:35 AM

    Asif Khan posted a new article, New Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign might be a tone deaf mess

    • reply
      May 30, 2019 12:07 PM

      I totally see your point from a story side that its insensitive and tone deaf. From a game play perspective, its a murder simulator, Call of Duty is not know for letting NPCs live. Maybe that scene shouldnt have been included at all.

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      May 30, 2019 12:10 PM

      What the fuck? Is all I could think as I read about that section about being a little girl. That sounds fucking terrible

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      May 30, 2019 12:14 PM

      Good grief.

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      May 30, 2019 12:25 PM

      Good article, Asif. I totally agree with your analysis.

      There's definitely a perspective that comes across as tone deaf here.

      I can see what they were trying to do, but some diversity of opinion by some experts might have been really helpful...

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      May 30, 2019 1:07 PM

      A big reason I don’t play a lot of these military themed games is because they feel, weirdly, like propaganda. But not in an “in your face” way - more like in a phillip k dick novel where you are running through simulated propaganda and taking it in subtly. Glad you wrote this article asif

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        May 30, 2019 3:04 PM

        They are flat out propaganda. Even the military sees it that way which is why they've been using it as a recruiting tool for about the last 2 decades. Before video games, it was movies where the military played a large role in the production like Top Gun or they do massive amounts of cross-promotion even with non-military stuff like X-Men. It's called the Military-Entertainment Complex. There's a lot of stuff written on it and how its directed toward children and recruitment.

        • rms
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          May 30, 2019 3:48 PM

          I never got to play America's Army, think that was the name

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            May 30, 2019 3:59 PM

            Full Spectrum Warrior was another one. They modded Doom 2 and called it Marine Doom. There’s a bunch.

            Not only that but the US Army now has a competitive esports team strictly for recruiting. They play Overwatch, League, Fortnite.. and they host tournaments for Street Fighter and Tekken or something. It’s pretty crazy.

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            May 30, 2019 4:40 PM

            I actually really enjoyed that game and played it a ton for about 2 years

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              May 31, 2019 4:31 AM

              It was a decent CS:s type game and the first real display of the new unreal engine

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          May 30, 2019 3:56 PM

          It's also "embedded" in the aesthetics of their recruiting commercials... Join and be part of the ultimate video game! What a thrill! This is in contrast with how in the past militaries used to try and appeal to potential recruits' sense of honor/tradition or militarism.

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        May 31, 2019 1:28 AM

        I agree, I avoid this stuff like plague. The only military shooter I liked was Spec Ops: The Line, exactly because there was no pro-war propaganda in it.

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      May 30, 2019 1:32 PM

      has the series ever done anything to appreciate the Muslim community though?

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      May 30, 2019 2:25 PM

      Deflecting our radicalization of the people we bomb over to the Russians is hilarious.

      It makes total sense though. Whether they were aware (America's Army) or not (Call Of Duty) these 2000s era military shooters were cultural propaganda in the same way Red Scare/Cold War media was in the 50s and 80s. It only makes sense to pass the buck over to the Russians in the new CoD considering that we're too busy deflecting blame to them everywhere else.

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      May 30, 2019 2:26 PM

      The CoD series is basically a microcosm of just how fucked up is America's cultural imagination of war. Everything from disgusting nationalism (press F to pay respects), repressive machismo, a fetishization of military technologies (it's how the military-industrial complex gets the public support that allows it to fuck up the US's security and economy), and, like you said, blatant racism. Arabs/Slavs are basically meat-puppets that inhibit no man's lands.

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      May 30, 2019 6:00 PM

      These games have their audience and they won't do anything to offend them. Remember Rainbow Six: Patriots? Now that was controversial but it didn't play well with the suburban audience.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCQysh2Ci0c

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      May 30, 2019 6:08 PM

      Good article

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      May 30, 2019 6:53 PM

      Updated the article with a statement from Infinity Ward.

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      May 30, 2019 7:13 PM

      Well, that's horrific. They sleepwalked right across a line they shouldn't have.

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      May 30, 2019 9:30 PM

      Asif, this article had some interesting points from a muslim gamer POV, thanks for posting.

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      May 30, 2019 9:46 PM

      Reads like exactly the type of critique action wombmate rails against, except applied to games instead of movies. Having not seen it myself, I don't fully understand what's so egregious about the sequence, but it seems like you're seeing what you want to see, at least to me.

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        May 30, 2019 10:10 PM

        You have no info but want to critique.

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      May 30, 2019 11:01 PM

      I fear they're going to completely miss why this is an issue, and focus on defending their gameplay decision.

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      May 31, 2019 1:25 AM

      Good stuff. But isn't Call Of Duty franchise basically targetted at US pro-military bros? Most of them will happily shoot all the brown people or Russians in the game and won't think twice about it. This is for core COD playerbase, they are not going to antagonize it by including any kind of progressive elements.

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      May 31, 2019 1:38 AM

      good article!

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      May 31, 2019 1:39 AM

      The Call of Duty stories, unfortunately, have always been US propaganda material. :/

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      May 31, 2019 3:31 AM

      F

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      May 31, 2019 4:28 AM

      This is a hilarious misfire. Trying to be woke in a game like this will never succeed... You'll always end up pissing off both sides because at the end of the day the game is still a fucking jingoistic murder simulator. That's what it is at the core. So either build a freedom fighter game or build a team America fuck yeah murder simulator with no remorse, because if you try to do both you'll just piss off everybody