Hey Activision -- Want Call of Duty Treated Seriously? Then Seriously Incorporate Civilians into Call of Duty
Activision’s CEO Eric Hirshberg thinks his Call of Duty videogame franchise deserves the same respect accorded to acclaimed Iraq war movie The Hurt Locker, complaining to Kotaku, "There's a sense that games are more exploitive in a way that The Hurt Locker—which also was designed as form of entertainment—isn't."
To which I tell Eric Hirshberg, there's a very good reason for that sense: While a movie like Hurt Locker delves deeply into the pain that war visits upon innocent civilians, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games are blissfully flee of civilians. (Yes, I'm familiar with the infamous terrorist scene in Modern Warfare 2, but that's an exception that proves the rule.) Overwhelmingly, Modern Warfare battles are conducted on streets without civilians, in buildings without civilians, and generally speaking, places that would in reality be rife with civilians. The games' overall lack of civilians is an insult to the very title of the franchise, "Modern Warfare", because actual modern warfare is very much about avoiding civilian causalities, and the horrible consequences when they are still inevitably killed. And while Call of Duty purports to lionize elite soldiers, the game's lack of civilians is actually disrespectful to their service, turning it into a a carnival fun house free from the stress they actually endure avoiding the loss of innocent lives, and the guilt they suffer for years, when those innocents die anyway.
I share Hirshberg's desire to see next generation immersive 3D games treated like works of popular art. But if he really wants that, he should tell his developers to treat their subject with the seriousness and realism it deserves. Because right now, there are actual soldiers suffering from PTSD over the deaths of civilians. And while their experiences are being ignored in games like his, they're being treated in 3D platforms like Second Life.