Is it possible for a videogame to be a radical text? Answer through an analysis of one videogame?
Videogames have often been studied in its effects in behavioural change for young children and adults (Schuette et al, 1998; Malliet & De Meyer, 2006). A popular debate has been whether violent videogames have caused the increase in violent tendencies in young children and adults. For example, violent videogames and its influence has been blamed for the infamous Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings with the culprit having found to enjoy playing games that involved mass killings. However, studies have shown that videogames have been able to help children in learning (Gagné, 2004). These influences of videogames may be programmed to incorporate certain ideas, thoughts and goals by the videogame developer. These messages could contain political, economic or social reforms that changes the mindset of the player. In this essay I plan to investigate whether videogames imbue radical text through the analysis of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 that was released on 10 November 2009.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) is a first-person shooter sequel that was released by American videogame developer Infinity Ward after its initial success of Call of Duty Modern Warfare. It depicts an urban warfare setting with the simple objectives of eliminating the enemy. Similar to many pay-to-play first person shooter games, it offers a storyline (campaign mode) which in this case was to exterminate Russian soldiers that were trying to invade their homeland or to infiltrate and eliminate a Russian terrorist cell which had been responsible for a mass shooting at a Russian Airport. Playable characters were notably either British soldier from an international special forces team named Task Force 141 or members from the United States Army Rangers.
America and Russia have always deemed each other as a threat with both countries often disagreeing with each other ideologically, politically and militarily. With this thought in mind, videogame developers feed into this mindset and place the typical American stereotypes into the game (with the Russians being the enemies). The game leverages on the things that American’s are most worried such as National Security (Ravidranath, 2017). For example, MW2’s campaign shows Russian soldiers invading the American east coast or the Russian terrorist group executing a mass shooting at an international airport. The main protagonist which is an American soldier has to defend the sovereignty of his country by eliminating these threats. The other part of the story revolves around the eliminating of the Russian terror group, which takes advantage of the international fears of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks and various other terrorist attacks around the world. This fight for freedom and peace that MW2 offers play into the ideals of a typical American which embraces values of pro-democracy such as having rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.
MW2 also highlights the corruption within high-ranking officers in the army. General Shepherd, the leading commander of United States Marine Corp, U.S. Army Rangers and Task Force 141 murdered two key American characters in order to destroy valuable information gained on the terrorist. Subsequently, he is known to become the main antagonist of the game, the leader behind the terrorist attacks which led to the Russian invasion of D.C. because of his negative views of the world and international politics after a traumatic event of losing 30,000 men in the previous game. This teaches the player the need to be wary of the intentions of others. MW2 possibly addresses the problems of the ongoing wars in the Middle East not to be an external threat but an internal one with the constant fear of being betrayed placing the seed of doubt into the soldier’s mind.
MW2 offers 16 different maps which are played throughout the campaign. Around half of these maps were around areas in the world that were known to have conflict or high levels of violence. For example, the map Afghanistan is well known for American military presence in the area since 2001. Other maps such as Favela which depicts the slums of Rio De Janerio, Brazil also have a history of violence due to the killings by mafias. In the campaign, American soldiers go into the favela to find the arms dealer that was supporting the Russian terrorist group. It showcased many men that were in militias that were defending the city, with the American soldiers ultimately eliminating them. These selections of maps may have been chosen by the game developers to showcase the presence of American soldiers coming to help “liberate” the area by killing off the bad guys.
However, this may not necessarily be the objective of the game to present these radical views to the audience but may be because it can provide a sense of realism for the audience. The storyline as well as the characters used may have been used to immerse the players in the conflicts that are going in the world. Furthermore, by being able to provide realism to the player, it makes MW2 a better game than other first-person shooters that are linear and repetitive, therefore making it a successful game in terms of realism as well as being able to generate revenue.
There was a particular mission in the campaign mode that allowed the player to play as part of the terrorist organisation that was particularly controversial. The mission objective named “No Russian” was to play as an undercover American soldier, that had infiltrated the Russian terrorist group to kill civilians at the airport as a way to convey their message of terror. This mission left players to choose whether they wanted to be active participants or passive ones as MW2 never mentioned the need for the player to kill the civilians. However, the Japanese and German versions were altered to trigger a mission failed screen if players did not decide to shoot civilians, while it was removed completely in the Russian version.
This mission resembled the terrorist attacks in Paris, 2015 where they believed committing acts of terror will help garner attention for their radicalised views. Missions such as “No Russian” in MW2 maybe a stepping stone for young gamers that when exposed to the right environment is able to learn how easy it is to be a terrorist by simply picking up a weapon and shooting civilians. Furthermore, first-person shooter videogames reduces the understanding of responsibility on weapons by rewarding players with either in-game money to purchase better weaponry (i.e. CS:GO) or simply providing satisfaction in having the most kills in-game. (Bogost, 2011, pp137) mentions that holding a real firearm has immense responsibility that players that play casual shooter games do not understanding the “seriousness of such weapons”. Similar to other first-person shooters MW2 rewards the player in the elimination of the opposing team by achieving a higher rank and unlocking various achievements. Studies have shown that violent videogames such as MW2 are able to trigger higher levels of irritability and aggression (including aggressive thoughts) compared to playing non-violent videogames (Anderson & Dill, 2000). With or without intention, MW2 has enlightened players on how straightforward it is to execute an act of terrorism.
However, there have been signs of reverse social reforms. Like most other first-person shooters, MW2 lacks female characters with playable characters being all male, enforcing gender stereotypes. Even when female characters were the protagonist such as in Tomb Raider, game developers were critiqued because of her fantasy-like character with a disproportionate figure and skimpy outfit which imposed female stereotypes. Despite that, a study conducted by (Fisher, 2012 pp 179) has mentioned that hypersexualised, violent or discriminatory images and text are a common occurrence in any form of media. These images are open to interpretation and in this case are up to the audience if it is able to empower females or not. Furthermore, these videogames are meant to cater towards the target audience of the videogame developer to enable them to sell the game (Ibid).
In conclusion, like many popular videogames Assassin’s Creed and the Wolfenstein series, MW2 also contains a number of radical texts such as the tense relationship with Russia. According to (Gent, 2018) there is inevitability in creating radical text in videogames regardless of the genre. These texts may not necessarily be created to actually imply anything but to create an emotional reaction and to improve the gameplay for the player, providing a better storyline and experience for the player.
- Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000). Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, (4),
- Bogost, Ian (2013). “Art.” How to Do Things With Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Fisher, H. D. (2012). Don’t Let the Girls Play: Gender Representation in Videogame Journalism and the Influence of Hegemonic Masculinity, Media Filters, and Message Mediation.
- Gagné, F. (2004). Transforming gifts into talents: The DMGT as a developmental theory. High Ability Studies, 15(2), 119–147.
- Gent, N. T. (2018, April 10). No Politics in Video Games? Retrieved from https://deconstructingvideogames.com/2018/01/23/no-politics-in-video-games/
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- Ravindranath, M. (2017). Survey: Americans Worry More About National Security Than Hacking. com.
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