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Guest Post: Not Real, But Really Entertaining

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

I’m racing through the burnt refuse that appears to have been a Vietnamese village. Mid-stride, a single round strikes me near the groin. The shot came from the right. A sniper is crouched in the ashes of a single room hut. He’s inexperienced, because his second shot misses. I hear the whir as the high caliber round rushes past. I take aim and make the kill before two rounds from an AK-47 finish me off.

Luckily, I re-spawn fairly close.

The newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops, boasted $650 million worldwide within its first five days. It managed to outperform its record setting predecessor Modern Warfare 2. Impressive, considering that Modern Warfare 2 broke the record of its predecessor; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. As a gaming enthusiast, I was compelled to throw my money on the pile too.

While standing in line, I overheard a number of things that disturbed me, but I wasn’t sure why until later. A number of people were talking about how realistic, how visceral this game was: the imagery, the feel of combat, the weapons, and the characters.

Call of Duty is a gaming industry icon. It’s not only the shooter that every other shooter looks to, borrows from, and sometimes wishes to be; it’s also a model for developers for storytelling and variable game play. It revered for its multi-player experience, its graphics, and its replay-ability.

However, one thing it shouldn’t be revered for is its realism.

For one thing, Call of Duty isn’t realistic. Off the top of my head, I could name a half dozen or more inconsistencies with reality. Most obviously, in real life, there are no re-spawns. Nor can Russia ever successfully invade and occupy the United States--the biggest but not the only plot impossibility. From what I know, ducking behind cover does not automatically heal you, not to mention the fact that two rounds is usually sufficient to put anyone out of commission as opposed to half a dozen or more.

Second, the designers didn’t intend the game to be realistic. When asked about Modern Warefare 2 and its realism, Infinity Ward’s Co-founder Vince Zampella told PlayStation Magazine that their goal isn’t to create a realistic combat experience. “We’re not making a sim[ulation], we’re making entertainment. We want it to look real like an action movie [looks real].”

Lastly, the problem isn’t with the Call of Duty: Black Ops, it is with society’s (false) perception of Call of Duty: Black Ops. Much like The Hurt Locker, people allow fiction to affect their perceptions of reality. We need to take these types of media with a grain of salt. Games or movies like this are entertainment, not reflections on what is or was. Unfortunately, they can give more impressionable people misconceptions about war, combat, and the military.

Like those people having the conversations while I was waiting in line to buy the game; they were brothers of eight and ten years old.

three comments

Just to clarify my opinion, because it comes up with “The Hurt Locker” review. Some of my favorite pieces of art—Alice in Wonderland, borges, action movies—aren’t realistic. But people don’t assume they are realistic. That’s the problem.

It is the assumption of truth that is the problem. I played Call of Duty II, and it has the most ridiculous plot since, well, Red Dawn.

But for people to assume it replicate combat doesn’t cut it. First person shooters are fun, Eric C and I have countless hours devoted to Halo. But not realistic. That distinction does get lost.

Congrats too Matty P.

For me, at least, the notion of Call of Duty being real wasn’t even a thought before COD4: Modern Warfare 2. More recently, having played a little of Black Ops, it again feels more cartoon-ish than anything (like the first Far Cry game).

The thing that got me with MW2 wasn’t realistic action sequences or life-like sound effects. It got me a bit because the setting and components of the story because particularly personal. I was fine until the scene where you spawn in Arlington and clear neighborhoods until the climax of killing waves of Ruskies while defending an Applebees or something. What got me was my imagination.

I live in Arlington, and, while never serving, know the discomfort and worry deployment brings after my brother served a tour in Iraq in 2009. What got me was knitting that feeling when he he missed a call home into being able to actually see in my mind’s eye the streets I was walking down, and seeing him and his fire team moving from craftsman to craftsman and some dude shooting at them from behind a shrub or through a dining room window.

I have no idea what sort of fear you actually feel when you expect someone to shoot at you and you can’t predict where it’s going to come from. I’ve never experienced that. But having experienced palpable terror a time or two, and these couple of triggers, it really made me uneasy. I had to turn it off for a few days. When I turned it on again there wasn’t even an inkling of that feeling, but I’ve never really been affected because of a video game before; it was something else, I’ll tell ya what.

They’ve never felt real, but they did once inspire my imagination.