When I first started to hear about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's airport scene, I thought - nice PR ploy. Look, we have this scene so violent that we'll make it optional. Cue forum chatter and lots of free advertising.
Yeah. Then I watched it (pulled now). And, um.
What the fsck was that?
I'm not even going to debate whether material like this should be allowed in a game. I don't condone censorship, if Activision and Infinity Ward want to make it ... let them make it. Trying to determine the finer lines of what should be legally distributed and not legally distributed when it comes to virtual violence is a futile, pointless debate.
That's not the same as me agreeing that Activision and Infinity Ward are in the right and there's nothing to discuss. This material is wrong. It's exploitation, it's grotesque sensationalism and has no place as a part of packaged entertainment. Let's get real specific here: this is not Modern Warfare this Modern Selling Games By Being Extreme.
According to Activision and Infinity Ward, I should be OK with this material partially because they make it optional. This is a total cop out. It places the obligation on the player to determine the morality of scene they haven't actually played out. This is them basically saying "We know this is over the top, but that's OK because we made it your choice."
If it's over the top, it shouldn't be part of the game. The player is not the producer here, Activision and Infinity Ward should take responsibility. If they feel so strongly that this material is acceptable - just keep it in the game, no if's and's or but's.
Worse, though, is narrative angle. This is Activision:
And this is Infinity Ward:
Well, it certainly evokes terrorism. And, it certainly establishes evil. What both companies so neatly sidestep, however, is that it plants the player into a character that is a complete sociopath. That the player is, if I'm reading the description of this scene correctly, shooting innocent unarmed civilians in the back as they run screaming from them, pulling others to safety, and destroying an elevator full of people all in the name of justice and The American Way - makes absolutely no sense whatever. It doesn't "add to the urgency to stop them", it makes the player a willing participant in the atrocity. No reasonable character would go through this experience and come out the other side a military hero - there's no good side to this scene, it's just evil carried out by evil people. By playing through this scene, the player is in the role of a a cold-blooded murderer ... the very kind they're likely supposed to be fighting. This isn't narration, it's exploitation.
And let's get realistic here - this is only going forward because this is an A-list franchise with a lot of weight. If it was say, a game mod or a military shooter about Fallujah - we wouldn't be having this conversation, because the material would already be shouted down.
Activision and Infinity Ward should be ashamed and players should move on to better games.
Thanks to goodgaming for multiple tweets on the subject.