Footage from the introductory level of Modern Warfare 2 has been leaked through various video sources. The game promises to be incredibly controversial from the introductory level alone, which places the player in the role of an undercover agent participating in a terrorist attack on an airport. The game’s publisher, Activision, has been pushing to remove the clips from the web left and right. The clip I saw was through this link.
The clip is particularly disturbing because it depicts this group of terrorists with automatic weapons mowing down dozens of people at an airport terminal. What is most shocking about the sequence is that the player has agency and so can participate in the shooting of the civilians (and in the video, the player is doing so in a very brutal fashion – in some instances shooting civilians who are wounded even when the other terrorists aren’t shooting at them). The consequences of shooting a person are graphically depicted: instead of dying outright as in most games, wounded will crawl around or writhe from their wounds, while one sequence shows one civilian dragging the body of another to safety. The player can shoot at any of these people, but is not required to. At the end of the sequence, the terrorists fight their way past the armored police sent to stop them and the lead terrorist (a Russian who is hell-bent on starting a global war) shoots the player at the end of the mission. Note that while the player does not appear to be required to shoot civilians, it is likely a necessity that he must fight the police for the simple reason that they are a barrier to the exit.
Note that prior to participating in the mission, players are warned that “an upcoming segment may contain disturbing elements and they can choose not to engage in the gameplay that involves this scene.” This seems unnecessary from an artistic perspective and sounds more like something you would see in a television broadcast. Simply put, would we expect the flow of a Spielberg or Kubrick war drama, or even a horror flick, for that matter, to interrupt the flow of the film with a content warning?
Ultimately, the clip is out of context – or rather does not have enough context to be properly interpreted. As such, it is prime for knee-jerk reactions, particularly of the variety that mainstream journalism induces (not that I have high hopes mainstream media would take the final build in context anyway). The potentials Modern Warfare 2 has for exploring the consequences of warfare are certainly present, but it ultimately remains to be seen whether or not the game succeeds in this goal.