The problem with Call of Duty isn’t that it makes us violent – it makes us deaf

Breaking: for the nineteenth consecutive year, the new call of Duty Video game offers no thoughtful pacifist critique of human affairs. As usual, the latest in Activision’s annual first-person shooter series isn’t exactly war and peace. To attempt War and more war.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II begins with a war crime that has been ripped from the headlines and is set in the recent past. The player must pilot a missile through a remote desert valley in order to assassinate an Iranian general named Ghorbrani – clearly a thinly veiled reference to Donald Trump’s 2020 real-life drone kill of Qasem Soleimani.

Simulating Soleimani’s extrajudicial murder to set off a Tom Clancy-esque “what if?” Story about a special forces unit preventing World War III is far from the game’s only politically questionable narrative choice. The seventeen-mission Globetrotter campaign also sends players hunting Mexican drug cartel members along the US-Mexico border wall, which involves aiming a loaded assault rifle at civilians in a Texas town to “de-escalate” the situation. The game also turns a tourist area in Amsterdam into a war zone to catch some terrorists.

Given the ugliness of the spectacle, it is not surprising that many journalists took insults. Critics called Modern Warfare II “deaf,” “cynical,” and “spineless” with “moments of violence that feel uncomfortable at best and morally questionable at worst.” All of this sounds largely true. But what strikes me is that we’re still having the same superficial conversations about media messages and their impact on players.

Is the worst thing about it call of Duty Really only the dog shit of its authors takes on global politics? What if the real danger isn’t that players become indoctrinated or even turn to violence in the real world, but that they become trapped in a draining and ever-worsening cycle of gambling addiction that reduces their quality of life while draining the pockets of the… company fills? ?

I don’t want to sound too dismissive as to “call of Duty is problematic” crowd. After all, I’m a former game critic and a designated member of the finger-wagging content police force.

Ten years ago on Christmas morning, the front page of the New York Times quoted me with reservations Medal of Honor: Warfightera call of Duty Clone that marketed guns and knives directly to gamers. I had just written a viral essay about how upset I was that anyone could shoot a branded assault rifle Medal of Honor and then buy the real thing through the game’s official website which, as I said, the Times“felt like a virtual showroom” for real guns.

I used my nephew Aidin, a call of Duty Devotee who had just been suspended for bringing a gun to school. A small, nagging voice in my head wondered if Aidin was going to commit gun violence, and if call of Duty and similar games were the gateway drug to get him there. Weren’t these shooters just an overt marketing tool for the peddlers of death in the civilian firearms industry?

Many of my media peers agreed with me and in the face of growing backlash Medal of Honor The publisher Electronic Arts has severed its licensing relationships with gun manufacturers.

But in the ten years since I wrote this essay, something funny has happened: my belief in a direct correlation between wargames and real-world behavior has been proven wrong. First-person shooters continue to attract millions of users, but firearm homicides largely declined in the 2010s. There has been a spike in gun homicides since 2020, but the valuation of firearm fatalities remains below the level of previous years. My nephew stopped handling guns shortly after my father died in 2017. It turns out that my father, who had an extensive gun collection, introduced Aidin to the gun culture, and call of Duty was merely an extension of an interest nurtured by a family member.

Meanwhile, psychological studies — even those that cite my paper as an influence — have struggled to find a strong link between digital and positive affinity for guns, let alone real-life gun violence. And most importantly, the US military does not get much money call of Duty bump. According to Activision, more than four hundred million people worldwide have played a call of Duty Play at least once, most of them Americans. But the Pentagon says recruitment numbers are at their lowest since the end of the Vietnam War and the army missed its targets by 30,000 troops.

The reasons for this are multiple: the pandemic has blocked access to military prospects in high schools, an improving job market means less financial pressure to settle for the army, and high obesity rates among young people preclude military service. Not only are video games insufficient to offset these trends, but in February Army Major Jon-Marc Thibodeau claimed that video games make recruiting staff more difficult. “The soldier skeleton of the ‘Nintendo generation’ is not hardened by activities before it arrives,” he said.

Gaming is becoming the only game in town, with over 90 percent of kids playing some form, and that’s why the military isn’t giving up. Recruiters have tried to infiltrate Twitch, Discord, and other first-person shooter gaming communities looking for potential soldiers, leading Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to sponsor a House of Representatives amendment to ban the military from such activities. “War is not a game” she said on twitter. “We shouldn’t confuse military service with shoot-em-up-style games and competitions.”

AOC’s efforts are commendable, and these recruitment activities should be illegal. Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear that, despite the best efforts of the military, gamers don’t necessarily confuse war games with war and trade in their Xbox controllers for assault rifles after playing call of Duty. They’re just gripping their controllers tighter and tighter.

Activision Blizzard occupies the lowest circles of Hell in an industry shaped by the worst aspects of capitalism and corporate greed.

Granted, I’m biased. In the mid-’80s, I was working as a Q&A tester at the company’s headquarters in Santa Monica, California, paying just $10 an hour to sit endlessly in what we called “the dungeon,” a cramped, sweaty, windowless basement in which we searched for bugs in the then pending Call of Duty: The World at War. Almost everyone who toiled in the dungeon every day was a temp worker – with no health care or unions – who could be fired at any time, which often happened between projects. They would finish a game and then see the outcome and stare for weeks or even months with no compensation.

My former colleagues have made some strides in union building these days, but Activision continues to try to crush them. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the company unlawfully retaliated against unionized workers at Raven Software, a subsidiary that primarily serves Raven Software call of Dutywhere workers made history when they formed a union in May.

The software giant has also been hit by multiple lawsuits alleging that its “open ‘brotherhood’ environment encouraged rampant sexism, harassment and discrimination, with 700 reported incidents occurring under the supervision of CEO Robert Kotick.” Last year, a report from the Wall Street Journal noted that for years Kotick knew about rampant sexual harassment at the company but did not act. And last week, a Swedish state pension fund sued Activision and Microsoft, claiming that their massive $69 billion merger, announced earlier this year, was rigged to protect Kotick’s wallet.

How much is Activision worth as much as Croatia’s annual GDP? Much of this money is extorted from players through predatory “microtransactions” – a $67 billion industry of in-game transactions that encourage players to swallow real money to buy digital goods in order to gain a competitive edge, or to splurge on attractive cosmetics in the haze of play. Often these microtransactions are designed to mimic slot-style gambling with a random reward system. About 40 percent of the staggering $5.1 billion Activision Blizzard reportedly made in 2021 came from in-game purchases such as call of Duty‘s Battle Pass and various weapon decorations.

These games and microtransactions are intentionally designed to psychologically trap players in a cycle of addiction. In 2019, the World Health Organization recognized gaming disorder as a mental illness and this year it was officially included in the International Classification of Diseases, with an estimated sixty million addicts, according to one estimate. Half of Millennials and Gen-Zers gamble more than eight hours a day and almost a quarter gamble more than thirteen hours a week — a number that’s been rising since the pandemic lockdowns incentivized more screen time.

These numbers are consistent with declining mental health and increasing rates of depression among young people, as well as deteriorating physical health indicators. Americans are increasingly sedentary, isolated and alienated. While video games often provide an amusing distraction and a convenient way to socialize online, all too often they act as a salve that can never truly satisfy what ails us. Americans are sacrificing their physical and mental health to play, forgoing real relationships for online gaming friendships, and giving up increasing chunks of their already low salaries in the fog of addiction.

This is what ultimately worries me the most call of Duty in 2022 is not his inherently conservative we-need-a-good-guy-with-a-gun policy. With modern video games, the medium is the message, and our daily lives are made up of too many pixels to shoot at.

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