I just finished playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. Maybe I’m behind the times, but that’s just because I’m a multiplayer guy. In fact, if I had internet at my house right now I probably would never have played the single player game at all. However, I was bored, and the single player game was played.
I’m troubled. I’ve spoken about the movement toward being complicit with violence in videogames before, and it was a pretty unpopular post with some people. However, I think that this game rides the same line that God of War 3 rode. Call of Duty, at several points, demands that you act to perform acts of gratuitous violence. During one scene, I had to hit the Right Trigger so I could put a piece of glass in a guy’s mouth then punch him in the face repeatedly.
I don’t feel good about doing that. I don’t like committing violent, personal acts. I don’t like that it’s in first-person, in HD, and that I’m right up in it, being forced to watch, forced to be complicit. At the same time, I recognize that I’m doing that through the whole game. I’m killing faceless enemies over and over again. I don’t feel a pang of anything, not even remorse; I’m programmed, desensitized, not to.
I think that video game writing and discussion has had to fall into two distinct camps for the past twenty years. You either have to be pro-violence or anti-violence. The issue is more complex than that, but it’s as if video game enthusiasts don’t get that; it’s black and white, and the popular opinion is “let us do what we want to” paired with “kids aren’t influenced by what they’re seeing in the games.”
I don’t know, though. I have much more conservative thoughts than I used to about video games. I have a cousin who is in kindergarten and he beat Call of Duty: Black Ops in about 24 hours on the normal mode. This kid, in visceral first person, strangled a man to death. He beat a guy’s face in.
So maybe there’s a weird kind of pathos to the whole thing. I’ve been killing faceless enemies since I was the kid’s age, but things were different then; there weren’t enough polygons to make a “real” face. I’m desensitized to violence, sure, but I think the violence in this game is somehow different. There’s fear in the eyes, and as they go blank, what am I supposed to feel? Am I supposed to feel elated, excited that a bad man died? The morality of the game is pretty black and white—you kill the man, and ten seconds later you’re topside, sweet metal music is playing, there’s flags and smiling and “you did good”s.
So I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here, or say, other than I was bothered.