On the Incredulity of Call of Duty


Currently I’m working on my thesis and I’m stuck at home variously because of inclement weather and so I’ve been putting quite a few hours into Call of Duty Ghosts in order to both clear my head and avoid work.

I don’t play with a microphone, but I do love listening to other people play. The kinds of conversations you get are wide and varied. Sometimes you get to hear fifteen minutes of one side of a phone call. Sometimes it is trash talk. Other times it is the low, dull hum of the newest Eminem album being idly sung to by a teenager.

There’s one throughline that runs through all of these varied kinds of communication, though, and that’s the “WHAT?!”

If you’ve played any of these games, you know it well. Someone who is mic’d but isn’t talking is killed in the game, or misses a shot, or falls out a window, or spawns in a bad place, and he (and it is always a he) screams out “what?!” It is the ultimate question, one which there is no answer to. Here in the game, a minigame of the universal game, the pure contingency of relations is rendered questionable. We can’t answer this angry youth. We can’t offer him solace — “play better” is the communal offering.

So it is perfect, or beautiful, in a way. This purely existential question — “why are things the way they are?” — screamed over and over again over a network attached to one of the most popular games of all time. Not the hum of Eminem, but a chant, repeated over and over like a prayer.

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