A Killtacular Blunder
Infinity Ward and Activision have been under a bit of fire for their upcoming series reboot of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Technically the fourth entry in this series promises a more grounded, serious look at warfare. Well, unless you read the previews of the questionably constructed child soldier level. Or how the messaging has been painfully inconsistent over whether Modern Warfare will be “ripped from the headlines” or not. Now we’re seeing Modern Warfare offer white phosphorous airstrikes as a killstreak, per their latest announcement.
Today’s news comes from the official return of Killstreaks over Scorestreaks. For those who are unaware, Killstreaks were how you originally acquired special mid-match gear like UAVs and armored suits in Call of Duty‘s competitive multiplayer. Over the past few years, Killstreaks were phased out for Scorestreaks, as Killstreaks notoriously emphasis – as the name implies – on kills meant many players would ignore their team’s objective.
Scorestreaks ensured that even if you were better at carrying the flag in CTF or planting a charge in Demolition, you were still rewarded. Marksmanship wasn’t the only show of skill. Now, all you’ll likely get is experience points. This is an especially odd choice given Modern Warfare is supposed to be a jumping-on point for new players. Removing an accessibility aid that encourages teamwork is a bit counter to that goal, though that seems to be a theme with Activision-Blizzard’s shooters of late. I wish this was the worst part to report on, but that’s not the case.
You Know, White Phosphorous. FOR THE KIDS.
I know we’re not the first to comment on this issue, but as someone who recognizes that for a brief moment, Call of Duty actually started to show some really clever thinking – what on earth is going on at Infinity Ward? No, really, what excuse is there for including white phosphorous, one of the most heinous weapons of war, as a glorified power-up?! It’s a weapon so horrific that 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line made an entire sequence about how horrendous it is. You can see the sequence here, but be warned, it’s a very graphic scene from an already grim game.
But Wait! It Gets WORSE!
What makes this all worse is that on the jet delivering your personal war crime is the symbol 88, which is a confirmed Neo-Nazis symbol for saluting Hitler. I’m almost without words at this point. Given the years of toxicity Call of Duty‘s online communities are known for, giving them white phosphorous with a hate symbol implication isn’t going to help matters there.
I want to believe that the team at Infinity Ward simply made a bad call here, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a clear misfire that they need to fix. We have enough toxicity concerns in multiplayer gaming as-is; Modern Warfare needn’t add more. No one would’ve questioned a standard bombing run; it’s a war game. However, using something so notorious for context, when none of the other killstreaks present such a volatile image? There’s just no good justification.
Yes, Modern Warfare is a violent game, and I’m not saying Call of Duty should hide from violence. Several entries of the series have used it to great dramatic effect. Perhaps the white phosphorus comes up in the singleplayer campaign somehow, and it just seemed like a convenient way to reuse assets. None of that makes this instance acceptable though. Infinity Ward needs to strongly consider the message they’re conveying, especially given the demographics we all know will be playing their game.