It was hard being an online gamer in 2003. If you weren’t exceptional at Counter-Strike and had forsaken all chance at copulation you either had nothing to do with gaming or voluntarily spent 2-3 hours a week needlessly frustrating yourself to tears. By my estimation there was one good original game in 2003. It wasn’t the first WWII shooter by a long shot but it did show a little innovation. This game had no number after its name, no allusions of grandeur and enfranchisement on its’ horizon. The game was Call of Duty.
Call of Duty (COD), in its original form, represented a unique opportunity in the gaming record. Like Medal of Honor (MOH) before it, COD presented a first person shooting experience where the hero did not have either an unrealistic amount of life or a numerical life-o-meter. The original Rainbow 6 (R6) did some of these things as well as early as 1998, but the effect wasn’t quite the same. R6 feels more sterile – like a flight simulator – in comparison.
The anti-game establishment enjoys attaching the word senseless to anything violent in gaming, but you couldn’t really call COD senselessly violent even if there are moments of pure carnage. COD achieved this by emulating popular moments in film where violence wasn’t only acceptable, but absolutely necessary in understanding the film.
MOH and COD both owe a lot to Saving Private Ryan, a film so horrendously violent veterans up and left the theatre for fear of flashbacks. MOH’s story focused on Americans in France after the D-Day invasion. Both borrow from Saving Private Ryan pretty heavily, but COD outshines MOH because it goes ahead and emulates a lot of other movies as well.
COD is played in three parts: an American during and after D-Day, as a Russian on the eastern front, as an as a British Commando during a slew of raids. Each of these ‘parts’ bears a striking resemblance to films you’re probably familiar with – and not just Saving Private Ryan. Just because A Bridge Too Far has moments of humor doesn’t mean that humor isn’t capable of illuminating an aspect of war or the men who fight them. Is that stoic British off-color humor about death and duty and King and country such an admirable thing? Or is it a shield behind which sincere vulnerabilities cower like children in an air raid shelter? COD could ask these questions and bring some respectability to gaming as an medium, because something is senseless only if it’s incapable of communicating an idea. The graphics were so-so and the multiplayer twas horse shit but it blurred the line between game and film enough so that those who don’t game could see possibility in similarity
Fast forward eight years. Modern Warfare 3’s trailer is blowing up all over the internet in I believe 5 languages. For those of you who don’t know, Modern Warfare is a spin-off franchise from Call of Duty, so it’s driver’s license would read something like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III. The trailer for this game, put out by Activision, was literally an Eminem music video. In it soldiers toss magazines back and forth like beers at a frat party and blow Russian helicopters out of the sky like space invaders. Plotting its point on the credibility chart, in terms of a game’s capacity to stand up as art against say film or (more appropriately) graphic novels, would suggest that the franchise trended away from becoming a Watchmen and instead has spent the intervening 8 years focused on Jaeger bombs and plowing MILFs. It’s visual aesthetic has gone from the washed colors of Spielberg’s France to the seizure arcade of Tokyo Drift. Adding to Activision’s waning karma is the fact the game play has remained relatively static even while adding new features. Despite this the franchise is the undisputed cash cow. Last I looked MW3 had half a million reserved copies pre sold on X-Box alone and we’re still three months from launch. But I guess you can expect that when you appeal to the lowest common denominator and achieve cultural relevancy by matching the GDP of a third world country.
Basically, Call of Duty Modern Warfare III, I’m looking you in the face and telling you to go grab some Cheesecake Factory and bro down with Nickleback because I’m done with you. I gave you the best years of my life and in return you got dumber and sluttier. Note: I was going to compare COD’s history the career of Lindsay Lohan but A) thats too cliché and B) that last line was the only bit I could come up with. Plus, the original, good COD had very little in common with Mean Girls.
Besides, have you seen the trailer for Battlefield 3? It’s going to tear you a new one.