This week sees the release of the newest game in the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare 3. Over the next few weeks, for a certain demographic of young men at least, workplace productivity will decrease, college essays will go unwritten and girlfriends will be ignored. Until they try to change over to The X Factor when you’re right in the middle of garrotting a Soviet sergeant with his bootlaces, at which point the relationship will have become irretrievably lost.
The game’s campaign mode is set to continue its predecessor’s storyline of a Russian invasion of the US and Europe during the Cold War. This imagined history is certainly a lot more exciting than the reality of the 80’s, during which time the Americans were mostly building new helicopters after dumping them all in the sea after ‘Nam, wondering aloud what glasnost and perestroika meant, and engaging in bloody combat with the fearsome Central American superpower of Nicaragua.
The storyline of Modern Warfare 2 was entertaining, and a cut above many films of a similar genre. The good guys boasted several likeable characters, the levels were varied and cleverly put together (with some nice references to films like Red Dawn and Aliens thrown in for good measure), and the villain was the most ostentatious Russian terrorist since Gary Oldman was politely asked to leave Harrison Ford’s plane.
The sequel is set to feature some European locations like Paris and London, with the latter’s inclusion prompting an outcry from some people who claimed it was insensitive to show terrorism affecting the city after the July bombings in 2005. Maybe in the next instalment the developers should spare people’s feelings by using countries that have never suffered any kind of terrorist attacks. The plot could focus on a Swedish invasion of Greenland, with the player having to utilise polite Danish diplomacy to defuse the situation, after which everyone quietly returns home to their cold, dull lives and exorbitant tax rates. There could even be a bonus level where you have to ensure your character lives through his 20’s in Scandinavia without committing suicide.
More popular than the story mode these days, however, is the multiplayer option, in which people from across the globe can play against each other online. This experience can be made even more interactive with the use of a headset and microphone, but this becomes incredibly irritating. There are fewer more humbling experiences in life than getting an RPG to the face while being laughed at and called a noob wanker by some 10-year old kid from Leeds on his mid-term break.
Of course much of the action in the Modern Warfare games is glamorised and not very true-to-life. It would be interesting to play some games that reflect the mundane realities of life as a soldier in a major conflict.
You could have Call of Duty: Vietnam, in which the player takes on the role of a GI looking for some female company on a night out in Saigon. The mission is to negotiate a reasonable enough rate so that he has enough left over for half a dozen bottles of whiskey and a poorly thought-out tattoo on his arse that will help his unit to identify him the following week when he steps on a landmine and they come across a smouldering pound of flesh with the words “Charlie can suck my balls” emblazoned across it.
Or how about Call of Duty: Afghanistan, where the object is to avoid roadside bombs and British friendly fire while using less important troops from places like New Zealand as shields. The last level involves your character reading a history book about Alexander the Great and realising just how fucking stupid it is to start a war that has consistently proven to be unwinnable.
The most realistic would probably be Call of Duty: Off Duty, following the life of a grunt when home from the war. Challenges could include complaining about immigration and the Democrats, dealing with a severe drinking problem as a result of your acute post-traumatic stress disorder, and putting up huge American flags on your front lawn so passers-by don’t forget what country they’re in.
Ultimately, the best thing about the Modern Warfare games is the opportunity for young men to indulge some of our more violent tendencies without having to experience any kind of real danger or leave the comfort of our pizza-stained underpants. The fact that the horrors of war still have to be endured by so many of our generation is a pathetic indictment of the limits of our civilisation, but these weighty issues matter little when you’re busy taking the head off the shoulders of some teenager from Kansas with a sawn-off shotgun, his tormented wails of anguish echoing in your headset as his pixellated stump sprays a red mist over your screen and you move on to your next victim, cackling maniacally to yourself as you crack open your third beer of the afternoon. War may be hell but it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.