What feels like the 23rd installment of the Call of Duty franchise, Black Ops III, debuted this past Friday, November the 6th. It is on pace to be best-selling game of the year once again, and although it may not beat out other record numbers set by the franchise itself, this is most significantly impacted by increased competition from other games such as Battlefield. The hallmark franchise has come, seen and conquered the imagination of children, teenagers and adults alike. This growing infatuation with bloodshed and M-16’s is a growing phenomenon that poses the question, why has war become so cool?
Now to understand this mass attraction to war games, one must understand the premise as to why most people enjoy games in the first place. A game is made to either stimulate problem solving, provide aesthetic pleasure, or offer a narrative in which the player has some role in direction. A player plays for a sense of accomplishment, competitive drive, or in appreciation of content and to sublet his or her imagination. Now, there are other factors and reasons as to why one would wish to play a game, and obviously other determinants that factor into the production decisions of game developers regarding their video game, but for the purpose of this analysis we will pursue these reasons for creation, and reasons for consumption.
When looking at what makes a game and what makes a game enjoyable, it is easy to see why a game like Call of Duty gains traction. All components mentioned above are hit in this series. As an infantry member you are placed in situations that invoke thought such as diffusion of bombs, avoidance of detection from drones, and putting infiltration tactics into effect. The game is extremely pleasing to watch and you are now enabled control over the cinematic experience in a universe made relatable through technology. The player engages in missions taken on by marines and other special forces. These are trained professionals which they get to emulate in high pressure situations. Their competitive drive is fed through the ability to play their friends and display dominance through leaderboard rankings. Call of Duty also allows the imagination to run wild. With the vast array of weapons at your disposal, from claymores to predator missiles, you see how this expansive world of war creates a harbor of imagination with variables involved a player couldn’t possibly dream up on their lonesome.
Now when you compile all these factors as to what make the game entertaining you begin to see the danger that it creates. When an individual successfully completes a task there is a gratification that comes attached that gives the individual a positive association to said task. So we then turn our attention to the positive association made in killing another human which is inherently bad. We see that since this is the main objective of most multiplayer modes throughout the series there will either be a detachment made by players with death or pleasure found in outdoing their opponents, resulting in their opponent’s death. Either way both of these options are not held in favorable regard. Now even further to this point is the language associated with war and defense talk. We are familiar with terms such as casualties and collateral.
A casualty in war is a person killed. I’m sure we can agree that there is nothing casual about this but nonetheless the term receives less scrutiny from the media due to the detached nature of the term. More interestingly is how the term collateral is used.
In war collateral damage is when there are unintentional deaths during a targeted attack. This means that the “collateral damage” causes “casualties” amongst the civilian population of a target. Collateral is also a common term in Call of Duty where you hit two members on the opposing team with a sniper rifle bullet. This was first introduced in the first multiplayer game of the series, Call of Duty 4, where this would uncommonly happen accidentally. This is another case where a term is given positive association because of the sense of accomplishment that comes with the act.
If you look at what productive functions this game provides, you see that when players spend a majority of their time playing a game like this, they receive a high concentration of knowledge on aspects of war. This is primarily a concern for high school students who spend their afternoon and weekends on the game. At an age of uncertainty and low amounts of exposure to experiences, a game like this may persuade some to pursue a career in the field. That is not to say that a career in defense is a bad thing, and it is most certainly a reputable and respected occupation, but when young individuals choose their career course due to a game and absence of incentive to be intellectually curious there is a problem in the rationale of our youth.
I do not suggest that these war games make us more violent or send us running to join the military, but this increased normalization has shifted the culture. Gone are the days where liberal college students protested the Vietnam War on moral grounds and believed that the tactics the military were employing were inhumane. Now our resistance is tempered by joining the fight online and opting instead to keep up with the jargon of defense intellectuals. These shifts on perception of war are prevalent but ultimately we must ask ourselves, what justifies war?