In order to answer this question, surely there’s no better person to ask than that of someone who has served in the SAS, won the Distinguished Combat Medal, and is one of the British Army’s most highly decorated soldier’s of all time.
Yes, we’re talking about Andy McNab, a man who suffered capture on the frontlines in foreign soil, and experienced events that most of us couldn’t even bear to imagine, never mind experience. Therefore, you would probably believe that such an operative would find Call of Duty a franchise that pales in comparison to real-life warfare, a Disney tie-in if you will to the brutal on-goings that occur in day to day life during international conflict. Surely such a man would find it impossible to take Call of Duty seriously, and further to this, the idea of mindless killing within a game to be abhorrent, devaluing the actual role that soldiers maintain day in day out.
Surprisingly, I couldn’t be further from the truth. After giving an interview with The Sun, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the UK, McNab states that games such as Call of Duty ‘are probably better role models than most in normal life. Because, ultimately, the heroes in the games do the right thing. These games are teaching lessons of morality through a well-known medium – violence.’
As a British citizen, and with a family member currently serving within the Armed Forces, I have the greatest of respect for McNab and the work he’s devoted his life to, participating in a career I wouldn’t dare to enter. However, it’s difficult to understand and empathise with the above comments. To state that a video game, and an excessively violent one at that, represents a far better role model than most in civilian society is confounding.
I understand that some children today have or have had poor relationships with their father’s, myself included, yet I wouldn’t advise anyone to turn to a product which asks its players to repeat kill after kill in the aim of combating virtual terrorism. These comments cause me to believe that the ulterior motive is something far different. There’s no denying that violent video games such as Call of Duty have served as an excellent tool in increasing the number of applicants that wish to serve for their national forces, especially since conscription and mandatory service has been abolished. Therefore, it causes speculation as to whether McNab is simply encouraging more children to play said game in the aim of instilling a potential future career into the minds of the players.
There’s no denying that in the world of Call of Duty, players fight the good fight, at least for the majority of the time, as you work alongside AI colleagues in order to take down figures whose goal is to promote Ultra nationalism by any means necessary, including nuclear attacks and civilian casualties. However, when placed within a airport and asked to massacre innocent civilians in the aim of maintaining an established alias so that your enemies don’t suspect your commitment to their political cause, it’s difficult to identify exactly what positive information children will be able to extract from this scenario.
It’s as if McNab is stating that violence is ok as long as it’s used against violence, specifically when one side is in the right. However, like all things in life it’s a matter of perspective. To those of us that live and breathe in order to protect our democratic rights, there’s always going to be another side that feel exactly the same way about their own ideology, perhaps even more vehemently, as showcased in the countless suicide bombings witnessed around the world. They believe their political motivations are just as valid as ours, and this is where the true conflict lies.
Vietnam, Iraq, and more recently with Afghanistan, all were fought with extreme violence, yet rendered unsuccessful, both in the political and public eye, regardless of what any patriot informs you of. In these modern times, a bullet to the head doesn’t remove extremism, as it lies within a collective soul. When one dies, two more crop up ready to take his or her place.
Thankfully, it appears that this facet is being realised, as the military have worked hard with Afghani civilians, attempting to showcase what life could be like under a democratic government. A war ends only when peace is achieved, and regardless of what McNab says, the violence has to end at some point, whether at the end of an operational tour, or at the end of a fictional campaign.
However, it could be argued that I am perhaps reading far too deeply into Andy McNab’s comments, analysing current and past military operations when it could be that McNab simply feels that video games, Call of Duty specifically, isn’t solely reliable for causing violence, in which case, I would wholeheartedly agree.
McNab goes on to explain, ‘There have always been people that claim video games are bad for you. They’re probably the same people that were worried when films first became ‘talkies’ and then got themselves worried about the switch to colour cinema from black and white.’ No argument there.
“It’s the same argument but for a different format and a new generation,’ he clarifies. ‘The criticisms of games such as Call of Duty are quite unfounded. After all, it’s the same as the games we used to play as kids. In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies children would play ‘toy soldiers’— running across building sites, carrying wooden ‘machine guns’ and shooting everybody, which isn’t that different from Call Of Duty, really.’
However, its comments such as these that make me wonder whether McNab has played any entries from the franchise. Earlier iterations focused upon the war between Allies and Axis, a conflict which for most, is easily understood due to clear boundaries between right and wrong, with a massive injustice laid to rest caused by the hands of a brutal and vicious dictator. There were countless of childhood films about the Second World War, with The Great Escape being one of my all time favourites, and if McNab is focusing on these earlier entries, I could almost visualise a similar link.
Unfortunately, the conflicts of today, and those in Modern Warfare, are a completely different story, with both the public and politicians offering different perspectives of modern conflicts. Political power, resources, land, economical finance, such factors come into play. Oh, and don’t forget the bad guys. An excellent quote which sums this up, ironically, is from another franchise which shares similar themes to McNab’s comments, playing the hero and fighting the enemy. I’m speaking about Mass Effect 3, and the quote I want to reference is from the character of Samara, an alien species whom devotes her life to ensuring justice remains true. She reflects upon her knowledge of humans, and states, ‘Yours is a very interesting species. For example, if there are three humans in a room, there will be six opinions.’ Her observation is wholeheartedly accurate. In modern conflict, we, the general public, cannot agree on whether its right or wrong, what the correct motivations for international conflict are, and whether we should even be there in the first place.
The reason why I have chosen to explore these issues deeply, is that recent iterations of Call of Duty have asked the same questions. To reference an earlier level, when tasked with killing civilians to maintain your alias, we’re presented with the question, how far should we go to maintain peace? Is it ok for a hundred to die so that millions may live?
Anyone that states such questions came into play during their own childhood role-play is either lying or a genius. We simply picked up our toys, fired them at our friends, then went home eventually for dinner or to bed. Why? In the same way that we played teachers, parents, or doctors. It’s fun to role-play when you’re young, and even better with friends as it helps develop social skills and strong friendships. Never did a violent thought enter my brain at any point during this play, and if one of the ‘enemies’ were to injure themselves, we all entered full sprint to their parents house, leaving a couple behind to ensure he was comforted and reassured. If I were to do such a thing in an online match of Call of Duty, I’d receive more verbal abuse and friendly fire than in all past conflicts collectively combined.
The online community of Call of Duty is often a brutal, harrowing place, full of players whose only ambition is to improve their kill-death ratio, whilst mowing down opposing players with little time for consideration of afterthought. Their mind’s are already focused upon acquiring the next victim.
As a result, this is a virtual community which I would forbid all of my children from entering, had I any. However, for those that may feel I am giving Call of Duty a hard time, fear not. I own and have owned every entry in the franchise, and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I found the campaign in Black Ops to be gripping and atmospheric, whilst the Michael Bay-esque explosions that carried me throughout all of the Modern Warfare’s left me in utter awe. As a First Person Shooter, it’s difficult to find another game that is as polished and intuitive to play as Call of Duty. So why disagree with McNab’s comments?
Well it comes down to two key factors, children and education. I am no longer a child playing these games, and thankfully, I received an excellent education and upbringing that allows me to successfully separate virtual gaming from the real world, whilst extracting key narrative content from games that I found to be interesting and engaging. Unfortunately, the majority of children won’t play these games holding the same perspective. Left unmonitored in their rooms, most will play simply because their friends do, or allow them to take their role-play even further, witnessing events that are beyond their comprehension.
For example, the term ‘love’ was familiar to us in childhood, and even in role-play we hugged, held hands, and pretended to be married to simulate real life, just like we played toy-soldiers. By placing an 8 or 9 year old in front of a console and inserting Call of Duty into the tray, would be akin to sitting a child in front of a laptop and showcasing some pornography, so that they acquire a better understanding of what truly occurs within marriage. I sincerely hope that no one would do the latter, however, for better or worse, most adults have a great understanding of what pornography is and what it contains. Most parents however, have little idea what kind of content is included in video games, and are happy to purchase such products for their children, as others their age have access to the same game.
McNab does raise one interesting point however. He claims that ‘the reason violence reduced during Bill Clinton’s time as president was because of the advent of gaming. It’s definitely a generational thing which is causing the criticism of Call Of Duty — people just don’t get it.’
There may be no strict evidence that suggests violent games prevents real-life violence, but it’s certainly a valid point to make. If those that would normally be on the streets causing unnecessary pain to others are having their needs satiated through a video game format, does this make such products an integral part of modern society?
To provide context to McNab’s argument, he was responding in reply to John Pollard, a coroner who urged parents to stop their children using adult video games after a boy of 14 hanged himself after playing Call of Duty, which he regularly did so alongside his stepfather. As his behaviour deteriorated, he was grounded by his mother, only to be found hanged in his room.
Such events should be approached with a great deal of care and sensitivity, and it’s impossible to state whether Call of Duty directly caused this traumatic cost of life, although I doubt it would be the sole factor. Pollard goes on to state, ‘The age limitations on these various computer games are there for a very valid reason. Why, quite frankly, anybody would want to be playing them, I don’t know. It is very important that young children don’t play them or have access to them. I make a plea with parents to keep a very close eye on their children in that way.’
To state that he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to play such games is purely due to contextual events, rather than referencing scientific evidence. I found each Call of Duty campaign to be enjoyable, gripping, and thrilling; in the same way I would a film. Furthermore, outmanoeuvring your opponent to grab a sneaky kill in Call of Duty brings me the same satisfaction as does coming from 2-1 down to grab a 90th minute winner in Fifa 12. As a species, we are instinctively competitive, and feel great joy when we succeed over a fixed opponent, whether virtual or real, as seen recently in the Olympics.
This is why education is paramount, and I’m not speaking about pre-fixed curricula installed by governments and facilitated by teachers. I’m referencing life education, such as the importance of manners, the respect of others regardless of race or colour, the societal norms that showcase our humane side on a day to day basis. If parents neglect their children of such lessons, and as a result, their child becomes reclusive, angered towards the world, and feel as if their life is devoid of meaning or purpose it’s then that Call of Duty no longer becomes a game, but a weapon.