I remember a time, back in the 90s, where the only phrases synonymous with video games to the non-gaming public were Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog. But what a shift it is to look at an example from today, a world where Call of Duty permeates any discussion about video games, to the point where a lot of people don’t really think of anything else.
Should this medium of ours be represented solely by Call of Duty?
I don’t have a problem with the Call of Duty games, per se. It’s not a series that I particularly like, but I can respect those that do enjoy it and the thrills that it offers. I don’t have a problem with its astounding success, as its a fantastic example of our medium gaining a significant foothold in the world of entertainment.
What does concern me is what I mentioned above: that the Call of Duty series has become, for a lot of people, the quintessential definition of what a video game is. I was travelling home late one night, and the cab driver had the radio set to WSFM, a Sydney metropolitan station dedicated to classic music from the 60s, 70s, and so on. This particular station’s demographic consists of people within the 40 to 60 age group; parents, early retirees, and those within the ‘baby boomer‘ time period. I happened to only be listening off-handedly, but was incredibly surprised when the announcer started discussing Modern Warfare 3. This wasn’t a simple discussion either, designed to give those parents a bit of info about a game their children might want: the announcer was discussing the role of dedicated servers in the game, and how they were unranked, amongst other in-depth points.
Call of Duty’s penetration in non-gaming world is certainly impressive, but is it really the only association that video games should have at the moment? Should this medium of ours, one filled with a deep, rich catalogue of varied titles, be represented solely by Call of Duty? A game that, for all intents and purposes, is a fairly violent and at times, controversial look at issues of human warfare and welfare?
Unfortunately, the validity of video gaming is still only measured in financial returns and social controversy.
To make a fairly basic analogue for a moment, imagine if the film industry was represented solely by Transformers 2. The film may have merits in what it sets out to achieve, but to have it be the only film people think of when they think of film in general is a terrible thought. Granted, this particular issue can be attributed to the relative maturity of the video game medium in comparison to any other form of media: film has had over a century to establish itself, and has a far larger library of titles. It also has less barriers of entry for an audience to not only enjoy, but to actively contribute and participate in: put simply, anyone could procure a camera and craft a film, an ease that doesn’t have a parallel in the gaming world.
It’s these differences that suggest that the road ahead for our medium is still fairly contentious. Unfortunately, the validity of video gaming is still only measured in financial returns and social controversy, both of which are aptly demonstrated by the Call of Duty series (and negatively spun by a large proportion of the traditional journalistic media). For now, all we can do is educate and be open, and time will take care of the rest.
Look at any popular gaming website and Call of Duty is always a hot topic. People tend to be on two sides of the camp: they either love it, or they hate it. Modern Warfare 3 is the latest in the franchise, and again, it has caused a rift in many a gaming community. Both sides of the argument have interesting points, so let’s look at why Call of Duty causes so much controversy.
The people who love the series are pretty much guaranteed to be multiplayer gamers. Let’s be honest, multiplayer is what Call of Duty is. The speed and fluidity of the gameplay is matched only by the perfect-feeling gunplay that all the Modern Warfare games have. The recoil of the weapons, the satisfying sound of scoring a hit on an enemy, the twitch gameplay, and ambience of the map environments all make the games extremely satisfying and leave people coming back for more.
The people who hate the series probably aren’t multiplayer gamers, or at least not FPS multiplayer gamers. Some see Call of Duty’s multiplayer as having too high of an entry level, due to the millions of gamers who have spent the last 5 years playing nothing but Call of Duty games. Others look to the single player campaign, and are disappointed. While cinematic, exciting, and full of explosions, the campaign is lacking as a standalone title. It’s entirely forgettable after the credits roll, short (maximum five hours), and padded out with too many cutscenes and quick time events (though not nearly as many as Battlefield 3‘s campaign). It’s not a satisfying game, if you look only at the single player campaign.
So that’s a few reasons why people like or dislike the series – but they really aren’t much different to criticisms of many other games. So why are people so vocal about it? It’s pretty simple: it’s the most popular game series in the world. Modern Warfare 3 made almost 800 million dollars in its first week – that’s more than any other video game, movie, or book release – ever! With a game being played by more people in the world than any other, it’s easy to see how the number of vocal critics would increase as well.
Many people think the game is just "average" – that it’s nothing special – but then grow to hate it more because they are upset that it’s the most popular game in the world. Others see the game’s lacking campaign and heavy focus on multiplayer as an issue because they don’t want too many games following suit (which they will – the industry is filled with clones and copy-cat games, after all).
The important thing to remember is that every game – no matter who made it, how many people bought it, or how much it cost to make – adds something to the industry. Everything – from the smallest little indie game made in someone’s bedroom in a weekend, to the largest big-budget game release made by a thousand people in two years – has something of value to add. The saddest thing of all is people dismissing games because they are too popular, or not popular enough. Play every game with a blank slate, and you will enjoy them far more than if you judge them based on external influences.