Call of Duty Modern Warfare screenshot 02

GG: Video games are political because almost everything is political, including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare even if Infinity Ward claims it isn’t

Redefining everything you thought you knew about diplomacy, covert and unsanctioned military operations, the interminable conflict between western democratic superpowers and ideological terrorism, and the questionable moral arbitration of the US government in almost every other government’s business, the game’s designers have explained that, contrary to reasonable expectations, 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot, which features “an emotionally charged and intense campaign that shines a light on the changing nature of modern war” that “pushes boundaries and breaks rules” with a narrative “that is edgy, culturally relevant, and thought-provoking”, is totally not political. Let’s discuss.

“The question ‘is this a political game’ doesn’t actually mean anything, because what does the word ‘political’ mean to you?” Infinity Ward gameplay director Jacob Minkoff tells Game Informer, like politics is some sort of ambiguous esoteric concept with no basis in reality.

Except it isn’t. According to Wikipedia, politics “is a set of activities associated with the governance of a country or an area” and deals with “promoting one’s own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries”. That’s obviously a very basic definition of the word, but for the purposes of the Call of Duty franchise, I think it’s adequate enough.

“Do we touch topics that bear a resemblance to the geopolitics of the world we live in today? Hell yeah, because that is the subject matter of Modern Warfare,” Minkoff continues. “Are we telling a story that has anything to do with the specific governments of any countries that we are portraying? No. So if you’re asking, like, is Trump in the video game, no, he isn’t.”

“These are the types of questions that have been asked for the last 50 years,” adds narrative director Taylor Kurosaki. “We do talk about concepts like colonialism, and occupation, and independence, and freedom. We don’t maybe say those words specifically, but that’s the realm that we are in.”

But no, that’s not political. What a unique and intriguing perspective. Also, wrong.

I think the problem is that what exactly constitutes “political” has become entirely distorted, perhaps deliberately, in contemporary public discourse – on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and other social media websites, “political” is frequently code for “includes thing that offends me, but I’ll pretend it’s included because the SJWs/feminazis/liberal space lizards will be offended if it’s not so I can be smug about it”.

A video game doesn’t necessarily have to promote a specific political agenda to be political, it simply is political because it presents a narrative inherently informed by and based on politics (and culture, but culture is also political) . In the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, for example, “players will fight alongside a diverse cast of international special forces and freedom fighters”, but it’s impossible to designate protagonists like this without subscribing to some kind of political principle – or else, I could ask Infinity Ward’s designers, “the question ‘is this a freedom fighter’ doesn’t actually mean anything, because what do the words ‘freedom fighter’ mean to you?”

And yes, much like “political”, the words “freedom fighter” can mean different things to different people. That’s what makes it political. Not because Call of Duty games mostly involve Team American saving the planet from the Communosocialist Islamotheocratic State of Russiastan’s new plot to nuke everybody (or whatever, but that too), but also because without politics, none of those narrative conceits could exist even as fictional constructs. A game about war is a game about politics, and to claim it isn’t is intellectually dishonest and embarrassing.

But it’s not just games about war.

BioShock is a game about class division, dystopia, and the consequences of Randian objectivism. That’s political.

Deus Ex is a game about transhumanism, and the ethics of biotech. That’s political.

Stardew Valley is a game about corporate fascism, post-agricultural rock economics, and Sebastian’s elusive love. That’s political.

And, and, and.

Games being political isn’t a bad thing, or a good thing, or even a significant thing. It’s a reflection of reality. And it’s time for studios like Infinity Ward to own up to that.

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