Sniping an enemy from a rooftop in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro is cold, brutal and bloody – but it isn’t illegal. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Headshots are free speech.
With the recent release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the discussion of video game violence is again emerging in many households and for good reason. Gratuitous or excessive violence is unhealthy – a 2003 article by the American Psychological Association cites several studies where violent video games were “significantly associated with increased aggressive behavior.” Violence could even be immoral in some cases, if it involves murder or other heinous acts. But as much as we’d like to, we can’t always outlaw immorality.
Video game developers have a constitutional right to create artistic content, including violent content, and consumers have a right to purchase it. On the other hand, they have the right not to purchase it if they think it is inappropriate for their children or themselves – and often, it is.
But it’s not as though Call of Duty is the only first-person shooter to depict particularly disturbing or gratuitous violence. Many players would even argue the violence in those games is not gratuitous.
The mission game play in the Call of Duty series is supposed to be an accurate representation of real-life warfare. However, “true-to-life” is not always a justification for violence.
One scene in particular in Modern Warfare 2 highlights this. In what the game review Web site GameInformer calls a “morally gray” mission, players are required to infiltrate a terrorist organization and in the process, kill hundreds of civilians.
To their credit, the developers made significant efforts to protect those who want to be protected from viewing the scene. Once the game starts, players can opt out of the mission without penalty, and even if the player starts the mission, he or she doesn’t actually have to shoot – although that isn’t stated. Finally, GameInformer contends, “The mission draws the morality of war and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad guys cannot.”
While the violence of Call of Duty might serve some higher purpose, many other games do not – think Grand Theft Auto. However, it is the conscientious consumer’s responsibility to choose not to purchase or play such games rather than the developer’s to refrain from developing. Blaming the developers for making you consume immoral content is juvenile and morally escapist. Just following orders is never a good defense, especially not if your trigger finger is on the joystick.