In Defense of Dumb – Why I Love Call of Duty
It’s November, so that means a new Call of Duty game is out. Ghosts is the tenth main game in as many years, with Activision’s flagship series proving to be as dependably successful as the sun rising in the east. Like previous installments, it contains ridiculously high production values and ramped-up intensity as you are cast as the hero (or heroes) of the ‘ultimate action experience.’ As for the reviews? Well, this iteration hasn’t exactly set the world on fire like previous installments, no doubt due to a sense of CoD ennui amongst critics. That reception however hasn’t stopped the game from being the biggest one yet in terms of sales and revenue. And you know what? Good for them.
We are so fortunate these days as video game enthusiasts. There is a market for pretty much any type of game, there are a variety of platforms available, there is infrastructure to preserve older games and keep them playable, and (if you’re on PC at least) games have never been cheaper to purchase thanks to regular sales. It’s not an exaggeration to say that things have never been better than they are now, which is why it perplexes me when people obsess over hating a series like Call of Duty. Here are some of the most common complaints.
“It’s the same thing over and over again”
“They release it every year”
These ones are kind of the same argument, but basically what it comes down to is that people feel that each new game is just a reskinned version of the previous one, and that you are essentially doing the same thing as in all the other games with minor changes. Well, that is kind of true in that each game is a linear shooter with similar types of objectives, but what would you have them do; turn the series into an RPG or something?
Making AAA video games is expensive and risky. There are very few franchises out there which have the kind of ‘money in the bank’ cachet of Call of Duty. Activision has got a formula that is extremely popular and that makes them a ton of money, and they would be insane to mess with that. With that said, there’s a fine line between giving people what they want and treading over the same territory. There are definitely fans who enjoy the series but are starting to feel some burnout from too much Call of Duty, and that’s who Activision needs to be thinking about going forward. Black Ops 2 was an interesting departure with its campaign, while Ghosts…wasn’t by all accounts.
“The story makes no sense”
You’ll get no argument from me that Call of Duty‘s stories are ridiculously over the top, implausible, and overall pretty dumb. To that, I counter with a question. “So what?” When did it become a crime for a piece of entertainment to just be a piece of entertainment? It’s perfectly acceptable for somebody to openly talk about their appreciation for Transformers, or Fast and the Furious, or James Bond movies. These types of entertainment are in the same wheelhouse as games like Call of Duty; they are extremely popular, they are solely designed to entertain, and they don’t make a lick of sense if you think about them for more than about five minutes.
One hard truth about story in video games is that about 98% of them fall apart under the smallest scrutiny. Video games are about moments, missions, and levels. They aren’t designed by and large to sustain a larger narrative, and the vast majority of the ones that try end up coming across as at best a second rate movie plot (*cough*BeyondTwoSouls*cough*). Don’t get me wrong; there are some great video game stories out there (I estimate there are about 10 legitimately great ones), but Call of Duty really isn’t much dumber than just about everything else out there.
“Call of Duty is played by a bunch of racist, sexist bros”
Sorry, but if you’re trying to make the case that games like Call of Duty are responsible for young white males acting like assholes online, then you really aren’t looking very hard. That kind of thing is endemic to all of video game culture, and I’d argue it’s far worse in many other communities. You can find it in shooters, fighting games, MOBAS, on Twitter, on Youtube, and yes even in the indie scene. Bad behavior IS absolutely a problem in video game land, but it’s a far, far bigger problem than what you’ll find in Call of Duty.
“Call of Duty disrespects soldiers with its depiction of war”
Okay, now we’re really getting into it. This is an issue that some writers in the industry have been banging the drum about for a while now. The argument goes like this; games like Call of Duty are terrible and damaging because they purport to make realistic and ‘authentic’ types of games while adhering to video gamey tropes like regenerating health. Apparently, it disrespects real soldiers because that’s not what it’s like over there. I’m curious about where these people stand on issues with games where you play as a police officer and have regenerating health when shot by a criminal, but I digress.
Interestingly, this type of criticism largely comes from people outside the military who seem to believe they both understand how soldiers feel about these games and are entitled to speak for them on this issue. The thing is that there is a lot of first-hand and anecdotal evidence to support the fact that many of this genre’s biggest fans are real-life soldiers. Hell, the fact that troops play games like Call of Duty in their bases overseas is one huge reason why Microsoft revised its position about having an always-online requirement for the XBox One. The bottom line is that soldiers don’t need anybody acting indignant about Call of Duty on their behalf. What they DO need is support for when they come home and need to readjust to civilian life, which is incidentally something Activision does with its Call of Duty Endowment.
Who knows; maybe by this time next year this will all be academic because something like Titanfall will have usurped Call of Duty as the go-to console shooter. Maybe Ghosts is the beginning of the end for this series as it falls into Tony Hawk-type obscurity, or then again maybe not. In the meantime however, I love the series for what it is. With all the variety out there, I don’t need any one game to be everything to everyone. There’s a specific kind of itch that only Call of Duty can scratch, and honestly I’m glad it’s there.