Like it or loathe it, nothing has had as big of an impact on mainstream gaming this generation than Call of Duty. Originally a World War II-based shooter that attracted positive reviews and decent sales, the series quickly transitioned from popular shooter to million-selling juggernaut with the launch of the paradigm-shifting Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. As such, the series quickly became publisher Activision’s main money-spinner, smashing records for the highest-selling entertainment property on an almost annual basis and scooping numerous awards. Its multiplayer became one of the most played games on Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network, eclipsing even the likes of Halo and Killzone as the most popular pastime online.
Of course, as with any major franchise, Call of Duty hasn’t been without its controversies. Activision’s commercial behemoth has been home to quite a few of these over the years, and in celebration of the series’ 10th anniversary, we look at Call of Duty’s most prolific controversies.
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No Russian – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Easily the series’ biggest controversy to date, the infamous ‘No Russian’ stage sparked outcry across many major territories, including the U.K., U.S., Russia, and Japan. The issue of course pertains to the brutal and bloody mission ‘No Russian,’ an optional stage where players control undercover CIA agent Joseph Allen as he accompanies terrorist Vladimir Makarov and his men during an airport massacre. Here, the player has the option of gunning down dozens of innocents, or watching as Makarov and his goons do the dirty work themselves, leading a gruesome trail of blood and bodies.
Needless to say, the mainstream press caught on and uproar ensued.
The censors weighed in heavily, with Japan and Germany receiving modified versions of the game that resulted in a ‘Game Over’ screen should you target and kill a civilian. This was meagre compared to the outrage in the U.K. and U.S., though. Over in Blighty, the controversy found itself on prime time TV, with a segment on ‘The Alan Titchmarsh’ show dedicated to the most violent video games, where host Titchmarsh (who erroneously referred to the game as Call of Duty 2: Modern Warfare) and his sex specialist buddy proceeded to crucify a CVG journalist who admittedly did a good job a defending the issue.
The stage also got an airing in the House of Commons, with Labour’s Tom Watson arguing the level was “no worse than [scenes] in many films and books.” Meanwhile, No Russian also caused religious upheaval, with Alex Goldberg, head of the London Jewish Forum stating the game, “puts the gamer in the position of being a terrorist.” Across the pond, Modern Warfare 2 was labelled the ‘Most Controversial Video Game of the Year’ by Vince Horiuchi of The Salt Lake Tribune, who added the events depicted in the stage were too hard hitting in light of the then-recent Fort Hood shooting. Similarly, Gieson Cacho of Mercury News suggested most people would feel ‘sick to their stomach’ after playing the stage. Modern Warfare 2 was met with a hail of fresh criticism in Australia and New Zealand too, with Stuart Kennedy of The Australian arguing the stage did nothing to advance the plot or aid player progression, accusing the level as a mere marketing ploy.
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