Modern media has it drilled into us the idea of a dichotomy between good and evil—a binary pervasive in our perception of society. Whether it be black and white, male and female, truth and lies, the idea of the binary permeates. It is through this binary, this reductionist theory of the world, that we hairless, lizard-brained simians prove capable of interpreting the space that surrounds us. This simplification of complex matter allows us to digest otherwise complicated topics, albeit digested incorrectly—something which leads to constipations of half-truths and pseudo-facts. One such topic that is plagued by this binary is the topic of war. It is always depicted in media that it is “us” vs “them”. The “them” in question is always dehumanized into monsters regardless of their stance, opinions, and beliefs. The purpose of this article is to review the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (CODMW) considering this binary being extremely blurred.
In CODMW, the player plays a soldier named Alex, unsurprisingly aligned with the American Special Forces, the CIA, and the British Special Forces. These three factions are typically portrayed as the “good guys”. You are fighting against, also unsurprisingly, Al-Qatala, a Middle Eastern extremist group, and another faction, a terroristic offshoot of the Russian Army. Al-Qatala seeks to exterminate the Russian superpower inhabiting their country, citing that their land is their own. Their methods are extreme, going so far as to terrorize their own people. The Russian Army is manufacturing chemical weapons. The dichotomy is established with the Middle Eastern terrorists harming their own citizens and committing genocide and the Russian Army violating various treaties in creating chemical weapons. But the campaign holds nothing back in its depiction of war, and blurs the lines between good and bad. You see children executed in front of their parents, you play as a child refugee forced into warfare and murder, and you see the “good guys” do some very questionable things.
A section of the game that I would like to focus on is a very controversial interrogation sequence. You play as Kyle Garrick, accompanied by Captain Price. You are interrogating an Al-Qatala General. A quote that sticks out as heavily poignant in this scene is one that is ostensibly addressed to the main character, and yet ominously feels addressed to you, the player. As the player, you have seen the General do some truly villainous deeds such as murdering children, and as the player you would want nothing more than to get back at him. Though revenge is something of a wet dream, no one sane would want to go the distance to enact it, though no one would admit it to themselves. The game asks you if you are “up for it”. Upon selecting Yes, you are ushered into the interrogation room. The quote that sticks with me is:
“You wanted the gloves off? They’re off…”
You are faced with the General, with his wife and son held hostage. And you are to threaten him by pulling the trigger on the civilians. Upon making this difficult decision, you realize the gun is empty, prompting Captain Price to put the bullets on the desk. You load the gun and resume threatening his family, going so far as to firing warning shots at them. This is not the actions of a hero, but of a veritable villain. But for the ultimate pursuit of good, can these transgressions be overlooked? Do the ends justify the means? For these, I have no answer, but I can tell you this: as a human being, playing this sequence left me sick to my stomach. I wanted revenge, but not like this. But thinking about it… how else would you get revenge of the same magnitude of what the General has done? When all is said and done, you can choose to execute the man in front of his family or let him live. You have already extracted the information, the question becomes not how you can make this man suffer, but how much you can torture his family. And for this, I chose to spare the man, because to me, him living in guilt of what he put his family through should be more torture than death.
The following cutscene involves Kyle asking Captain Price:
“Where do we draw the line?”
“We draw the line wherever you need it.”
“When you take the gloves off, you get blood on your hands.”
The CODMW Campaign is one of the most memorable campaigns I have had the displeasure of experiencing in 2020. Not because of the badass action sequences, but because it shows us that in war, there really is no country for good men.