Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has come under fire recently for its (fictional) depiction of a real-life disaster. The game describes how Russian forces attack locals from the fictional country of Urzikstan, before American CIA agents save the day during a later conflict at the same location. The game explicitly cites “The Highway of Death” as the location for this ambush.
However, in real life, The Highway of Death is the nickname given to an actual road leading from Kuwait City toward the Iraq border. It is so named because US Marines destroyed around 2,000 Iraqi vehicles – killing countless people in the process – in one attack during the first Gulf War. While some of the vehicles were armoured, others were not, and it is claimed that some of those killed were civilians or fighters who had surrendered.
Infinity Ward has maintained Modern Warfare is a work of fiction and in no way related to real-world events, but the effective rewriting of history from a dark act by US Marines to a moment of triumph for American forces after an atrocity committed by Russians has left a sour taste in many people’s mouths. The game has, for example, been review bombed on Metacritic by those unhappy with its depiction.
Now, Infinity Ward has defended its version of events. Modern Warfare narrative director Taylor Kurosaki told GameSpot: “I think you could probably find many instances of the words ‘highway of death’ being used in a lot of cases. The reason why Urzikstan is a fictional country is because we are taking themes that we see played over and over and over again, over the last 50 years, in countries all over the world and locations all over the world, and we’re not making a simulation of one particular country or one conflict. These are themes that play out over and over again, and with a lot of the same players involved. We don’t portray any one side as good or bad.
“In our game, there are American characters who betray the trust of other characters in the story. There are Middle-Easterners who resort to tactics you wouldn’t think as above-board. There’s also characters that are from the same region that you think are more morally just. Same thing for Russian characters. We have Russian antagonists and Russian heroes in this game, and again that was our goal. This is not some kind of propaganda. This is reporting on what is happening in these conflict zones.
“These are proxy wars … and the biggest victims of these proxy wars are the local people on the ground. For people who are from a more privileged background where they don’t live in close proximity to these conflict zones, they don’t think about the cost [to] the locals in these areas, and I think that this is a thing that we’re really building awareness for.”
The game has been both a critical and commercial success, making over $600 million in its first three days on sale and earning an 8/10 in our own Call of Duty: Modern Warfare review. Since then, however, it has run into some issues, such as broken spawn points and a new mode being disabled just hours after it went live.