Modern Warfare devs: the industry is “as afraid now as we were in the ‘No Russian’ days”

Infinity Ward explains why "we're not pulling our punches"

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will go to dark places. Early impressions of the game’s single-player campaign – including ours – have noted the game’s grim tone and close approximations of real-world violence, and that’s by design. Previous Modern Warfare games have presented uncomfortable situations to varying degrees of success, and Infinity Ward is doubling down this time around.

The most infamous example of those old attempts is the ‘No Russian’ stage in Modern Warfare 2, where players – deep undercover within a terrorist cell – were encouraged to participate in a massacre of civilians at an airport. Pundits are still debating whether the scene’s merit outweighed its shock value, and in recent years publishers like Ubisoft have stepped away from explicitly political games even while continuing to riff on real-world conflict.

“It’s Modern Warfare,” campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff tells us. “I think we as a medium, and developers in general, are afraid of touching certain topics. We are as afraid now as we were in the ‘No Russian’ days. I’ve only been here for five years, so I’ve had experience with other developers, and I think there is a tendency to feel like we can’t do things that Homeland or American Sniper does. TV and movies get to tell these relatable, realistic, relevant, and provocative stories that really touch people.”

Minkoff says “I think it’s so important for people to have entertainment products that feel like catharsis, so they get to see a hero overcome odds in a world they recognise as their own, to take power, to take action that makes the world that we all live in and fear a little better.

“For me, saying ‘screw that, screw these rules about what videogames can or can’t do, we’re going to do something new and not shy away from that, and we’re going to give players that catharsis,’ that is why I’m on this project.”

While the goal might be catharsis through entertainment, Modern Warfare is still pulling from real violence that has affected real people. “We’ve worked with people from all around the world,” Minkoff says, “consultants from different cultures and nations to ensure that we are accurately and respectfully representing these types of events. We’ve got two Middle Eastern consultants on staff who we run all of our scripts through, all of our Arabic, we’ve got dialogue coaches on set when we do motion capture.”

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Minkoff adds that “We’re not arrogant enough to think that we’re going to understand all of the nuances of how these types of events and subjects could affect people all around the world. We’re not shying away from provocative subject matter, we’re not pulling our punches, but we’re making sure that we engage as many people as possible to make sure we do things right.”