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Modern Warfare 2: Two Points of View

Original posted 11/26/09 on Blogger

A Marine discusses Modern Warfare 2, Viet Nam, Anti-War Game activists and the war game expirience.

“Fifty thousand people used to live here; now it’s a ghost town.”

With those words, the world of gaming changed forever.

For Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare began with those words. And Modern Warfare brought modern gaming to the next level.

As of 5:03AM this morning, I have just completed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Its nerve-jangling resonance still lingers in my limbs. Its haunting final scenes still play through my hind-brain, even as I type this. I wanted to be true to you all as I shared my thoughts, so I waited until I completed the main story to publish this. Yet, now it’s hard to get my thoughts in an orderly line.

Three things:

ONE: When you do something new, as CoD4: MW was new, innovation is an achievement, making gaming history and introducing new elements in a market which is increasingly jaded is still extremely difficult. However, to follow up—to a now even more jaded market—and remain innovative is a rare triumph. MW2 does not disappoint. The story is a fast paced, rock-solid ride. I think fans were bracing for a let down, I for one, remain impressed.

TWO: It’s beautiful. It does not demean video games to speak of them in a superficial manner (meaning the pixels) as they are a visual medium. This game would be engaging in still photographs alone, but each rendered blip on the screen has been choreographed to contribute to a whole which took my breath away at moments.

THREE: MW2 continues Infinity Ward’s mission to make video games which push the boundary of separation between gamer and game. They continue to evoke feelings of panic, victory, pulse-pounding action, and even feelings of numb-muscled helplessness. They employ new ways to engage the gamer into the narrative, to both feel in control and in over your head, with the same old 4 buttons.

This is just the main plot; one of three aspects. Multiplayer will have people playing this game for years, as some still play CoD4:MW two years later. Co-Op play, a new feature, will have teams playing old levels new ways. The game is truly satisfying.

But that is just my perspective. I’m 33 years old. I’ve only fired a gun on two occasions, and then no more powerful than a .22. I have never joined the military, nor would I be considered able. On November 10, 2009, which was both the day before Veteran’s Day and the release date of MW2, as I drove to work, I began to wonder how this game is received by someone who had much more military experience than I do. Someone who may have actually held some of the weapons in their hands, which now only hold the controller.

This brought me in mind of Dennis Nahill. Dennis is a retired Marine, a life-long gamer and leader of a Call of Duty Clan. I must also mention, he’s an older guy who taught me a great many things about life and leadership, in our eight years working together at my old job.

As I chewed on the idea, I realized that—gamer to gamer—I had some other First Person Shooter, war gaming questions which nagged at me. I wanted answers.

What follows are the highlights of that online discussion, focusing on some of the curiosities, concepts and controversy of Modern Warfare 2, and modern warfare gaming, from the perspective of a man who joined the Marines at the height of the Viet Nam war and gaming at its inception.

How long have you been playing video games? What was your first system?
I’ve been playing video games since “the beginning”. My first system was the Atari which I still have. I also have an Intellivision, ColecoVision, Nes, Sega Genesis, Sega 32x, Super Nes, Playstation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Playstation II, Gamecube, Xbox and Xbox360. They are all still working and I have games for all of them. I will eventually purchase a Playstation III but I refuse to buy a Wii.

You’re not a “casual gamer.” Doesn’t seem your style. When were you in the Service?
I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1969 at the height of the war in Viet Nam. Had I not enlisted, I would have been drafted so I thought that if I was going to go, I wanted the best training possible. I did basic training at Parris Island and advanced infantry training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina.

What would you consider the best video game system?
I spend most of my time these days with the 360 so I suppose you could say it’s my favorite but I think the most “important” platform was the Dreamcast. It represented the greatest evolution incrementally in gaming. It’s graphics and gameplay still hold up today, and let’s not forget it was the first platform to feature online gameplay. I spent many hours with Shenmue, Soul Calibur and NFL 2K. Oh yes, and that nasty, arrogant little fish with Leonard Nimoy’s voice in Seaman. (voice recognition? do we have that today?)

Heh. He creeped-out my room-mate. I eventually forgot to feed him and “killed” him. What types of games do you enjoy and why?
From the early days of Sonic, Mario and Crash Bandicoot, I’m kind of partial to Platformers but I love a good RPG. Of course FPS’s are the staple of my online play and reason for the Zebu Clan.

On that topic, how long has Clan Zebu been around?
Zebu began with COD4. It was my first venture into online play. Friend and co-worker Jim Hainsworth would come to my house every Thursday night for beer, whiskey and split screen Halo. The gaming was great but him driving home afterwards was not. So we decided to give online a try. It started with just he and I and a few co-workers. A few months later we had over 30 people of all ages and genders. We decided at that point we needed a name. Jim Googled “4 letter words”, which is the maximum number of characters allowed for a clan tag, and as you cam imagine, many 4 letter words were not usable so we decided on Zebu which is an African water buffalo—go figure.

It seems that the roster is still growing with MW2. How often are there “game nights?”
You can find Zebus on line every night but our “official” game nights are Thursdays (team deathmatch) and Fridays till dawn some nights (hardcore team deathmatch).

Plus, a special event held on Thanksgiving Eve. Did you see any action in Vietnam? I was home on emergency leave (my mother passed away after a long bout with cancer) when my unit shipped out to Viet Nam. I never did go to Nam but I know that over 60% of my unit was killed or wounded there. I guess you could say I was lucky but I carried the guilt for a long time. They were tough years.

It sounds like you suffered your share of scars, no matter where you served. Man, you lost a mom and a great deal of friends in the same span of time, I’m sure they were tough years. Interestingly, you now lead a “virtual unit” of soldiers in Clan Zebu, with new friends, where the death is not permanent. What do you like about the clan and being the leader?
As clan leader I sometimes set up clan matches and private matches but my main duty is that of moderator. Our clan mantra is “Good Guys, good players, no online nonsense allowed”. We try to provide a safe, non threatening environment for all to play. Especially the kids. We can’t control the racism, homophobia and sexspeak that goes on in the lobbies, but we don’t allow it within the clan.

What do you think about Modern Warfare II and how do you feel it fits in with or stacks up to the other “Call of Duty” titles?
Comparing COD4 and MW2 is difficult. They’re both outstanding gaming experiences. I think COD4 has had the biggest impact on the genre since Halo. It’s been over two years since it’s release and the online lobbies are still full. I’ll never forget the feeling I had when the nuke went off and the character actually died; never to respawn. I don’t think MW2 is necessarily better, only newer. The graphics are a bit more polished but the gameplay is pretty much the same. I think it was wise of the developers to stick with a proven formula.

Some say the campaign is too brief; the ending too abrupt. How did you see it?
Many people complained that the single player mode was too short. I disagree. The story held my interest and it was intense throughout. Personally, I believe that the main purpose for the campaign mode is to familiarize the player with the locations and weapons that will be used in multi-player.

What was more of a draw to you, as a gamer, the continuation of the story from Modern Warfare or the updated multi-player experience?
These games are made for multi-player. That’s where the money is. In a few months you’ll be buying new maps, modes, gear, etc. on line. Downloadable content anyone?

What do you recall as the first FPS type of game you enjoyed? How, from a veteran gamer’s perspective, do you feel the industry has changed or grown since then?
The first FPS I can recall playing was Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. It was a groundbreaking title for many reasons. Most notably, it was the first shooter that I know of that used the “dangling arm” mechanic and it introduced split screen multiplayer and “bots”. The original Medal of Honor for the Playstation followed soon after. It was basically James Bond in WWII but I do feel it advanced the genre. Before discussing Cod4 Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare II, I must mention the progenitor, the granddaddy of all FPS games; Halo. Shooters as we know them today all use the mechanics first introduced in Halo and Halo II. Dual stick controls, regenerating heath, online multiplayer and so on. Thank You Bungie!

How do the wartime interpretations, like Call of Duty, compare to your own military experience?
It’s not easy for me to draw a parallel between my military service and the games played today. Even though I have hands on experience with many of the weapons used in today’s games, WWII was before my time and the settings depicted in COD4 and MW2 are way after my time.

Organizations like Direct Action to Stop the War (DASW) who protested Ubisoft’s America’s Army last year say that war games encourage and glorify war and should be stopped. Do you feel that is the case?
I’m amused by organizations like DASW who claim video games glorify and romanticize war. In my opinion, video game are the only place our young people can see an accurate depiction of the realities of war. I find myself appalled sometimes at the mayhem, gore and death shown in games, but that’s what war is. That’s the message being sent to our kids through video games. War is dirty, it’s ugly and it’s dangerous!

Who are these people? Don’t they see who the real glorifiers and romanticizers are?
Let’s see… “The Few, The Proud, The Marines”…the most likely to spend the next three years of their lives getting shot at in Afghanistan! “Be All That you Can be”…dead! “You Made Him Strong, We’ll Make Him”…suffer the rest of his life from posttraumatic stress syndrome. Give me a break!

It’s a dangerous world we live in and we need good men and women in our military but they should know going in that the military is not Dress Blues and sabers. Boot camp is not summer camp. In war, people actually die. And DSAW, if you don’t believe that, play Modern Warfare II.

Huh. MW2 as a teaching tool. There has only been a handful of Vietnam games in comparison to the other games focusing on historical military conflict. Can you offer any insight into why publishers might shy away from the war, as a gamer and a Marine?
I can only think of 1 or 2 games set in Viet Nam. Neither of which were very good, and I can understand why so few developers chose that war as a setting for a game. It was an ill conceived and in many ways an unjust war. It was the first and only American war that was lost. Not because of the brave Marines and soldiers that fought there, but because of the politics back home. It was a chapter of our history best left to the history books and the memories of the people who lived through it. There was no glory to be had there.

Maybe developers identify that, too. No glory equals little selling value. Where do you see the Call of Duty titles, or FPS as a whole, headed in the future?
We went from Goldeneye to MW2 in a mere 10 years. Who can say what the future holds for video games? I suppose we’ll go as far as the technology will take us. It’ll be interesting to see what can be done with FPS’s and the upcoming Project Natal. Maybe “duck and cover” behind the couch or shooting prone from the actual prone position. I’ve seen games evolve from Pong and Yar’s Revenge to the great experiences of today. Wherever video games take us in the years ahead, I’m excited to be along for the ride.

Thanks for your unique perspective, Den. Ladies and Gents, I hope you found something interesting in our different perspectives on MW2.


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