Remember, No Controversy

‘No Russian’ was a scene in Modern Warfare 2, near the middle, where you are sent undercover into the heart of a Russian terrorist group. In this particular scene, they ‘send a message’ to the US of A and Russia to declare war on each other, by killing hundreds of innocent civilians in a Russian airport, with you tagging along. I won’t be discussing the absolute stupidity and how only a Cold War fantasiser could come up with such dribble, today I would like to just talk about my own personal experience with said level.  Since it’s being so massively discussed and put into all of the ‘anti-videogames’ debate, I think I should give my own take on it. You know, because I’m the greatest writer on the seas of the internets.

Before Modern Warfare 2 was even released, I heard news of this level. I saw around ten seconds of video of it, and didn’t know what to think. It appeared in a Fox News debate and, as usual, three ‘experts’ (who’ve never played a videogame in their life) went up against one videogame journalist. I’ve been hunting the video on Youtube for weeks now, but I needn’t bother, just picture what sort of debate it was.

“Hurr durr videogames are violent, these scene is blasphemy, corrupting our children!”

“Modern Warfare 2 shouldn’t be in the hands of kids in the first place.”

“Hurr durr videogames are violent, these scene is blasphemy, corrupting our children!”

Anyway, to say that ‘No Russian’ was a moving scene is about as subjective as it gets. Videogames have always been subjective, art has been subjective (that’s why we made the link), everything in existence has a formed opinion – even the air you breath has probably given a two star review by someone in China and a five star review from someone in space. Since subjectivity is pretty much alive everywhere you tread, the point of ‘No Russian’ is up for massive pointless debate. I can picture hundreds of art critics grabbing their knees, shaking in a corner trying to figure out the metaphors – and then just a billion 12 year olds hopping on multiplayer afterwards.

I thought seeing the level play out on video would downgrade my impressions of the scene, and it would appear uninteresting. I went in without expectation of what I would feel, but knowing what to actually expect, so I just played through the level. Two of my online buddies did it at the same time as me (I was playing on Hardened, since I want to prove how big my penis is, scaling videogame difficulty is the perfect showmanship) so we all flocked to a chat box afterwards. To say the opinions were polarising would be like pointing out that the North Pole is to the north and the South Pole is to the South.

My experience was that it didn’t feel right. I took a bold step to shoot one civilian and it felt too cringe-worthy, so I acted out that Makarov didn’t even need me along for the trip. It also felt like the Creative Direction was a massive bitch, removing interactivity and player choice in favor of a horrible story. I tried gunning down Makarov and his crew, even taking cover to make sure they wouldn’t shoot me, and they just turn around and I fail. What sort of message is that. I can gun down the world’s most wanted terrorist at any moment, his back is practically turned towards me. I’m salivating over the fact that the FBI would be sucking by left testicle while the CIA caresses the other if I carry this out. I’ll be a national hero, I’ll stop Russia invading America, I will stop the civilians dying! I will save the universe!

Oh no but you can’t! Makarov is too powerful!

‘No Russian’ came across as quite pointless to me, it obviously put the god awful conspiracy plot in motion, but I felt as if the game had been taken away from me. I was playing a cutscene, but not one that needed to be interacted within. Sure it was kind of nice for Infinity Ward not bitching with the player, but when you put me behind a terrorist with a high-powered weapon and order me to kill the civilians (or not), I’m gonna get a bit peeved off about the whole situation.

My friends were all the complete opposite – with one of them just having to pause the game and stomach all of the terrible things he just did. He said that the game was ‘mean’, I told him that it was what Infinity Ward wanted him to feel. My other friend, the evil bastard he is, gunned down all the civilians and laughed at the scene. I asked him how he could commit such a horrible crime.

“It’s just a videogame lol.”

I get the feeling that the purpose of ‘No Russian’ is quite blurred. The way it’s set out is to try and provoke player reaction, clearly my bastard friend wasn’t moved by it, but my other friend was moved to stomach the level. I don’t think either ideology is wrong about ‘No Russian’, I don’t even think my idea (that it’s utterly pointless and only suits the plot, not the actual player interaction) is wrong either. I respect everyone’s opinions at the end of the day, and I can clearly see Infinity Ward wanted this to happen.

Quite polarising is also the debate that Infinity Ward put this in to intentionally cause controversy, to drum up even more publicity, it so casually avoided telling players to not spoil it and didn’t warn us either. If the scene had come directly from an Infinity Ward video or something, it may have had a different effect. The controversy surrounding it could either be intentional or just accidental, I have no idea if Infinity Ward wanted this to happen.

At the end of the day, it’s nice to have discussion about videogames. What they provoke, what they mean and how they can evolve. ‘No Russian’ can drum an outside media debate but I hope it drummed up a debate between gamers and friends, what they did, maybe even similar to an RPG like Mass Effect 2. Did you let the council live, did you kill Wrex, did you eat the testicles. Maybe not the last one.

As much as I hate Modern Warfare 2 – its unbalanced multiplayer, awful and short campaign and lackluster but charming Spec Ops, I’m glad it made a storm in gaming.

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