UPDATE: Infinity Ward released a statement on Twitter after several outlets covered the speculation on a potential push towards controversy from publisher Activision. In a brief update, Infinity Ward assured fans that the studio was making the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare the studio believed in. You can read the official statement here.
Former Sledgehammer Games co-studio head Micheal Condrey said rebooting Call of Duty: Modern Warfare seems like a tough challenge for developer Infinity Ward, especially if publisher Activision is pushing for the game to be "more controversial" in order to get people talking. While at Sledgehammer Games, Condrey worked on Call of Duty titles such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Call of Duty: WWII.
Infinity Ward's upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, announced back in late May, has been met with some skepticism after it was revealed that the game will include a section where players take on the role of a child, stabbing and killing enemies. Critics likened the controversial content to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's "No Russian" level, where players were tasked with shooting civilians in an airport as part of a terrorist attack. Rumors began to circulate that Infinity Ward might censor the playable child section in the new game, but the studio's narrative director, Taylor Kurosaki, told fans that Modern Warfare would not be censored.
In an interview with VentureBeat, Condrey expressed concern about the game's handling of the intense subject matter. He stressed his respect for developers working to deliver on their artistic visions, but suggested that Activision could be encouraging Infinity Ward to include challenging material. He said:
"[Modern Warfare] seems like a tough challenge for any studio, especially if they are being pushed by publishing to be more controversial and 'darker' for the sake of headlines."
Still, Condrey added that he was "torn" on what the right move would be. He explained that the Call of Duty games he'd worked on in the past were either fictionalized versions of "relatable" threats (as in the case of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare's futuristic private military company antagonist) or historical depictions of conflict against tyranny (as seen in Call of Duty: WWII). Yet now, Condrey said, in the aftermath of mass shootings like those at Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, depicting modern violence has become more complicated, saying, "The creative challenges of realistic 'modern warfare' are complex. Western 'heroes' killing 'villains' in the Middle East simply isn’t good enough."
Condrey concluded that he hoped Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's developers don't intend to depict the "unspeakable atrocities" of modern conflict, and his hesitation is understandable. The idea of realistic depictions of warfare taking place in the same series where guitar riffs have played when players rank up in multiplayer is a bit concerning. That's not to say that video games about modern warfare haven't addressed the horrors of war before. 2012's 2K-published Spec Ops: The Line is widely known for turning the typical shooter fantasy on its head by forcing the player to unwittingly take part in war crimes. The Last of Us Part II's infamous second teaser trailer was a wake-up call for many video game fans, as many believed the trailer to be an example of developers using violence to make their game seem interesting. Hopefully Call of Duty: Modern Warfare isn't doing just that.