The new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was only officially announced yesterday, but it's already creating controversy with the reveal that it will have a playable child soldier section at some point during its campaign. The new Call of Duty has been rumored for months to be a Modern Warfare title, and the reveal finally happened yesterday, alongside the information that it will essentially serve as a reboot for the series that allows the game to revisit iconic characters like Captain John Price.
Call of Duty is no stranger to controversial content. In the past, the "No Russian" level from 2009's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 made headlines for its realistic portrayal of an act of terrorism in an airport, complete with the need from the player to gun down civilians in a mass shooting. Since then, the franchise has wavered as to how much grim content it wanted to include in each outing, with nothing really coming close to "No Russian" in terms of multimedia impact and reception. That seems set to change with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which will feature a number of gritty, realistic portrayals of evil actions that will challenge players, both in-game and out.
The most controversial element of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is likely the inclusion of a playable child soldier section, something that's already raising the ire of the gaming community without having actually been experienced yet. It's obviously a sensitive subject for many, and with the game having received a lot of flack for the way it handled "No Russian," it makes sense that fans are understandably quite worried that Activision won't be able to handle the delicate source material again. Taylor Kurosaki, the studio narrative director at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward, stated in an interview with Variety that including the section wasn't really a choice:
"You are inherently taking on these sensitive topics today more than any other time. The battle lines are not really clearly defined...
If we only talked about western soldiers fighting in far-flung lands or on domestic counter-terrorism in their homes that would also only tell you half the story. There is a whole group of people where the battle zones are their home and their cities."
The playable child soldier section will involve stabbing enemies to death with weapons after Russian soldiers gas unarmed civilians. To his credit, Kurosaki acknowledges the complexity of the moments that have been shown so far and insists that the game treats these situations as messy and serious. That said, though, it's still troubling subject matter, the kind that might not be necessary within a game even if it's trying to tell a provocative and serious story about the realities of modern war. That, coupled with news from Vice that the game will allow players to gun down soldiers who surrender, makes for an uneasy picture for the future of Modern Warfare.
It's impossible to tell how well these scenes will be handled without actually seeing them ourselves. Maybe everyone is over-reacting. But in a franchise that is infamous for how poorly it has handled sensitive subjects before, hearing that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is doubling down on that idea is a scary one. We'll just have to wait and see, but hopefully the game continues to make headlines for the right reasons and not out of manufactured controversy.