You are the Monster, the "No Russian" controversy of 2009

by Error on April 20, 2017 - 11:51pm

           At the time of its release in 2009, Infinity Ward’s new Call of Duty game, “Modern Warfare 2”, was critically acclaimed and viewed as one of the best video games to have ever been released in its genre. The game was praised for its entertaining multiplayer and its story driven campaign[1], but it was faced with massive controversy at launch. Why? Because of the questionable mission[2] called “No Russian”, in which the player takes part in a terrorist attack and guns down hundreds of civilians in an airport (No Russian). The mission was condemned as needlessly violent and brutal. The issue gave rise to the question of the ethicality of such a game, was it morally virtuous to play, let alone create, content of such interactive brutality. Although the mission can be hard to play, the truth is that there is more virtue to it then there is vice. The chapter displays creativity on the part of the designers, exposes vice in order to point out virtue, and was never meant to be taken as an example as how to act.

            Call of Duty : Modern Warfare 2 was the sixth instalment into the Call of Duty series, and as such had a great deal to live up to, yet also was under a crunch to innovate. Generally, the innovation was present within game mechanics and graphical fidelity, but there was also a new level of depth to be found in the game’s narrative, mostly through in depth character development. The mass murder that is found in the “No Russian” serves a very clear narrative purpose: to explain Russia’s invasion of the US. The story’s authors didn’t want to create a game where Russia invades for no reason, and they found a way to make it believable, never going down the easy “Russians are evil” route. This not only demonstrates the virtues of creativity and artistry present in the game’s developers, but also adds emotional depth to the story and prevents the player form othering the Russian soldiers throughout the rest of the game. If anything, the scene leads to empathy and critical thinking on the part of the player, when they must confront whether they are really working for the “good guys”, thereby spreading virtue. The proliferation and spreading of virtues is most definitely a virtue in it of its self. The fact that the creators of the game were virtuous in their intentions and actions is rather clear.

            The Modern Warfare 2 mission in question was never meant to act as an example for the player, and wasn’t mistaken for one. The goal of the scene was to further the narrative, and to create a plausible environment for world war 3 to take place in. The argument that the game does not succeed at being an example of virtuous behaviour, and by instead acts to spread vice is incorrect. The acts that take place in “No Russian” are rapidly condemned and is clearly displayed as a tragedy, thereby sending a clear message to the player that the events that took place in the mission where horrible. An emphasis was placed on the fact that what was happening was evil, and not to be looked up to. The whole scene was meant to convey a feeling of horror while highlighting the incompetence of the people you are working for. This is further made a nonissue by the fact that violence in video games has been shown not to have an impact on the aggression amongst the player base, as this would have shown up in general population statistics, which it does not (Ferguson). Such an impact is not even observed in children (Schie). Many felt that it would have been better to not have the player take part in the killing (Horiuchi), but that’s the whole point of a video game, and it would not have triggered the same emotional impact of guilt and empathy within the player. The mission was never meant to be an example of virtue, and was never mistaken for one by the gamers playing it.

            The “No Russian” mission, no matter how horrible in content, promotes virtue. The chapter clearly states how horrible its contents are, thereby condemning vice. The fact that the opening mission sets up a feeling of empathy, pity and understanding for the game’s main enemy is an act of spreading virtue. The player is forced to confront the fact that he is quite possibly on the wrong side of the war that is being fought throughout the game and make an emotional connection (Totilo). It makes it so that the Russian soldiers that die throughout the rest of the game are able to be seen as no more evil than the civilians that die in the airport, they are only further casualties of the incompetence that is to be found on the player side. The entire scene humanizes the enemy, and prevents their othering in a game that is otherwise wholly unsympathetic to the enemy. It is most definitely virtuous to promote empathy and understanding in the player, whilst condemning the vice that is portrayed in the mission.

            The whole scene may seem to be as far from virtue as it is possible to get, but the truth is that it demonstrates incredible virtue, if you are willing to take a moment to think about it. The airport scene may be horrifying, but it displays creativity, promotes critical thinking, empathy and compassion all while making it clear that the actions taken within it were far from virtuous. The mission may be brutal. But it served a role, a role that if left unfilled would have made the game far less virtuous, but maybe a little easier to look at. It would have been far easier to simply leave the Russians as inherently evil, but it would also have been far worse, ethically. It is imperative that we realise the virtue of “No Russian”, for we must be able recognise that virtue can be found in ugly places, lest we stamp it out.

[1] The single-player portion of a video game

[2] A “mission” in a video game context usually (but not always) refers to a chapter in the game’s story, is also sometimes call “chapter”.


Works cited:

Ferguson, Christopher J. "Does Media Violence Predict Societal." Journal of Communication (n.d.).

Horiuchi, Vince. "Oh My Tech: 'Call of Duty' has troubling scene." The Salt Lake Tribune 16 november 2009.

"No Russian." Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward, 10 november 2009.

Schie, Emil G. M. van. "Children and Videogames: Leisure Activities, Aggression, Social Integration, and School Performance1." journal of applied social psychology (1997).

Totilo, Stephen. "The Designer of Call of Duty's 'No Russian' Massacre Wanted You to Feel Something." Kotaku 2012.