No, Call of Duty Isn’t Funded By The Gummit

Back in April, I was scheduled to speak on a radio station located in a small town in the Midwest. Crown, the publishers of All Your Base Are Belong to Us, had arranged the interview, one of about 60 I did during that month. One of the questioners who called in asked about violence in videogames.

But that was merely a preface to what he really wanted to pose.

He queried, “Don’t you think that violence in videogames is a horrible thing?” And he went on for a minute, ending with “It’s because the government funds games like ‘Call of Duty.’ They’re responsible, too.”

I answered the first part of the man’s question with my ‘games are not too violent and when they are, they’re labeled as such’ theory. I ignored the rant about the government. About 15 minutes later, he called back and asked again. I said that, to the best of my knowledge, Call of Duty is not sponsored by the Army or by any government entity.

I’ve been writing about games for a very long time, and each time I meet with other journalists in the Critics Circle, we talk about a great variety of things. Some of it relates to our take on the news. Some of it surrounds gossip among journalists. Much of it is simple but passionate expression of our love for games.

But the government supporting a huge videogame company like Activision for Call of Duty? That has never come up. If it had happened, it would have been a topic of discussion on numerous occasions.  I daresay that it would be a great story for The New York Times or The New Yorker if it were true. But it’s not.

That’s not to say Activision doesn’t have paid consultants. Hank Kiersey is a retired Lt. Colonel who helps to make this series of games more realistic.

I mention this because the rumors popped up again, this time after I was interviewed about the best holiday games by one of my favorite shows, NPR’s Morning Edition. I wrote an accompanying piece for very literate NPR’s Monkey See blog. And there it was again – in the comments section. “Aren’t the Call of Duty games put out by the Army?” “Since this slick new military recruiting tool has just come on the market, does that mean we have a new war coming up?”

This time, I second guessed myself. I tried an internet search and, after that, I looked at as well. I still found nothing.

Some years ago, the government did fund a game called America’s Army. And that was indeed a recruiting tool. It was given out for free. One of the people who made that game is now an executive at Epic Games, the people who make the Gears of War games.

America’s Army, to my surprise, is still published and updated. It must be the vague knowledge of this free game that is part of the reason for the lingering paranoia, the panicky hand-wringing, about the military funding Call of Duty.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is not like real war. It’s a pseudo-real game that, in its single player portion, makes you feel as though you’re in an action movie. It’s certainly not for kids. But it never seems very real to me.

After all, in a real battle, when you’re shot, you die. In a real battle, what you see and do can affect you for life. In games, you live to shoot again. You might dream about a battle. You might think hard and consider strategies for winning in online multiplayer games.

But in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, one thing is certain. For the player, there will be no post-traumatic stress that spills over into his or her post-battle existence, no horrible plague of infinite nightmares that can end a marriage or make you want to end your life.

-Harold Goldberg

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