Controversy in the video game world — or real life, who knows anymore — swirled July 29 when mega-popular franchise Call of Duty released new details about killstreak rewards in the franchise’s upcoming soft reboot of the immensely popular “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.”
A drivable infantry assault vehicle and the Juggernaut assault suit comprised two of the unveiled rewards players can expect on the multiplayer battlefield, but the final reveal raised some eyebrows.
“Cover the battlefield with white smoke flare canisters that will disorient the enemy, and burn any that wander too close," the franchise tweeted about its killstreak addition of white phosphorus, a munition prohibited under international humanitarian law if used to “cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering” to people.
Unpleasant reactions to the game’s use of ol’ Willie Pete came swiftly, with popular gaming site VG247 calling the chemical’s inclusion in “incredibly poor taste.”
One could make the case that if this is in poor taste, should the actual process of unlocking this inhumane reward — a “killstreak" as it is affectionately known — not also warrant condemnation?
The primary concern, some critics say, is that due to the franchise’s push for realism, the game’s animation experts would potentially include lifelike visuals of white phosphorus wounds on an avatar.
To be clear, 9-year-old, headset-wearing Timmy can deftly maneuver his avatar behind another unsuspecting player before stabbing him in the chest, but heavens to Betsy the masses will not stand idly by as computerized white phosphorus rains down on the computerized muscle tissue of those poor, unsuspecting computerized service members.
They’ve got avatar families waiting for them back home, after all, and no avatar family should be forced to welcome home an avatar soldier who sustained computerized burns from computerized white phosphorus.
It’s a curious place to finally draw the line in the sand given the franchise’s history of violent content.
Responding to criticism of incorporating the in-game white phosphorus that, according to scientists at Yale, has none of the same catastrophic effects as actual white phosphorus, multiplayer design director Geoff Smith told VG247 that the weapon is only featured in the game’s multiplayer platform, which serves as more of a “playground” in which “there is no good guy or bad guy, you just play on either” side.
This mode is in contrast to the more menacing single player variant, a made-up world where gamers can genuinely get hurt ... feelings, and where complacency kills — until re-spawning at the previous checkpoint.
"Maybe if it was more cartoony ... would that be more acceptable?” Smith posed.
Smith then noted that previous Call of Duty games featured nuclear bombs yet received less criticism.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare,” for PC, PS4, and Xbox One, hits shelves October 25. Watch the trailer below, but try not to get hurt.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.