Trig­ger Happy

A Chris­tian youth leader has called COD: Ghosts ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’. Steven Poole in­ves­ti­gates the claim


An an­thro­pol­o­gist friend re­cently told me about a Lon­don youth group run by a Chris­tian faith school where the as­sem­bled teenagers liked noth­ing more than to play the new Call Of Duty. This pained the group leader, who sug­gested that the game was ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’. Ap­par­ently, it would have been fine to play FIFA, but not a bloody bul­let­fest such as COD: Ghosts.

This use of ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ is a hi­lar­i­ously mealy-mouthed sign of our times. By call­ing some­thing ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’, one avoids say­ing it is ac­tu­ally wrong or for­bid­den. Per­haps it is ac­tu­ally wrong or for­bid­den, but the speaker is pre­tend­ing to be a friend rather than an author­ity fig­ure. Or per­haps it isn’t wrong or for­bid­den at all, but the author­ity fig­ure still vaguely dis­ap­proves of it, and so de­ploys ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ as wheedling emo­tional black­mail.

In any case, the fragfest-lov­ing teenagers of the youth group were not stupid. They ar­gued that COD: Ghosts was struc­tured around themes of duty and sac­ri­fice – ba­si­cally, like Je­sus. I tip my hat to them. In­deed, they could have gone on to ar­gue that COD was there­fore much less in­ap­pro­pri­ate than FIFA, which would surely brain­wash them into adopt­ing the val­ues of wife-beat­ing, spit-roast­ing and ear-bit­ing foot­ball-celebrity cul­ture.

In a quest to find out just how ‘ap­pro­pri­ate’ COD: Ghosts was, I sprinted, swam, floated and snap-aimed my way through the whole sin­gle­player cam­paign. This is some­thing I have not both­ered to do in a shooter for years. But since Ghosts trag­i­cally aban­dons the almighty Spec Ops co-op mode, I sure wasn’t go­ing to do any­thing else with it.

The first and al­most the last thing you do in COD: Ghosts is tool up as a kind of psy­cho­pathic ri­fle-tot­ing San­dra Bul­lock for a ver­sion of the movie Grav­ity that has sim­i­larly glit­ter­ing de­struc­tion of or­bital struc­tures but also lots of bal­letic zero-G mur­der­ing of space­suited en­e­mies. I did worry mo­men­tar­ily whether it might be ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ to fire a high-pow­ered gun in­side the (pre­sum­ably thin) walls of a space sta­tion, but duty called, af­ter all. Keep­ing Chris­tian­friendly themes in mind, I also made sure to ap­pre­ci­ate the awe-in­spir­ing view of Earth.

It wasn’t long be­fore I was trundling through a city in a tank with a friendly dog’s head pok­ing out of the hatch; rap­pelling head first down the side of a sky­scraper be­fore it blew up; fly­ing a chop­per and blow­ing stuff up with it; rac­ing across the burn­ing and list­ing deck of an air­craft car­rier that was in the process of be­ing blown up; in­fil­trat­ing an oil rig to, I don’t know, blow it up or some­thing; and ac­tu­ally driv­ing a tank (a fu­ture-tank that han­dles like a go-kart) fre­net­i­cally around an air­base, try­ing (I think) to blow stuff up.

On PS4, all this was very pretty. (The higher res­o­lu­tion also makes it more sat­is­fy­ing, since the men you are shoot­ing in the face look more de­tailed at the same dis­tance.) It was also no less stupid than it had ever been. My brother in arms (ged­dit?) made no com­ment if, while we were pa­trolling alone, I let off a frag grenade three feet from his legs. The much-pub­li­cised dog, Ri­ley, is one of those bul­let­proof dogs un­til he is shot with some kind of spe­cial bul­let and you have to carry his whim­per­ing body through a fire­fight. The fi­nal scene of the game is crash­ingly cyn­i­cal. And the mis­sion failed in­dex cards – “Killing civil­ians will not be tol­er­ated!” – were all too rem­i­nis­cent of a school­teacher sug­gest­ing sor­row­fully that my be­hav­iour was ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’.

Even so, the game was tremen­dously en­ter­tain­ing. People are snob­bish about the CODs, but Ghosts is ob­vi­ously a work of im­mense artistry. To com­plain that it doesn’t teach us any­thing about the hu­man con­di­tion would be a cat­e­gory mis­take. (It would be an ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ crit­i­cism.) The game should be judged on its own terms. It wants to be a re­lent­lessly beau­ti­ful and stupidly ex­cit­ing ac­tion block­buster, so it fails only if it is ugly or bor­ing. Per­son­ally, I found the un­der­wa­ter shoot­ing sec­tions a bit te­dious (and yet look at all the work they put into the sea­weed and the fish!), and the crawl­ing-in­ter­minablythrough-grass bit frankly dull (not enough work put into grasshop­pers, earth­worms and so on). But mostly the game is quite ex­tra­or­di­nary as sheer hurtling in­ter­ac­tive spec­ta­cle.

It’s true that Ghosts doesn’t re­de­fine the shooter for next-gen con­soles, but this kind of shooter may be some­thing that most fans don’t want re­de­fined, just as they’re not in­ter­ested in chang­ing the rules of foot­ball sim­ply for the nov­elty value. And, af­ter all, very few hu­mans can live on the art­house alone. No one wants all games to be like Ghosts, but as part of a var­ied cul­tural diet, the odd Call Of Duty is hardly ‘in­ap­pro­pri­ate’ at all. And, as those canny teenagers no­ticed, it’s not even un-Chris­tian. As Je­sus once fa­mously said: “I come to bring not peace but a sword, an AK-12 with ACOG sight, and mas­sive space-based pro­jec­tile weapons.”

Ap­par­ently, it would have been fine to play FIFA, but not a bloody bul­let­fest such as COD: Ghosts

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