It's time you ignore sensationalist, ill-informed social commentators in the press. Many have recently asked, is a video game that places gamers in the role of a terrorist group which brutally massacres dozens of innocent people in a realistic depiction of an airport hijacking, pushing the boundaries of entertainment too far? Most of them should be ignored on grounds of professional ignorance.
Having played Activision's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 -- set to be the most successful video game in history -- we felt it was our responsibility, as dedicated gamers, as well as journalists, to calm this wave of mis-reporting.
Here's the deal. In Modern Warfare 2, there's one scene in which your character takes on the guise of a terrorist. You're actually an undercover specialist in the armed forces and your role is, ultimately, to apprehend a group of lethal terrorists. As the story leads up to the airport scene, characters in the game lay it on thick that what you're about to do is terrible, that your involvement will "cost you a piece of yourself". But it's ultimately going to result in the saving of thousands of lives and the demise of a vicious terrorist group; a necessary means to an end, in which the outcome will justify your actions time and time again.
With your four would-be comrades, you emerge from an elevator into a packed Russian airport terminal. All four men immediately open fire on civilians and kill dozens of them. Casually they stroll through the terminal building shooting men and women as they scream and run for their lives. Some cower in fear, pleading, but are ruthlessly put to death regardless.
It's the depiction in that last paragraph which you're likely to hear spat out over the airwaves, on television and in the newspapers, with a mixture of phlegm, venom and disbelief. Taken out of context, the scene appears to be a brutal, hideously offensive middle finger towards those who lost their lives in acts of real terrorism. All in the name of home entertainment.
But when you play through the game's story -- about punishing some of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet -- the violence is never glorified. The game never makes light of the reasons behind its necessity. Modern Warfare 2 lays on your shoulders the burden of dealing with a serious situation, in which you must be a part of something potentially devastating to your character's conscience -- but for the benefit of the entire world.
Never are you rewarded with points or trophies for the number of innocent lives you take. And in fact you never actually have to kill any civilians -- if you want, you can just walk beside the terrorists as they carry out their assault.
We spoke yesterday on BBC Radio 5 Live to put forward these arguments, too. It's difficult to ignore the fact that since you are allowed to skip the airport level entirely without consequence, the developers could've easily expunged the scene entirely. It's also difficult not to think, is this just in the game to spur conversation and publicity? And frankly, we can understand these arguments.
But the game is recreating the physical and emotional experience of being part of an elite front-line defensive force against terrorism, and so certain acts of perhaps extreme violence are sometimes necessary steps towards justice. And in Modern Warfare 2, the controversial scene in question didn't, to us at least, feel bolted-on for effect, but an integral part of the story.
Agreed, children should not be playing the game (hence its 18 certificate), and certainly if you have reservations about experiencing realistic violence, neither should you. But Modern Warfare 2 should be praised by gamers for its artistic merit and its handling of controversial content, not criticised by mis-informed non-gamers for its depiction of fictitious events in the name of entertainment.