This is definitely not the paper I was planning to write when I started it. That paper would have drawn on a variety of video games, reaching across genres and including producers from the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan, and would have contemplated how they all approached some of the darkest material human history has to offer. I’m still interested in writing that paper at some point, but I’m glad I focused in on the Call of Duty franchise.
What I found was that Call of Duty has a history of undermining many of the themes video games in general and first person shooters in particular have often been accused of thoughtlessly propagating. Starting from the earliest games of the series, it has been made clear that the one man army player avatars which are common in other games are simply not a worthwhile way of engaging with military history, and the idea that America single handedly won the war, present and uncriticised in a great deal of media holds no water. Interestingly, these changes from what had been the norm in video games up to that point not only resulted in a more accurate reflection of history, but seem to widely be credited with making the game more popular.
Later games in the franchise would move to directly criticizing the aggressively interventionist foreign policies which America has implemented throughout both the Cold War and the War on Terror. The most striking example of this is the second Modern Warfare game, in which the main villain is an American general seeking to further militarize American society. Given that the game ends with the player killing him, I’m quite surprised in retrospect that the game did not attract more criticism. In fact, were it not for the Call of Duty’s central place in gaming culture, it seems unbelievable that games with plots like theirs could be made without attracting no end of attacks from those who support such policies.