Pakistan bans Call of Duty for its politics. Wait, Call of Duty had a message?

Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Activision’s mega-popular atrocity of a military shooter, has joined the ranks of pork rinds, Facebook, and Osama bin Laden. It has been banned in the nation of Pakistan. According to a snippily-worded circular distributed by the APCDACTM (that’s the All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association, obviously), shopkeeps will face undisclosed but portentous “consequences” if caught selling the outlawed wares.

It is Call of Duty, so, at this point, do we really need an explanation for the ban? Still, there is reasoning behind it. The APCDACTM, based in Karachi, objects to the portrayal of Pakistan because it paints the country as a harborer of terrorists, and, furthermore, according to an unnamed security official, “these games are an effort to malign the minds of youth against Pakistan.” 

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While Black Ops may indeed be deleterious to the minds of youth, Pakistani officials are giving Bobby Kotick and co. way too much credit for having a coherent political message about their country, about counter-terrorism, about politics, or about anything really. Joe said it best in his marvelous skewering of the touchstone last fall:

The game is always “pulling the rug” out from under you, by moving back and forth in time, by moving all over the world, by having you play as the bad guy, or having you accidentally shoot someone you love, or making you protect Manuel Noriega, or having you play someone who gets killed at the end of the level. The purpose and effectiveness of these POV shifts has been endlessly debated. I think they serve quite a basic purpose, which is to disorient the thinking player out of inferring anything about Treyarch’s politics. Of course, Treyarch has no politics; their mission is to profitably entertain and so they have to create games of sufficiently ambiguous/inoffensive (confused) politics that they can continue to make profitable entertainments. 

The truth is games about war rarely have an epiphany, besides the rather grizzly revelation that we as a culture enjoy shooting virtual people a lot. This is a unique phenomena to the game industry, as movies about war nearly always have an underlying social message: The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Red Tails, Le Petit Soldat. Need I continue? I wonder if our medium will ever have a game that can be named alongside. 

There have been a few games that have tried to make a point about politics over the past year, such as Spec Ops, but they seem more concerned with criticizing our appetites for virtual violence rather than addressing an issue. Perhaps a war game with a genuine message would go a long way towards showing the rest of the world the value of the medium. We can only hope.