Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Spirit of 'Call of Duty'

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters I decompress from my annual return to Call of Duty.

The column is an expansion on a question Jorge raised in this week's podcast: why bother having a campaign in Call of Duty: Ghosts? To be fair, the question was asked partly in response to this year's mediocre showing. A completely nonsensical story, trite characters, and a critical path that makes Autopia seem like the open road doesn't come across as a compelling argument for creating a mode most people view as an afterthought.

However, there are those weirdos out there (like myself) who think the opposite. I know I'll never get good enough to be competitive or even enjoy the multiplayer very much. The campaign is where I get my fix for new equipment, tweaked mechanics, and manufactured bombast that does an acceptable job at seeming spontaneous (as long as you don't wander from the main path). It's a big, dumb palette cleanser from the independent, emergent, and open-ended games that take up so much of my time these days.

On a larger level, I actually think the CoD singleplayer remains important to study, even if it's increasingly irrelevant to many players. It continues to be the tip of the spear for the CoD marketing machine: the games are always debuted and initially marketed as scripted stories about terrorism and patriotism. Playing them is a glimpse into the shadowy psychology behind American exceptionalism and the blockbuster video game scene (not sure which is scarier). Every once in a while, they make an interesting point (even when they don't mean to), which separates the games from competitors that are unapologetically multiplayer driven.

By the time Ghosts wrapped up, I was at that point where I remembered both why I play the CoD campaign every year and why I was happy these things only happen once a year. CoD campaigns let me be a tourists in the land triple-A games and virtual jingoism and that's something I appreciate in small doses.

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