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Call of Duty Director Reflects On “No Russian”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot - 841957

Keith Arem, a director on the Call of Duty games (including both Modern Warfares and Black Ops), spoke with GamesIndustry.biz about the controversy the team has been stirring up with their profound scenes—specifically, the infamous “No Russian” sequence.

“We knew that the 'No Russian' level was going to be extremely controversial, and obviously what happened in Russia and a lot of other areas was a sign of that,” Arem stated, referring to a terrorist bombing on a Moscow airport in January that Russian media compared to the infamous scene. It was even suggested by Walid Phares, a Fox News terrorism analyst, that the game could be used as a training tool for terrorists.

Arem said that once the decision to include the level was approved, it wasn't something the team could go back on. “Unfortunately, we're pretty much committed once we make that decision because the development cycle is so far in advance of the release of the game,” he said. "Sometimes we become desensitized to the fact that this is going to be so controversial, and when it comes out we have to remind ourselves that people are seeing this for the first time and they're also taking in the complete experience for the first time as opposed to seeing it in the various stages of production."

Arem admits that the final scene was even hard for him to swallow: “The first time I played it—when the team brought the idea to me, I actually raised the point of how controversial this was going to be—and then playing through the game the first time, and actually seeing it put together, at least for me, I didn't engage any of the civilians.”

The scene did spark a lot of controversy and discussion in both the mainstream press and the games press. While many cited that the scene was gratuitous, others considered it powerful and effective. Others criticized the scene for not going far enough, forcing the player down a linear path when it would have been more interesting to present different options and outcomes.

The timing of these reflections couldn't be more appropriate, either. Another controversial game, Homefront, hits stores today. Much like Modern Warfare 2, Homefront tells a story of tragedy and war, with a similar tale of American occupation by a foreign country. While the game's premise has already caught the ire of Korea, it still remains to be seen if the game's more violent scenes will be viewed as extremely as "No Russian."

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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