Call of Duty is a silly, silly, silly franchise. In many ways it’s also funny as fuck, as well as the constant sharknado of profit-generating hype from gaming and entertainment media, adoring fan-boys and seething masses of exclusionist haters. Next title to be released, Ghosts, is already generating hype momentum through playable dog characters and mechanics enabling them to drag their bottom on the living room carpet and shit in the flower bed in a pre-order-exclusive multiplayer maps of your mum’s house.
One of the most interesting aspects of the current gaming industry and situation is the Cod vs every-other-game debate. Almost every comment section related to some gaming topic, no matter how goddamn loosely, will over time degenerate into comparing something to CoD, and why CoD and everyone who plays it is a waste of metabolic functions and perfectly usable, geometric, three-dimensional space. Some time ago frustrated Red Orchestra 2 developers made some interviews complaining about how Call of Duty was ruining the shooter genre: while testing their game on their core demographic – surprise fucking surprise – adolescent males, they received continuous complaints about their game in every aspect it differed from Call of Duty. They complained it didn’t have auto-aim like CoD (“I’m good at gaming cos I’m good at CoD, so your game’s got to be shit”), it didn’t feel like CoD and didn’t have graphics like CoD. and the only way to make it better was to make it more like CoD.
It was just one example of how the series’ embarrassingly gargantuan success has affected the gaming industry: every game studio carries out similar focus testing on their core demographics, and similar results racking up means studios wanting to parrot CoD’s visual style and gameplay, as the argument goes, in pursuit of trying to parrot their profits. Of course this just demonstrates how stupid developers and publishers are, but more of that later on.
Last few years gaming critics and gamers have been complaining how the shooter market has been homogenized to a fault, to a point where last year’s E3 presented so many identical modern military shooters, with same looking weapons, dirty gray and brown graphics and enemies, that many people got distracted and couldn’t tell anymore which fucking game they were watching. Or if they had simply lost their minds under the sensory barrage and hallucinating they were shooting mainstream publishers and developers. Naturally, the mainstream trend is always followed by an equal countering trend in direct opposition, and gamers are getting really fucking fed up with the same modern military shooters shooting the same fucking brown people and all the games looking more and more like the same fucking Call of Duty game they have been publishing with different titles over and over again.
To go back to why this is all going on, you have to go back to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Modern Warfare, was by all means, a good game. It was a seriously fucking successful game. It was refreshing and new, filled with action and well functional gameplay, directed a lot like a good action war movie: jumping directly into action between different characters in a very smooth and natural way, with decent characterisation and story. Modern Warfare was also quite decent in its implied background values, demonstrating the human suffering and tragedy of war and global inequity, as well as drawing the attention of overweight and over-privileged little shits to a world of violent conflict, instability and poverty outside the first world. It had a couple powerful scenes, such as a third-world president driven through the streets of a city under a violent, military coup, where civilians are hiding in dumpsters or gunned down by soldiers and looking through the eyes of that president when they are executed with a shot in the face. Or the marine crawling from a downed helicopter after the detonation of a nuclear device, looking at the ruined city with dust and debris flying through the air, backgrounded by a growing mushroom cloud as your vision goes dark as you are dying of rapid radiation poisoning.
During the same game you play as the British SAS, sorting out shit in the shadows, who are portrayed quite true to real life: as sociopathic, amoral thugs, who think very little of torturing an enemy commander by beating their face to a bloody mash, before executing them by shooting them in the head.
Of course, the series deteriorated very rapidly as the studio pushed out annual titles, which underneath were just watered-down version of their initial cash-cow. Of course, this did nothing to stop the franchise from making obscene profits and moving it to the center of the shooter genre and AAA-gaming, leading to mainstream shooting mimicking almost every aspect of it short of one: its success.
What CoD essentially is, is McDonalds. Fast-food. Mass produced and highly-processed shit, chemically developed to taste nice and fatty with more chemical, addictive, additives than actual meat, and just about all that a boy of 12 wants to consume. CoD, at least I think, owes its success to being tested and developed to an absolute point to satisfy one core demographic: adolescent boys. Fast paced action, dropping the player directly into the fire-fight without the burden of story, character arcs or needing to learn and master game mechanics. All that matters is reaction times. You press one trigger to raise the iron-sight aim and focus on the nearest target automatically and the other to fire. If you get hurt, you regenerate in a few seconds. You die and the game automatically loads or you respawn in record time. The gameplay is developed to an absolute fault with all the corners cut off, to induce the one single kind of good, meaty gameplay flow, that attracts boys between eight and sixteen like websites about nipple-slips and nutella. So, through good calculation, careful development and marketing Call of Duty has managed to corner one specific gaming industry demographic.
The problem arises from one simple problem, that despite decades of development in gaming demographic development, adolescent boys are still the archetypal gaming demographic. Today the percentage of female gamers is around 47%, and average gamer age is settled to about 30. Women above 18 years of age comprise about one third of all gamers. So here is the problem: adolescent boys have a voice in the gaming industry, that is way the fuck out of proportion to their number and monetary buying-power. Adolescent males are still the most desirable consumer demographic in gaming, and games are developed specifically for that one mythical core demographic, and the one fact the developers and publishers are persistently overlooking is that they don’t want to play their games. They’ve already found the one fucking game they want to play, and that’s CoD. They don’t want your character arcs, RPG elements or innovative gameplay, they already have what they want. Give them an energy drink, headset and Black Ops 2 and they’re happy as a pig in muck, calling your mum a whore and raping the fuck out of some nOObs.
So to return to the actual point, CoD isn’t ruining the gaming industy. Gaming industry is ruining the gaming industry. And while we’re here on this point, lets discuss another myth. The triple-A shooters are not the same thing as the Gaming industry. Yeah, the AAA-shooter might be the most controversial and visible genre in gaming, but it sure as fuck is not the only one, any more that 12-year-old boys are the only gaming demographic. This whole issue is only an issue because of the obsolete and inaccurate assumptions of a shitty industry. Triple-A gaming is still running after adolescent boys like Catholic clergy, despite the fact that they are only a small part of the gaming demographic, and doing everything in their power to please the little shits, despite the fact that in doing so they are not only shooting themselves in the foot, but shitting on other more lucrative markets. Women above 30 is one of the most lucrative markets in gaming today, but so far only Facebook is directly targeting them, and their time is spent starting multiple fake accounts and spamming their relatives with invites, so they can do better in Farmville.
This issue is one of the shittiest aspects of an industry that is already quite tarnished. Gaming is still defined by sexism and homophobia, which is far too obsessed with first-world, white, young, heterosexual males. All other possible demographics, including different ethnicities, women, sexual minorities and age-groups are grossly and obscenely under-represented in gaming, and it doesn’t look as things are getting much better soon.
Gamers are still very small-minded when it comes to their favorite medium, and when developers try to expand their horizons they often have to fight against the backslash, because their end-users don’t want to play as girly girls with girly vaginas, because that’s just gay. Or as a faggot, because that’s just gay too. Or a black man, cos that shit is gay too. Can you honestly, honestly, imagine a major publisher putting out a game with a trans-gender protagonist? Or what a huge shitstorm would follow? Fuck me, even making it possible for Shepard to have a gay romance in Mass Effect 3 cause a huge outburst. You were OK with a female Shepard having sex with a sexy, blue alien woman though. Grow up. Seriously.
On this point I will give credit to Bioware, who have been far ahead of the rest of the industry in gamer inclusiveness. The Dragon Age series allowed all romance options regardless of gender, and Mass Effect was nice enough to give me the option of being a middle-aged, wrinkly, black lesbian, boning Comms Officer Traynor in the shower. (On the topic of ME romance options, fans produce the weirdest fucking fan-art. I can imagine people at Bioware have had a lot of troubled sleep.)
On another point, even if CoD is currently dominating the AAA-shooters, the gaming industry is far too varied and big to be affected long-term. An industry that is capable of producing content from Antichamber to Little Big Planet, from Civilization V to Arkham City and Euro Truck Simulator 2013 to Fallout New Vegas is not easily sunk or squeezed to a single formula. Honestly, an industry that has a profitable niche for something as fucking weird as Forklift Simulator is going to be just fucking fine, no matter what kind of shit is being spewed out by one of its many, rich, varied genres.
So that’s why claiming CoD is ruining the gaming industry is fucking stupid.