Commentary

Game Joins Movie In $1B Take -- And As Target Of Controversy

The big entertainment headlines this week are all about "Avatar" breaking records and earning over a billion dollars in box office takings, faster than any movie in history. But among techie-er pubs, "Avatar" is sharing headlines with Activison's latest mega-hit, "Modern Warfare 2," which has also taken in a billion dollars since its November release, securing its status as one of the best-selling games of all time, along with some time in the mainstream press spotlight.

 

Along with that mainstream attention is certain to come some controversy. "Modern Warfare 2" turned heads in the gaming community back in November when it was released with a level called "No Russian," wherein (spoiler alert!) the player takes the role of a CIA commando, infiltrating a Russian terrorist cell. To prove his loyalty to the cell, the player's character must take part in a terrorist attack where gunmen open fire on unarmed civilians inside a Russian airport terminal. You can watch the video at Destructoid, if you are so inclined -- but keep in mind it's graphic and disturbing.

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This sort of thing is red meat for culture war commentators who like to go after video games, and we're in the season for it -- big holiday titles tend to come out in November, and the controversies tend to follow them in January, once the mainstream press catches on to their content. The same cycle happened last year when Fox News and several other outlets published wildly inaccurate stories about "Mass Effect," another November title, regarding its mild sexual content.

"Avatar" has had some controversy associated with it as well. James Cameron openly admitted that it's in part a critique of the U.S.'s war against Iraq -- that, and its depiction of U.S. Marines as villainous has ruffled some Hawk feathers. More left-wing critiques of the film accuse it of being a racist "white messiah" story where a white guy takes over a native culture and is the only one who can save them from other white guys.

"Avatar" and "Modern Warfare," each having raked in $1 billion in consumer validation, are clearly both huge parts of the popular culture. But one thing you will never see is the criticism of "Avatar" bleeding into the suggestion that Hollywood needs more government oversight. On the flipside, if and when "No Russian" hits the mainstream press, you can count on breathless commentary about how "children" -- never mind that the average gamer is 32 years old -- can't be exposed to terrorism simulators.

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