Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fun in America: "Modern Warfare 2"

We've got modern warfare going on all over the place, but we still can't get enough of it. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has now made $550 million in about five days. That's a record not just for video games, but for anything ever offered by the entertainment industry. Suck this, Harry Potter. Last I checked, Half-Blood Prince, the biggest cash-machine in the world, had barely exceeded half that.

No, I'm not going to bemoan this American fascination with killing virtual people and blowing up virtual things. Or, in the case of Grand Theft Auto franchise, beating up virtual hookers. Fact is, violence is pretty fun when you factor out all the real-world misery, death and permanent disability. But when a video game devoted exclusively to military mayhem so completely eclipses any movie, book or long-running TV series, I suppose you have to ponder what it means.

Unfortunately, I have no idea. For me, the bigger mystery with games like this is why I suck so completely at playing them. There's an episode in The Office where Jim has his avatar stuck in a corner, trying to deploy a smoke grenade. Karen's avatar strolls up, waits until he turns around, and shoots him in the head. It's one of the very few ways I'm like Jim Halpert: not so adept on the virtual battlefield.

I do wonder if Call of Duty buffs don't occasionally speculate how they'd do in, um, the real thing.  You know: real guns, real carnage, real friends really dead. Really crapping your pants when it all becomes a bit overwhelming. Probably not. Video games have been around about 30 years now; most people are keenly aware of the vast distance inserted between reality and the monitor.

Maybe the popularity of Modern Warfare 2 isn't a great reflection of who we are as a society, but it does highlight a nice reality we tend to take for granted: As a population, we have no experience in war. None. Closest we came was Sept. 11, 2001, and like a video game the vast majority of us experienced it entirely through the small screen. We don't know much about war, and so we tend to view it as an athletic contest in which even couch potatoes might excel. 

Thanksgiving approaches, and we can enjoy all the combat we want in the comfort of our homes, without the mess or the mortality. Now that's something to be thankful for.

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