Top selling video game sparks anxiety over violence

A new game in the hit ‘Call of Duty’ series has just been released. Critics love it. Fans are buying it in record numbers. But the brutal violence of the series has some people worried.

Nobody was at all surprised when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 smashed the record for the highest number of copies ever pre-ordered. No one will be surprised when it becomes the fastest selling game of all time. It is expected to make in the region of half a billion pounds in the coming week alone, passing the previously unbeaten £405 million record set last year. Which game set that record? Of course, it was another Call of Duty game.

The enthusiasm for these games is astonishing. Around 19 million people worldwide play a Call of Duty game at least once a month. More than six million play Call of Duty every single day. The last game in the series, CoD: Black Ops, has been played for a total of 2.6 billion hours since its release last year. That works out to around 300,000 years.

What explains the appeal? Some are drawn in by the campaign modes, which take players on a high adrenaline journey through the crisply visualised battlefields of an imagined World War III. Digital technology has advanced to the point where video games can look almost as good as blockbuster action films.

But most players are drawn in by Call of Duty‘s multiplayer – an intensely addictive, evolving contest which tests the wits and reflexes of players against others online. The quick repeated cycle of spawn, kill, death, respawn has been shown to have a compelling psychological appeal, unrivalled by almost any other form of entertainment.

This psychological intensity makes violence in video games particularly controversial. One Call of Duty game, CoD: Modern Warfare 2, caused outrage when players were required to take part in a digital massacre of civilians in a Russian airport as part of the game’s story. Modern Warfare 3 has also provoked protest by showing a young girl dying in a terrorist attack. No amount of controversy, however, will prevent the game from selling millions of copies.

Fun and games

Does violence in video games actually promote violence in real life? Experts are divided. But whatever science eventually concludes, there are many who will always think there is something sick about stepping into the digital shoes of killers. Real modern warfare is a terrible thing. Young servicemen and women and innocent civilians die painfully. Atrocities are committed. It is perverse to turn the horrors of war into material for a casual game – something played for fun.

There’s nothing casual about video games – gamers reply. Modern Warfare 3 should be considered like a blockbuster movie. Games are an artistic medium – and no subject is off-limits for art. Anyway, violence in games looks mild compared to the disgusting scenes found in some books and films.

You Decide

  1. Should video games be judged by the same rules as any other art?
  2. Why do humans seem to enjoy depictions of violence in books, films and video games? And should warfare ever be used as a basis for fun?


  1. Draw up a design document for your own video game. What would the story be? What sort of game mechanics would you use? Would violence be a feature?
  2. Research the history of another controversy about art and write a short report on what happened and why. Are there any lessons to be learnt today? What restrictions should be placed on art, if any?

Some People Say...

“Killing for fun is sick, even in a virtual world.”

What do you think?

Q & A

This isn’t the first time people have worried about violence in entertainment.
No indeed. The ancient philosopher Plato worried about young Athenians being corrupted by watching Greek tragedy even though all the violence took place offstage. In Shakespeare’s day, theatre was sometimes regarded as a threat to public morals, and one of his plays,Titus Andronicus, is rarely shown even now because of its graphic gore.
But has violence always drawn the crowds?
Yes. One of the most popular forms of Ancient Roman entertainment was gladiatorial combat – where trained slaves fought each other in arenas, often to the death. In medieval Europe, people enjoyed spectacles like bear-baiting (a bear fighting with hounds), and illegal dog-fighting still takes place today.

Word Watch

To ‘preorder’ a game is to buy it online before it has even been released or reviewed, so that you get your copy at the earliest possible moment. The record breaking number of preorders for Modern Warfare 3 is a sign of the immense reputation of the series.
Campaign modes
Single player experiences which take the player through a scripted, and often very cinematic, story.
World War III
A common theme of military fiction. Most imagined World War III scenarios set the USA and Western European powers against either an Eastern superpower like China or Russia, or some ill-defined terrorist group.
Multiplayer games are played with multiple human players, generally online. Most games have a single player and a multiplayer element.
‘Spawning’, in an online game, is appearing in the virtual world. Players disappear from the world when killed, and then ‘respawn’ after a short interval.

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