What’s the deal with Call of Duty?

When I passed by numerous poppies on people&rsquo;s coats while entering EB Games, it occurred to me that going in to buy <em>Call of Duty: Black Ops III</em> was a strange thing to do with Remembrance Day coming up. And yet every year &mdash; every November &mdash; you can count on another entry of this first-person shooter franchise to come out, foretelling millions of players shooting at each other around the world. That potentially screwed-up idea was not lost on me, and rather than hide away from that contradiction, I&rsquo;d rather try and face it.</p>

What’s the deal with Call of Duty?

I’d admit Call of Duty as being a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. My very first experience with the series was recorded in this very column in 2012 with Call of Duty: Black Ops II. This newest version was partially a nostalgia trip for me. Running through old maps with a new look was uncanny, like a strange sense of déjà vu.

Games have a knack for revealing parts of your own self. I fancy myself a pacifist and yet I cannot deny that feeling around a first-person shooter. It’s just that… Shooting is fun. That gratification of landing a hit, or securing a kill. Racking up points towards a scorestreak. Playing with friends and rushing towards a target. It must be some primal joy, that basic appeal of hunting prey perhaps. I’d assume Call of Duty being such a massive seller may owe itself to that basic appeal.

During the latest Pan Am Games, Cirque du soleil was performing a piece in which people were playing an exaggerated version of lacrosse, with all manner of acrobatics and flame effects. The announcer mentioned that lacrosse, like many sports, is a form of mock battle. It was a way for different tribes to fight it out, without actually fighting.It actually coloured the way I looked at games depicting actual war. After all, things like paintball and laser tag exist in the real environments. Chess is just a battle in abstract. Hockey really is just a mock battle, with battle armour and fist fights.

People seem to have a desire for an outlet to express our urge for battle and competition. And it seems that any game of a competitive nature might be reducible down towards that primal urge to fight and compete. And there are benefits. The physical benefits of sports. The mental fortitude needed to become a good chess player.

For me, shooters are oddly therapeutic. Facing enemies in a game, knowing they can be behind you any second, helps me handle my own problems with anxiety, actually. That anxious feeling is actually advantageous in a shooter, where an enemy could be around every corner. And once I’m done with the game, I know full well what that feeling of anxiety is, and how to overcome it in day-to-day situations. A social conversation suddenly feels less anxious than hiding from an enemy combatant.

As an English student, I tend to be just sitting at a computer or with a book, overthinking every aspect of a given topic. Playing Call of Duty requires the opposite of that. I have to clear my mind and just concentrate on what is onscreen, where to go, and where I’m aiming. My finger dexterity has increased over time. My abilities at observation and hand-eye co-ordination increased — helpful traits to have when you’re looking around campus for ideas and typing up a storm to finish essay number 17.

I’m all too aware that this is my own personal reading. I’m sure there are plenty of gun nuts and warmongers who play this game completely straight, using it as a power fantasy. Yet, it is still simply a game. Doesn’t matter what political or philosophical views you have, all is the same in this competition: who can aim first, and shoot better? 

Do I feel guilty shooting virtual guns during a time for war memorials? A bit — it’s a strange contradiction. It’s the knowledge that war is truly awful, and yet, it is something that is a part of us. Perhaps that’s part of what a competitive game is. A way for us to confront our emotions around battle, because we must never apply them in real life. 

If war must exist, may it be as a game of no consequence, not a real battlefield with civilian casualties.