Consumerism, jingoism pervade ‘Call of Duty: Ghosts’

Playing any Call of Duty game is a bit like drinking. On a Friday night with some friends, it’s not so bad. Do it alone on a Wednesday morning, though, and you might have a problem.

Of course, I’m an alcohol aficionado, and so like any good addict, that’s exactly what I was doing last week. Eminem blared, snack cake wrappers littered the floor. It was a grand old time – but halfway through, the haze started to clear and it dawned on me just what was really going on. Namely, that I had just spent an entire day gleefully blowing away whole legions of not-Americans, most of whom were varying degrees of not-white. There was also talk about WMDs, something or other about a Federation in South America … I don’t know. None of it made much sense, and if it weren’t so much fun, I probably would have stopped playing.

Folks, that’s the true face of evil right there. Huxley’s Devil in a smooth jacket. Around every corner and through every scene change (including one … IN SPACE!), the game tells you nothing more important than “shoot that guy, blow that up, pull a lever, press a button, die.” It’s a terrible, awful, disgusting message wrapped up in a shell of awesome explosions and adrenaline-inducing gunfights. And coupled with the simultaneous release of Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” which, when bought with “Call of Duty: Ghosts,” unlocks a bonus track on the album; well … it’s just a sad day for anyone who would like to think of video games as a serious art form.

Already I can hear the howler monkeys stirring in the digital jungle. One picks his head up from the foliage and says, “You just don’t get the deep story of brotherhood and loss, a——.” Another, in between bites of a papaya, shouts his agreement. “Right on! COD changed the world of shooter games forever. You’re just a butthurt liberal crybaby who can’t appreciate this kind of game. And Eminem’s new album is awesome!” And just for good measure, a third one swings by on a vine screaming, “Yeah, douche!”

So before any of them get a chance to say that, let me just say this: There is an astounding body of art in this game. The scenery, mechanics, engine and everything else undoubtedly took a herculean amount of work to pull off, and whatever individuals helped bring it to life are certainly artists in their own right.

But then, so was the team that made “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” So are the people that, every week, put out a new episode of “The Simpsons.” And so was whatever unholy coven that put together “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.” Just because a work contains art, does not make it good art in and of itself. “Ghosts,” unfortunately, is just one more in a long line of cookie-cutter shooter games, released every year like a Toyota Camry with a fresh coat of paint: more of the same and nothing’s much changed. Even worse, the things that aren’t being changed are the same things that, if only they were, could probably produce a genuinely solid bit of interactive storytelling: The repetitive run-gun-repeat formula of every single title. The unbridled jingoism. An insistence of the game’s story that no matter what horrors the protagonists visit upon the not-white not-Americans, they are undoubtedly The Good Guys. The, by now, incredibly predictable “twist” somewhere in the first act that propels the heroes into heroism.

It’s old; it’s disgusting; and by however many titles into this series we are now, it’s just plain dull. Even with the multiplayer, which for many (if not all) of the game’s patrons will be the main attraction, just nothing feels fresh or new. I mean, yes, alien invasion mode, way to go. But then past games had zombies. And Nazis. And Nazi-zombies. How do Aliens trump that?

Earlier this week, gaming pundit and comic site Penny Arcade deemed this release the “Abrocalypse.” Between the shameless marketing campaign with Eminem, style-over-substance approach and a feeling like this has all been done before with no one much seeming to care, it’s hard to argue with them. I know that “Ghosts” is fun. I know that as soon as I get home tonight, it’ll probably be my entertainment for the evening. But I’ll never hold any illusions that the game is good. Or that it is something that consumers and developers should admire. I’m just an addict. And like any good addict, I’ll keep dosing until my vice wastes the flesh and kills the soul.