If there's a gamer in your house, chances are that a game called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is on his Christmas list. Maybe you've even bought it for your young'n already: the game grossed $310 million dollars on its release day, November 10, and earlier this week passed the $550 million mark. But before you wrap it up and put it under the tree, do you know what you're actually buying?
Modern Warfare 2 is rated M, meaning that it's intended for gamers ages 17 and older. Now, the ESRB ratings are hardly perfect. I've played Mature-rated games that would seem fine for kids, and Teen-rated games that struck me as appropriate for adults only. In this case, the rating is exactly right. This is an intense and scary war game, with lifelike graphics and realistic depictions of industrialized weaponry.
There's also a particular mission that's been stirring up controversy, and with good cause. It's called "No Russian," and in it, the player character is undercover with a terrorist group that opens fire on innocent people at an airport. The player can choose to participate or simply watch, but he cannot stop it. The scene is disturbing and doesn't fit well with the rest of the campaign, which is all of the rah-rah, might-makes-right variety. Players can choose not to play this level right at the start, when two successive prompts ask if they'd rather skip a scene they might find upsetting. But let's be honest, what kid is going to do that?
The other thing to know is that Modern Warfare 2 is primarily an online game, meaning that gamers from all around the world can log on to battle one another. While it's not fair to tar all players by association, the small group of players who engage in racist, sexist, and homophobic rhetoric can be more offensive than anything the developers created. It is simply impossible to play in public games with any regularity and not encounter this stuff. Players have the option to mute individuals who are bothering them, but honestly it's a tough thing to do in the heat of battle.
Modern Warfare 2 has its share of virtues. It's not totally surprising that it has been such a massive success. There are probably plenty of parents who have no problem with their kids playing it, and that's okay -- it's a decision for every parent to make for their own families. Just make sure that it is your decision.