Controversies surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Wikis


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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 cover.PNG
Cover of Modern Warfare 2 released in North America
Developer(s) Infinity Ward
Platform(s) Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release date(s) November 10, 2009[1]
Genre(s) First-person shooter, third-person shooter
Rating(s) BBFC: 18[2]
ESRB: M[3]
OFLC: MA15+[4]
PEGI: 18+[5]

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a first-person shooter video game released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows on November 10, 2009. The game received critical acclaim from professional reviewers and, in terms of revenue, was the biggest launch in history across all forms of entertainment. The game has been surrounded in controversy since its release due to its violent depiction of a terrorist attack on a Russian airport. It has also come under fire by the PC community for its lack of dedicated servers and other features present in previous Call of Duty games, and from the Xbox 360 community for disabling the "party chat" system during some multiplayer matches. The game was also released with a major glitch affecting its multiplayer, as well as an in-game easter egg that some claim is homophobic. Infinity Ward has also received criticism for producing a video that uses an anti-gay slur.


"No Russian" Mission

An optional level early in the game entitled "No Russian" has the player assume control of a deep-cover CIA agent, joining a group of Russian nationalist terrorists enacting an airport massacre. The name comes from a briefing telling the player's character not to speak any Russian throughout the scene. Although the player is not forced to kill any of the civilians themselves, they must keep pace with the terrorists as they commit this act. The player is warned prior to starting the single player campaign of the mission's "disturbing content", and can choose to skip the mission in advance, at no penalty. If the player chooses not to skip the mission in advance, they are still given the option to skip the level at any point. The player receives no penalty for skipping the level and there is no "score" calculated for killing the civilians; there are also no specific achievements or trophies earned during the mission. Additionally, players can coast through the entire inside of the airport and survive the level by not firing on any unarmed civilians or security guards. They must, however, engage in a fire fight with riot officers once reaching the plane yard outside.

A Modern Warfare 2 scriptwriter stated that the goal of the scene was to bring players as close to atrocity as they could. He wanted to make it something that would be "upsetting, disturbing, but also something people would relate to." He added that the developers had to take a step back from designing the level as the events they incorporated into the level were "coming to life", referencing the Georgian conflict. In the end, they chose to include the level, stating that it was important to let players know what it's like to be there. He noted that every playtester chose to shoot into the crowd of civilians having received no instruction to do so, calling it "human nature". Several players on IGN and Kotaku had stated doing the complete opposite when addressed with the level while having no prior knowledge of its existence.


A screenshot taken from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It details the game shown from the player character's perspective as the character shoots into a crowd of civilians in a fictional Russian airport.


This controversial mission was removed from the Russian version of the game. It was originally reported that sales of the console editions of MW2 were delayed in Russia due to an ordered recall, but Activision has called this report erroneous. Activision stated that they made the decision to remove the "No Russian" mission from the game prior to the game's release as they did with the Russian PC version which was released before the console versions. The decision to remove the mission was made after consulting with local counsel due to the fact that Russia has no formal ratings board.[6][7][8][9][10]

Japan and Germany

The Japanese version of Modern Warfare 2 was modified to give players a "game over" if they kill civilians.[11] This modification was also done in Germany.[12]

The Japanese version of Modern Warfare 2 also included a major mistranslation in which the line "Remember, No Russian" was incorrectly replaced with "Kill them; they are Russians."[13] This has created confusion with the storyline as much of the plot hinges by what occurs at the airport and the motivations behind it. Many players are opting to import a US version of the game rather than the localized version with the mistranslation.[14][15] Square Enix has mentioned that no errors from the translation will be fixed in the game due to "technological limitations",[16] pointing out the game was made for one language only.[17]

United Kingdom

The game was discussed briefly in the House of Commons after the issue was brought to the attention of MP Keith Vaz, a long time opponent of violence in video games, with fellow Labour politician Tom Watson arguing that the level was "no worse than [scenes] in many films and books" and criticising Vaz for "collaborating with the Daily Mail to create moral panic over the use of video games".[18] Modern Warfare 2 also received significant criticism from UK religious leaders on BBC One during a segment which discussed whether violent video games were dangerous to society. Fazan Mohammed of the British Muslim Forum compared the game to the works of Joseph Goebbels, commenting that while people called it merely entertainment, Goebbels himself said that his films did more to psyche the German people up for war than Hitler's speeches did and as a result, calling it entertainment was not enough justification.[19]

However, Staffordshire University game design expert Dr. Bobbie Fletcher and Future Publishing's James Binns disagreed with this, defending Modern Warfare 2 from the criticisms. Binns commented that video games should be held to the same standard as film, television, and books, that all of these medias provide something for children and something for adults. He added that instead of making video games only for children, that children should be protected from adult video games.[19]

Chief executive of the London Jewish Forum Alex Goldberg criticized the scene, stating that "Surely this puts the gamer in the position of being a terrorist", commenting that it forces the players into a scene where they are allied with terrorists killing innocent civilians. Right Reverend Stephen Lowe, retired Bishop of Hulme, stated that the BBFC should have cut the scene, stating that he finds it sick if any players enjoyed playing a terrorist killing other people. "TV agony aunt" Jennifer Trent-Hughes stated that the scene made her cry, stating that she was "sick to her stomach" and was frightened. She added that the people screaming and blood splattering on the screen was awful, and her 15 year old son had to cover his eyes.[19]

United States

The Salt Lake Tribune editor Vince Horiuchi called Modern Warfare 2 the most controversial video game of the year, citing the "No Russian" scene. He commented that the imagery and interactivity was too much for people right after the Fort Hood shooting. He found the scene to be in poor taste, comparing his stance on it to that of film critics' opinions of slasher films such as Friday the 13th, questioning whether Infinity Ward could have made it a cutscene or allowed players to be a horrified onlooker or to intervene, stating that the game does not allow players to retaliate against the terrorists and forces the players to kill riot police with a grenade launcher.[20] In a article, Chris Matyszczyk criticized the banning of Modern Warfare 2 for consoles and editing the PC version to remove the offending content. He stated that while Infinity Ward likely knew controversy would result, that the Russian government was overreacting, adding that if Salman Rushdie had written such a scenario in a book, the government would likely not ban it.[21] GamesRadar named it one of the 10 most shocking game moments of the decade, commenting that it will either result in more hard-hitting scenes in video games or stricter gaming legislation.[22]

X-Play on G4 TV has described the level's presence as an important catalyst to the overall plot of the game rather than a scene inserted for shock value.[23] In his review for Game Informer, Adam Biessener writes that while the level "makes the player a part of truly heinous acts", he also notes that the "mission draws the morality of war and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad guys cannot". Biessner concludes that it is one of the more emotional moments in the game, is "proud that our medium can address such weighty issues without resorting to adolescent black-and-white absolutes".[24] In their review, Atomic Gamer editor Steve Haske contributes a portion of the review to analyze the stage, describing it as a "good first attempt at providing some commentary of the nation's current political climate, if a botched one." He added that taking such a risk legitimizes the video game industry, but also that its execution failed to give players a motivation by introducing the characters involved in earlier missions.[25] The Escapist editor Andy Chalk called the controversy nonsense, stating that a handful of Russian terrorists shouldn't be a reflection of the entire Russian state.[26] Mercury News editor Gieson Cacho called the chapter the most controversial of the levels in Modern Warfare 2, stating that most people would become sick to their stomach after playing this sequence. However, he adds that the impact fuels the rest of the game's plot as well as making a comparison between it and the Omaha Beach scene in the film Saving Private Ryan.[27]

Australia and New Zealand

In an article by The Australian, editor Stuart Kennedy found the game to be of quality, but gave criticism to the scene. He stated that it added nothing to the plot and didn't help players progress, and that the "cynic in him" found it to be a marketing ploy. He felt that the scene was included due to not much being added from the original Modern Warfare.[28] editor Gerard Campbell stated that while he was unable to shoot the civilians, his friends were willing to do so, one of them choosing to "blast through the airport". He added that not only did it seem out of place from the plot, but it also seemed like a last-minute addon due to inferior graphics compared to other portions of the game to generate controversy.[29] Leonard Lai of the Spartan Daily stated that while he watched the scene, he could only wonder why it was included and what Infinity Ward was trying to tell people with it. He questioned whether it was necessary to have it even though it was skippable, and why it couldn't have been presented in any other way.[30]

When the scene became widespread before its release, the Australian rating board was forced to reconsider the rating of MA15+ for people 15 or older to R18 for people 18 or older, the latter rating making it illegal to sell in Australia. Jane Roberts of the Australian Classification Board called for such a raise.[30] South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson called for changes in Modern Warfare 2's rating from its current MA15+ rating to R18+, which would essentially ban it, due to the presence of the "No Russian" mission, saying the game "allows players to be virtual terrorists and gain points by massacring civilians".[31] However, this statement is incorrect; no "points" are earned for killing civilians,[31] and outside of the airport massacre sequence, shooting civilians or friendly NPCs result in the player being reprimanded and forced to restart from a previous checkpoint.


Modern Warfare 2 scriptwriter Jesse Stern stated that they received both criticism and praise for the scene, saying it was fascinating how strong the reactions were.[32]


Xbox 360 version

Many players have expressed concern about Infinity Ward's decision to remove the ability to use party chat while playing in certain multiplayer playlists. Although this decision was made to create more collaboration within teams, fans have criticized this decision due to players hearing excessive quantities of racial and homophobic slurs, vulgarities, and other inappropriate conversations while being forced into the game chat.[33][34][35] Players still have the option to use "private chat" which allows communication to one other Xbox Live subscriber.

PC version

Criticism has arisen of changes made to the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 including the lack of dedicated servers, latency issues of the listen server-only IWNET, lack of console commands, lack of support for matches larger than 18 players, and inability to vote towards kicking or banning cheating players immediately.[36] When asked about the removal of console menu commands, Infinity Ward responded with, "We would like you to play the game the way we designed and balanced it."

Defending their decision towards the lack of dedicated servers, Infinity Ward maintains that IWNET will "put you in the game that will give you the smoothest gameplay possible without you having to manually find a server with the best ping." In addition, it is stated that the utilization of Valve's anti-cheat system will eliminate the need to worry about "joining a server full of aim-bots, wallhacks, or cheaters. Or relying on the server administrator to constantly be monitoring, banning, and policing it."[37] However, Valve's anti-cheat system fails to stop a large amount of cheat programs for the game sold the day following the game's release.[38] Taking a different view, Ars Technica writer Ben Kuchera wrote, "At launch, this will be one of the most locked-down, inflexible, and gamer-unfriendly [games] ever created."[36]

Because of such decisions made by Infinity Ward, an online petition was launched immediately after the announcement of such changes to the game's multiplayer aspect, urging Infinity Ward to reconsider its stance with over 200,000 signatures.[39] When asked for a comment on the petition, Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling stated that it “definitely made a big wave, and the response will not be ignored. I’ll ensure everyone at IW sees the petitions and responds to it.”[40] The game went on to beat its predecessor's first week sales without yielding to any of the demands [41] but had dropped down to 39th place on the PC after just 3 weeks, a decline not shared by the console versions.[42] Shortly after release a screenshot was circulated on the internet showing a number of members in one of the boycott groups on Steam playing Modern Warfare 2.[43][44] Soon after its release, hackers unlocked the developer console and managed to recreate the effect of dedicated servers.[45]

Other controversies

"Don't ask, don't tell" Easter egg

After the weapons tutorial at the beginning of the game an Easter egg can be found in which a trooper asks the player if he "has ever seen a grown man naked," followed by asking if he is "still gay?" After a few laughs the trooper says he's kidding and adds "don't ask, don't tell" referring to the US military's current Don't ask, don't tell policy which allows homosexuals to serve in the military as long as they keep their sexual orientation private. Infinity Ward has been accused of being homophobic before (including the F.A.G.S. video), and pundits are not happy with what they say is anti-gay dialog. Infinity Ward has yet to make an official statement concerning the accusations.[46][47]

Javelin glitch

The javelin glitch was an exploit used by online players to cause them to explode upon death, killing anyone within 30 feet of them. In response to the excessive use of the glitch, Infinity Ward issued a statement that a required update was in the works to prevent this, and worked with Microsoft to issue suspensions over Xbox Live for anyone who has been using this exploit. Ars Technica editor Ben Kuchera criticized the suspensions, stating that Microsoft should not be banning people from the service because taking advantage of something found in the game's code is not cheating. He further stated that any permanent bans prevent the console from ever being playable online, making them "basically dead". He added that people would often sell such consoles to GameStop and online sites such as eBay and Craigslist.[48] In spite of the Xbox Live bannings, Sony stated that they would not ban anyone on the PlayStation Network for exploiting the javelin glitch.[49] Tyler Barber of GameSpy commented that Sony likely did no bannings due to the service being free and as such gave them less incentive to track down offenders. He added that he does not feel bad for anyone banned, saying that people who took advantage of exploits made games unfair.[50] According to Infinity Ward's Community Manager Robert Bowling this exploit has since been corrected as of version 1.06 released on December 11, 2009. [51]

F.A.G.S. video

A viral video was released by Modern Warfare 2, about an organization called "Fight Against Grenade Spam" or "F.A.G.S." The video depicts Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels delivering a fake public service announcement decrying the use of grenade spam, calling it "for pussies" and using other expletives throughout it.[52] This quickly created controversy, with writers such as Denis Farr saying it shows an acceptance of homophobic insults on Xbox Live. Brainy Gamer editor Michael Abbott stated that as both a father and a teacher, people need to teach to kids that this is not okay. Game Critics editor Matthew Kaplan stated that the current marketing attitude comes from the present day culture of cynicism and self-centeredness.[53] Game Informer editor Philip Kollar and freelance writer Mitchell Dyer criticized the video's language and tone as well as the acronym used. Kollar, in response to a reader saying he was overreacting, disagreed, stating that he was not doing anything to boycott the game or suggest others to do so, and was merely criticizing Infinity Ward for making a video that promotes an aspect of Xbox Live that they should be shunning. Infinity Ward employee Robert Bowling responded to this, stating that he felt it was more a social commentary joke than it was promoting the act. Dyer responded to this by saying that due to its poor execution, it appears to be promoting such "assholer-y". Ultimately, Bowling commented that while he could appreciate concerns over the video, he found the gag to be great and removed the video. Kotaku editor Owen Good agreed with one of the site's readers who stated that the controversy could have been avoided if the marketing department had called it "Fight Relentlessly Against Grenade Spam" or "F.R.A.G.S." Good denotes the video as pointlessly provocative and criticized certain readers and commentators for what he describes as attacking anyone who takes offense as being politically motivated.[52]


The game's popularity also reflected in the amount of unauthorised downloads it had from BitTorrent sites. There were 4.1 million recorded downloads for the PC version, in addition to 970,000 for the Xbox 360, making it 2009's most pirated game on both platforms.[54]


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