This article originally appeared in Xbox World magazine.
Games don't get the same respect as movies, claims Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg, who'd be wise to listen to '80s action icon Bruce Willis: "If you don't respect yourself, ain't nobody gonna give a good cahoot." Which, er, might owe something to Aretha Franklin, but you take the point.
Let us explain. Late last year, Hirshberg deflected Call Of Duty's role in glorifying violence by focusing on the 'free pass' given to movies. "There's a sense that games are more exploitive in a way that The Hurt Locker isn't," says Hirshberg. "The producers didn't create The Hurt Locker as a public service; they did it to tell a story that they thought needed to be told. And, yet, that's not viewed as exploiting current events."
In short, games don't get the same respect as movies, Hirshberg argues. It's a fair observation, but the worrying part, is how he thinks games will become more accepted. Rather than try to contextualise violence, or say something more important (or indeed, anything), Hirshberg suggests games will gain respect by... selling more copies.
"I don't know if there is a way for us to accelerate that process [gaining mainstream acceptance] through content," Hirshberg says. "There's a way to accelerate it through continued success, through continued engagement and commitment to quality, by making great games that people want to play. The more people play, the more mainstream and accepted games will become."
So, let's get this straight: games shouldn't try to earn respect - but wait until they're ubiquitous and no one's left to complain? Sorry Eric, but that's where Mr Willis was ahead of the curve. Respect, as any middle class street hoodlum will tell you, isn't given, but earned.
However you slice up any of Modern Warfare 3's many, many noisy levels, its most astonishing insight is 'war is bad' or - and prepare to have the very nature of your existence questioned - 'war is confusing'. You could play the levels in any order and the plot wouldn't make a lot less sense, and an hour after finishing it, all you remember are the explosions and the Eiffel tower, as opposed to that bit with explosions in that street, or in the tunnel...
No, wait, was that MW2? Even the 'shocking' bits are legacy inclusions from the genuinely provocative Call Of Duty 4 - its devs reduced to ticking the 'controversy' box like sad industrial robots riveting imaginary doors years after the factory's closure.
Wait. Tell a lie. There's one bit of Modern Warfare 3 that we do remember. The bit at the end where you wear the heavy-duty bomb disposal suit that was made famous in... The Hurt Locker. Oh.
There's a place for dumb, noisy, games, but it's not their place to complain if they're not taken seriously. Movies are often 'excused' of their violence, as part of a wider message or context, but one recent example suggests the same could be true for games. 2K's daring, Spec Ops: The Line - with its scenes of torture and killing innocents - passed through the notoriously strict German censors uncut, who described the game as 'anti-war'. 2K's game makes players confront their role, not as soldiers, but killers, and the true impacts of their actions.
PS2's Shadow Of The Colossus is a largely plot-less game about stabbing sad giants in the head, but in a breathtaking final half hour makes a serious point about the unwavering commitment of true love - and what happens when that love dies. 2001's MGS2 predicts the rise of the internet, and its effect on pervading societal systems and personal liberties. BioShock critiques the underpinning Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand that inspired ex-US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, leading to the collapse of the free world economy.
These games at least try to say something, and if they're not being taken seriously, the bigger issue concerns how inaccessible they appear to people who might appreciate their message, but might not appreciate watching half-hour cutscenes, or lightly squeezing LT + X to hold up guards in MGS2.
COD4 broke the shooter rules, presenting a war of grey areas and intrigue. Five years on, the series is too scared to risk breaking a sales formula by daring to challenge people. It needs to prove it has something to say, rather than watch its CEO point fingers elsewhere.