(Photo: REUTERS/Gene Blevins)
No other video game can claim the same success as "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3."
The popular combat simulator has certainly made a splash in pop culture. Released last November, it places players in control of elite soldiers racing to prevent global catastrophe. Activision, its publisher, claimed last month that it boasted sales of $1 billion in 16 days. With so much success behind it, how should Christians feel about a game that actively encourages waging war?
The answer, experts say, lies between diving in and practicing discretion. Bob Hoose, associate editor of Focus on the Family's entertainment publication Plugged In, said he wasn't surprised "Modern Warfare 3" has become such a successful franchise. After all, he said, the game mixes explosive thrills with a well-made, interactive experience.
"This is a game that's been a huge seller," Hoose said. "It's very high action, visceral and intense. It's the kind of game that has real mass appeal. I think this game had people lined up to purchase it before commercials even appeared."
D.B. Grady, an author and former paratrooper with the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, said that he's concerned a commercial for the game will detract from the sacrifices of real servicemen. Writing for The Atlantic last month, the Afghanistan veteran said he thinks the advertisement "trivializes combat and sanitizes warfare." The clip features actors Sam Worthington and Jonah Hill battling in a firefight, only for NBA star Dwight Howard to join them later on.
"My specific complaint is with the commercial and its 'there's a soldier in all of us' tagline, which is especially disgusting when actual soldiers are on the battlefield," said Grady, who added that video games should discuss war given their place in popular culture. "Holding an Xbox controller and holding a rifle is not the same thing."
Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain, said that games like "Modern Warfare 3" are a present-day version of G.I. Joes and war games young boys often played in the past. Any medium that makes the case for defending goodness and justice, he said, should serve that purpose when possible.
"Men from a very young age are designed to enjoy conflict, protecting others and wrestling against the enemy," Klingenschmitt said. "I think that's by God's design, since He created men for a spiritual battle against the devil and against evil. Video games are an extension of that innate calling, and may help practically teach young men who want to join our military and defend freedom."
Hoose said "Modern Warfare 3" was a mixed bag of positive and negative influences. For starters, he said, it's a good game for improving teamwork, practicing heroism and improving coordination and concentration. Conversely, he added, it's also bloody, violent and occasionally profane.
"I don't think there's a definitive study out there that if you pick up 'Modern Warfare 3' you'll end up with a gun on the street," Hoose said. "But what parents should be concerned about, especially with their young children, is that it can elevate aggression in kids who play these kinds of games on a regular basis."
Erika Szabo, a blogger for the Canadian consumer electronics retailer Future Shop, said it's important remembering the value of storytelling in video gaming. Players' actions have consequences, she said, and they also interact with others, teaching them cooperation and building friendships. Though a game like "Modern Warfare 3" is violent, she said, it's also fictional.
"There's a stigma that violence in entertainment makes for more violent people, which is plain ludicrous," Szabo said. "While it's true that violent video games – or any form of entertainment – are bad for some people because they are emotionally unstable or unwell, the majority of people can separate entertainment with reality."
Hoose, an avid gamer himself, said Christians can best approach the genre on a case-by-case basis. Different games appeal to different people, he said, and part of the fun for players is pursuing their own path.
"We as Christians need to strive at keeping ourselves from being immersed in violent, foul environments," he said. "People need to be aware that this may not always be the healthiest choice for them but it's their choice."