Call of Duty: Modern Warfare says Black Lives Matter.
What happened? — In an update that went live Friday, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare developers Infinity Ward shared a message of solidarity for Black Lives Matter via in-game menus for its blockbuster 2019 game. Infinity Ward also promised to monitor and identify racist content, such as "hate-oriented names," and add in-game functionality "to make it easier to report offenses."
"Our community is hurting," Infinity Ward wrote in its message, which loads as soon as players enter the multiplayer menu. "The systemic inequalities our community experiences are once again center stage. Call of Duty and Infinity Ward stand for equality and inclusion. We stand against the racism and injustice our Black community endures. Until change happens and Black Lives Matter, we will never truly be the community we strive to be."
Once players get past the message and enter the lobby, a blacked-out sign reading "Black Lives Matter" sits in the corner of the lobby screen. This space is normally reserved for players to revisit/reopen the game's "Message of the Day," which usually promotes new in-game content bundles and new multiplayer playlists.
Why Call of Duty's message matters — Friday's message isn't the first time Infinity Ward or publisher Activision-Blizzard expressed solidarity for the protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police. The company first released a message on May 31 across its various social media channels. The next day, Infinity Ward delayed the new seasons of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty Mobile.
"Right now it's time for those speaking up for equality, justice, and change to be seen and heard," Infinity Ward wrote.
The latest Modern Warfare update marks a step beyond expressing solidarity. Putting its messages in-game makes it impossible for Call of Duty's massive player base to ignore. Predictably, some players are skeptical at Infinity Ward's sincerity. On Reddit, players are expressing varying levels of annoyance over seeing "politics" in a video game.
"I don't want politics in a fucking game I paid for this is ridiculous," one Reddit user wrote.
"It’s fucking stupid. Keep politics out of gaming," another wrote.
Another wrote, "I support the cause, but I’m not a fan of message being shoved down our throats."
"A lot of us play video games as a method of escapism from the stress of the protests. I really don’t need this shoved in my face constantly," another Reddit user said.
Never mind that the game in question is a hyper-realistic military shooter that's sometimes hard to separate from U.S. military propaganda, and includes a bungled story narrative about chemical warfare deployed in a Middle Eastern proxy war. There's totally no room for politics in that game.
Other Reddit users point out the "irony" and "hypocrisy" of Activision-Blizzard, which last year censored and punished pro-Hong Kong messaging by professional players of Hearthstone and Overwatch. As skeptics of Infinity Ward's messaging argue, Activision-Blizzard never delayed content or expressed similar messaging for Hong Kong, which continues to seek autonomy from China. Tencent, one of the largest gaming investors in the world and based in China, owns five percent of Activision-Blizzard.
The Inverse Analysis — Gamers are right to be frustrated and skeptical about Activision-Blizzard's inconsistent stance on human rights. That said, Infinity Ward's messaging for Black Lives Matter is on the right side of history, and goes a step further than many other game companies have in recent days. Infinity Ward's pledge to more closely monitor its community for hate speech — something online games are notorious for, especially Call of Duty — is also worthy of praise.
There have been no public plans for donations to Black Lives Matter or other organizations by any of the associated parties, so it's yet to be seen how deep Activision-Blizzard and Infinity Ward's commitment to the cause will go.