has addressed criticism over its decision to use the controversial real-world weapon white phosphorus in multiplayer mode.Multiplayer design director Geoff Smith told VG247 that Infinity Ward views multiplayer as a playground and separate to the darker themes of single-player campaign. As such, it doesn’t make comment on any real-world aspects of war.
“Our game is more about two sides, that there is no good guy or bad guy, you play on either one. We’re just creating this playground to play on,” he said. “I always felt like in the previous games that multiplayer is like the distant weapon fire that you hear a few blocks away from where the single player is.”
Because multiplayer isn’t as concerned with realism, white phosphorus won’t have the same in-game effects as real life. No specific burn animations have been created for it, for instance.
However, Smith acknowledged that the backlash to white phosphorus is louder now than previous use of controversial weaponry in Call of Duty games – like nuclear bombs – because of greater realism.
He mused, “maybe people are reacting to the photogrammetry, the more realistic visuals. Maybe if it was more cartoony would that be more acceptable?”
In real life, the US military sometimes uses white phosphorus to obscure a battlefield with opaque smoke and make it harder for enemy soldiers on the ground to fight. However, the substance ignites when it comes into contact with oxygen and burns at exceedingly high temperatures – hot enough to melt and burn through muscle and bone.
Human rights organisations have criticised white phosphorus’s real-life applications in the Iraq War, particularly as it’s unpredictable and can reignite days or weeks after it’s first deployed, seriously injuring civilians in the process
In the video game world, the controversy has arisen because a key tenant of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s story campaign is realism and morality. Infinity Ward narrative director Taylor Kurosaki recently told IGN, “Any city can become a warzone in the blink of an eye, and because of that there’s more collateral damage – civilians, airstrikes hitting their apartment complexes.”
As a result, for some the decision to use white phosphorus – which is considered a war crime if deployed in areas populated by civilians – as a fun, multiplayer killstreak reward can be seen as jarring with the darker and authentic single-player mode.
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Alysia Judge is a writer and presenter. Chat to her on Twitter @alysiajudge.