How I tried - and failed - to play MW2's airport level with my ethics intact

When your life is at stake, all bets are... brrrp, brrrp.... off

Ok, hands-up, I was wrong. Well, not wrong, but generous in assigning a greater contextual, and subversively moral, value to the infamous Airport scene in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in the recent PSM3 podcast. This, however, I have learnt...

Listen to PSM3's 'tense' MW2's airport scene debate here


1) It serves a narrative, though not moral, role.

Playing an active, or passive but implicit, role in the murder of 500 civilians doesn't really teach you a lot about anything other than what you already knew - it isn't very pleasant; at times inhuman. It does, however - thanks to an unexpected final twist - serve to kick start the game's narrative, while dehumanising terrorist Makarov; vaguely justifying its existence outside of mere shock value. That said, Makarov's such a moral blank, and so poorly defined, that's it hard to care about pursuing him - well, aside from 'avenging' the obvious atrocity he's committed.

2) Even in a virtual realm, you've always got a choice

The first time I played the level, and Makarov's men opened fire on the innocent crowds, my gut reaction was quite simple: shoot Makarov in the head and to hell with the mission. You can do this, of course, and it's quite nice seeing Makarov flail and squirt blood (it's OK, since he's *bad*), but the narrative won't let you carry on. i.e. Doing the 'right' thing is an instant fail. It's nice that Infinity Ward at least let you try, though.

3) I didn't shoot one civilian. Until...

On the 'bright' side, you can walk along with Makarov's men and just pretend to be taking part; waving your gun around and trying to blank the scene out. In fact, our impeccable morals upheld right until the point when the police arrive and, suddenly, your virtual life is under threat. While we didn't actively try to shoot civilians, we were a lot less fussy about them being caught 'accidentally' in cross fire when our own life is at stake. This is about as interesting a moral statement, if any, that the scene makes: morals are all well and good until it's your ass on the line. The Saw movies probably explored this better. Earlier.

4) You'll plea bargain with your own mind to justify the unjustifiable

After a few hundred had already died, we found ourselves pursuing a screaming lady who'd miraculously evaded the gunfire and - like you might when betting on a horse - urged her to escape to safety; as if somehow, everything would be OK as long as she survived. It might just be luck, but on our play through, she escaped to safety, and we covertly trailed her path. It's like the bit in any schmaltzy disaster movie where, say, 10,000 people die after being blasted by an alien laser, but the audience only gets upset when a poor lickle doggy woggy limps alongside an escaping truck as certain death chases it from behind. (Independence Day springs to mind). Again, if intentional, it's credit to Infinity Ward. Of sorts.

5) Curiosity killed... well, not the cat, but an injured man

OK, we didn't kill anyone in cold blood. Apart from the accidental ones. *Sorry*. But we did, er, 'help' one terminally injured man who WAS CLEARLY GOING TO DIE ANYWAY by firing a few rounds into his face. Just to see what happens. We mean, er, make his passage to the afterlife more merciful.

We felt guilty after, if that helps.

6) It's a game

And therefore any debate, however intellectual or heated, is moot. NO ONE ACTUALLY DIES. That's what we like about games. If you want to be genuinely outraged, watch the news. Or read some books about what you *can't* see on the news.

It almost feels like old hat to be still discussing it - the internet's perpetual sweep is cruel/kind like that - but we'd love to hear what you made of the scene in the comments below. Is is pure shock value? Or does it serve a higher purpose? How did you play the level? Anyone ready to 'fess up to pinging 500 poor souls while laughing?

Have a great night,