It’s 5:15 p.m. the day Activision flew me and about four or five dozen journalists and other game-industry folks out to San Francisco to check out Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer. We’re temporarily lined up outside the building like we’re waiting for concert tickets. It’s like clockwork: Whenever unknown lines happen in big cities, folks from all walks of life spontaneously wander by to ask what we’re waiting for. Eventually, two very well-to-do ladies in very loud clothing and louder voices come by. The following then transpires:
Woman 1: What’s this line for?
Journalist: We’re previewing the new Call of Duty?
Woman 2: The new what?
Journalist : You know, the video game?
Woman: 1: Oh, it’s video games! How adorable!
This sticks with me when we’re finally let in to the event and we’re surrounded on all sides by gunfire and ominous, industrial bass drops. Draped in its new next-gen engine, Advanced Warfare now has all the gloss and sheen and bombast of anything Michael Bay spits out on a yearly basis, but the single-player has always been missing Bay’s sense of assholish mirth, with any latent morality stemming from the player’s actions buried beneath the sheer jingoist glee. The franchise has never let real-world implications get in the way of good headshots and bigger explosions, and arguably they shouldn’t, and yet there’s also been a constant desensitization with each installment to the mayhem, and divorced of any deeper context, the incentives to fight the good fight in multiplayer veer dangerously closer to the worst kind of flag-waving hysteria. Kids used to play Cowboys and Indians, or Cops and Robbers. Now it’s us, in all its various forms, versus terrorists, who pretty much only have “brown” in common.