Call of Duty 4—Modern Warfare is the fourth episode of the world-acclaimed Call of Duty game series. The game series is well-known for their fine integration of the excitement of first-person shooter games with a great sense of historical authenticity. Unlike its three predecessors that set their stages at various chapters of World War II, the fourth episode of the series moves its stage to modern days with a focus on a war lead by United States and Great Britain on a fictional global terrorist network. Though the game’s setting maybe fictional, it none-the-less achieves exceptional level of realism by its faithful representation of real-life weaponries, military equipments, vehicles, realistic landscapes, visual graphics/sound effects and authentic battle tactics and enemy AIs.
Even without any statistic to back up it, I guess it would be safe to claim Call of Duty as a FPS game predominantly designed and played by male players only. Personally I’ve never met a female player that claims to be a fan of the Call of Duty series. In fact, as far as I can recall, I never actually know any female that has played the game or, now thinking about it, much of any FPS games. A clear distinction of gender genre has been drawn here: boys play war games and girls play exploration or social games, and it looks all very natural to many. This distinction of male and female game genre preference is partially explained in the article by Fullerton et al (2007). Quoting Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s argument on gender space difference, the article points out that the basic feminine impulse is to gather, to put together and to construct where as the basic male impulse is to scatter, to disseminate and to destroy.
As Fullerton et al. claimed in “A Game of One’s Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Digital Space,” most existing digital game spaces have been strongly gendered towards male constructions of space and play. This is particularly true when it comes to first-person-shooter games. Usually games of this genre are highly intensive and even physically demanding. Particular skills such as quick reflexes and strong ability to solve spatial rotation problems are highly valued, which are skill more in male’s favor due to cognitive differences between males and females (Fron et al, 2007). In this sense, Call of Duty is typical. The game renders a game space that largely reflecting the male concern of potentially “dangerous and always contested” space (Fullerton et al. 2007). As the game set its battlefield in a fictional urban environment, it is quite amazing to see how it excludes almost entire female element from the game environment. For one thing, not a single female character can be found within the game. As far as I can recall, the only appearance of a female image is on posters hanging on the wall in buildings. The only “active” female role is a voice of a female operator who can be overheard sending verbal instruction through player’s earphone in an intro scene. When thinking back of the previous Call of Duty episodes, this pattern becomes even clearer. No female figures ever appears in the Call of Duty games other than in the form of posters on the wall, etc.—not much more than just an “object” for the male gaze or fantasy. So if the game designers possess the ability to tell stories spatially or environmentally through their designs, as Jenkins (2004) claims so, what is the story being told here voluntarily or involuntarily? Maybe just another big red sign that reads “boys only”? When it comes to reinforcing the existing order of the gaming industry, COD Is no doubt a typical example that showcase a FPS game designed by a gaming industry that is predominantly male and white, who targets a male audience, who ignore what Fron et al (2007) call the rest of the “minority” players and still managed to make billions of dollars every year. As Jenkins (2004) pointed out that the “hegemonic” gaming industry has reinforce its technological, commercial and cultural investments by enforcing particular definition of games and play, individuals’ and societies’ experiences of games will continue to be portionalized and alternative products being further marginalized. Unfortunately, this might be the way the industry will be for a long way down the road.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). The Hegemony of Play. In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan. 1-10.
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space. In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia. 1-11.
Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. The Game Design Reader, 670-686.
Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.