"Who says a game has to be fun?" Kurosaki said. Separate from the prepared presentation, we were discussing the balance between building a realistic, visceral narrative, and a fun game that can last years in singleplayer, multiplayer and beyond. Call of Duty is known for its competitive multiplayer modes; it's a foundational title in modern-day FPS esports. The most recent game in the series, Black Ops 4, didn't have a single-player campaign at all.
Modern Warfare is partially a response to that game, and fans' ultimate demand for a cohesive narrative experience on top of endlessly replayable competitive modes.
"I think our game is fun," Kurosaki continued. "But you don't say the same thing about going to a movie. Like, 'How do you make this movie fun?'"
Well, no. I wouldn't try this thought experiment on a war movie. However, I would bring it up with the writer of Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3, if that film were about the horrific, real-world bombing of a shopping center.
"Who says a game has to be fun?"
Call of Duty has built a 16-year, genre-defining, billion-dollar reputation on providing multiplayer games that value entertainment first, and story second. As a competitive, AAA FPS, it's designed to be playable for years. These games come with highly publicized multiplayer modes, ever-expanding maps, and the expectation of future, endlessly streamable content built-in.
There's a reason the Modern Warfare townhouse demo felt so reminiscent of Rainbow Six: Siege, a prominent esports success story. Modern Warfare will support cross-play between PC and console, and it won't have a Season Pass system, meaning Infinity Ward will be able to roll out more free maps, content and post-launch events than ever before.
And then, there are the singleplayer campaigns. Historically, Call of Duty narrative arcs have perpetuated harmful stereotypes about Arabs in particular -- notably in the original Modern Warfare, which is arguably the series' most-beloved campaign. Acclaimed indie developer Rami Ismail described the franchise in 2016 as, "That's Call of Duty, over and over. Shoot all the Arabs. Muslim blood is the cheapest in the world."
Modern Warfare's claim of the narrative and moral high ground represents a drastic shift away from this history. It's also completely sincere. Developers are focusing on realism because they want to tell a story that matters and leave the old tropes behind, Kurosaki said. It's meant to connect with players in a fresh way and push the series forward. Realistic military maneuvers, weapons and audio. Realistic heroes, bystanders and corpses. Realistic enemies -- but still Russian and Arab ones invading foreign soil. (In reality, at least in the United States, domestic terrorists are more common than international plotters, with white supremacists leading the charge).
"Rather than be sort of paralyzed, you know, glued to your computer screen watching the news or reading these awful stories, the players of our game get to grab the controller and suit up with Price and actually make a difference in the world," Kurosaki said. "Actually make some meaningful change in this world."
Of course, images on the nightly news of children buried in rubble aren't just stories -- this is our current global reality, now woven into the fabric of a blockbuster video game. That's what lends the campaign its power, and also what makes it uncomfortable, as a Call of Duty title.