Activision are in the middle of a mass ban-wave of players who have been accused of racism, misogyny, and other distasteful behaviors. On the surface it seems that the decision to take down more than 350,000 Call of Duty accounts makes sense – let's foster a kind, inclusive, and diverse community, right? Well, yeah. The problem is that this decision comes on the back of something far more sinister...
On May 8, Call of Duty publisher Activision laid off Jeff Leach, the voice actor who played Ghost in Warzone. Their reason? Offense and [allegedly] sexist comments that Leach had been deemed to have said on Twitch. Leach apologized, but still remains out of Warzone (as of writing). His Twitlonger apology spoke volumes – the Twitter mob was angry, and without mercy.
I’m remorseful for misrepresenting my true intentions and apologize to the individuals and the business partners that I may have negatively impacted by these outbursts. This includes my incredible supporters, moderators who have worked so tirelessly to protect our little online community and the companies who extended opportunity and trust to me and whom I have let down. — Excerpt from Jeff Leach's Twitlonger Apology.
For this lack of mercy, Leach not only lost his position, but was a victim of the same kind of vitriolic harassment that he had been accused of in the first place. Now, to be clear: I am not saying that – if what is alleged is true – Jeff Leach should not be questioned on it, nor am I saying that this is a conversation that we should not be having.
What am I saying? The double standard is exhausting – practice what you preach, Activision.
Again: Activision have the right to bring up sexism, they have the right to bring up racism, they have the right to ban any individual from their platforms (if they break the terms of service, of course). The issue is more that Activision have, for the last two decades, continuously released video games which have perpetuated the exact stereotypes and toxicity that they now seem to be waging a war against. Case in point:
Since its inception, Call of Duty has been a franchise about America. A franchise about the enemies of America. A franchise about who America deems to be uncivilized, who they need to save, and who could learn from the mighty American wheel of freedom – and that's fine. In practice, though, what does it mean?
Shooting Russians is okay.
Shooting round-straw-hatted Vietnamese people is okay.
Shooting "Arabs" is okay.
Shooting German Nazi's is okay.
Here's the caveat: all this is fine! It's a video game, and more specifically, it's a video game about violence. The other thing is that not every piece of media needs to be socially conscious, nor does it need to have some kind of broader or deeper message. It can just be fun. Indiana Jones is an amazing film, despite its now outrageous depiction of Middle-Eastern people. Most Hollywood action-blockbusters make a demon out of one demographic or another – it's [sadly] just standard practice.
It has been since WW2, and it probably always will be. First the Germans and the Japanese, then the Russians, the Vietnamese, the Koreans, and now Islamic Middle-Eastern peoples like Iranians, Iraqis and Afghanis. Any art and entertainment that we consume will always be effected by the political context of the times – and seeing as most video games are developed by an American (or at least Western) company, it's not so surprising that it's this way.
The clip above exemplifies exactly what I mean – AND it's one of my favorite films. As much as I love Harrison Ford, as much as I enjoy those movies, you have to admit that their "representation" is... not great.
So What's My Point?
Activision should take a good long look at their record if they're going to start firing people, and start banning people based on this kind of thing. It's a good thing that they are cracking down on abusive players. They should be. If Leach is harassing women, as was alleged, then they should act in accordance with their internal policies.
All I am saying is that it looks a bit off for a company with such an awful track-record to now come out as preachers of inclusivity, anti-racism, anti-sexism crusaders, on a war to rid the world of fools and scoundrels. It's hypocritical, and the sign of a company whose internal public relations is far ahead of the stories that it continues to tell to players.
It would be different if the Call of Duty games that I am talking about came out ten-twenty years ago. If they had started releasing more socially conscious content in recent years, then fantastic, all the power to them. Problem is: they haven't.
I couldn't get through the Black Ops Cold War campaign. It was shocking. I am not squeamish, but as I sat there mowing down hundreds of the most cringe-worthy and uncomfortable representations of the Viet Cong that I have ever seen – I couldn't help but keep checking my calendar. I kept double-guessing myself, asking the same question again and again and again.
The question? Isn't it 2021?
You can do better, Activision, you can do better Treyarch. In fact, we can all do better...
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