The Hollow Nihilism of ‘Call of Duty’

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But this nihilistic rage, whereas arguably well-deserved, is misdirected. A special, and maybe higher, use of it will be in coming to phrases with what it implies that we, as a nation, spent half a century ballooning our navy on the false pretense of dealing with an existential menace that by no means really existed. Instead of focusing, as Black Ops does, on the frustration of troopers armed to the tooth, solely to be torn aside, these narratives might construct an understanding that the identical forces that erected the establishments from which these troopers had been despatched out to die additionally resisted the progressive actions at house which may have made these wars pointless to start with. In her guide, Mittelstadt describes how Reagan’s slashing of civilian packages in favor of navy budgets represented “two sides of the same coin—a rejection of civilian government programs and a championing of the military as the most legitimate function of government.”


Unless, like Los Angeles in Black Ops II, it’s a catastrophic battleground meant to function a dire warning in opposition to inaction, we not often get to see our personal nation in these video games. We don’t get to come across common civilians, simply as common American civilians usually aren’t required to work together with troopers in motion. When you play Black Ops, the one components of the nation you see are shadowy authorities representatives and disembodied voices on the opposite aspect of a two-way mirror. The solely civilians you meet are the company goons who absorb authorities contracts with a view to construct you larger exosuits to die in.

And the nations which can be the backdrop of your international misadventures? Mostly forgettable, dusty legions of brown individuals to mow down in your option to decide up that beneficial piece of intel. Groups with years of historical past and wrestle, noble successes, and bitter failures are lowered to acronyms which can be virtually by no means expanded. The MPLA, UNITA, the Vietcong, quick rhetorical barks that fly previous your ears as you rush to maneuver the checkpoint ahead, to offer masking hearth in your squad, to name in air help and pay attention as their gatling weapons tear open the night time sky.

This insularity, this dialog solely inside self, has dire ideological penalties. The solely world these video games present us is one full of secrets and techniques, double-crosses, and infinite, bloody attrition. In this world, hard-edged intransigence and ideological vacancy discover simple buy. To Mason, Woods admits: “You know me, I don’t like anyone.” Within this framework, all ideologies are dangerous, all politics suspect. Within this framework, the disturbingly reactionary advertising and marketing for the upcoming Cold War installment is sensible.

In one trailer for the brand new recreation, an actual video clip of KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov performs. In the video, he describes his principle about lively measures, which categorizes all method of progressive actions as proof of Soviet subterfuge. This paranoid dismissal of liberal insurance policies within the US has lengthy been the area of ultraconservatives and racists. That this message ought to discover buy within the Black Ops franchise exhibits the polar finish consequence of what nihilism, anti-government conspiracy theories, and lack of historic understanding produce.

As with most reactionary perception buildings, the seeds of the issue, the complaints and injustices are sometimes reputable and true. These video games do current a sympathetic image of troopers who’re handled as expendable by a authorities extra involved with symbolic victories than with serving to its individuals or anybody else’s. But as a substitute of constructing or organizing based mostly on this ignoble previous, it flails, it seems to be for enemies in every single place and dismisses most concepts as propaganda. It lashes out in ache, confusion and anger, intent, apparently, on dragging us into its nightmare with it.

Special due to Vivian Chan and Reid McCarter for his or her assist in refining the central concepts of this piece.

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