The Call of Duty franchise comprises about 20 games, in either third-person or first-person shooter format. The first three games explored World War II, while the later games have skipped back and forth through history, from the Cold War, to conflicts in the Middle East, to the future. An immensely popular series, Call of Duty has sold millions of copies worldwide, and millions of people are active players online.
Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll
Violence: The violence is on par with any R-rated action movie—though parents should note that it is prolonged over several hours of gameplay. The action is centered on shooting, usually from a first-person perspective. Deaths are very bloody, and corpses are many. Players will be subjected to gunfire, explosions, and other high-intensity violence.
Scary Imagery: There are no horror themes in CoD, but some of the imagery can be disturbing. The battle experience is visceral and gets the player’s heart pounding. The situations the characters get into might be unrealistic compared to real warfare, but they are nonetheless intense. Many teenagers are probably accustomed to the level of violence in these games, but the intensity of the experience could stress anyone out.
Sexual Content: There isn’t much time for sex in CoD. In Black Ops and Black Ops II there are some scantily clad women—once in a night club and once in Fidel Castro’s bedroom.
Strong Language: All of the Call of Duty games feature strong language, though it’s nothing a teenager won’t have heard before. Parents should know that the M-rated Call of Duty games will generally feature stronger language than the T-rated ones. This applies to single-player mode. If you play online with a headset, all bets are off—other players can and will say whatever comes to mind.
Substance Use: The WWII-themed Call of Duty games do not feature drugs, alcohol, or smoking. In the Modern Warfare and Black Ops series, substance use can range from certain characters smoking cigars (in Modern Warfare), to other characters raiding a drug-smuggling operation (Black Ops II). Side characters are shown smoking a hookah as well. The main villain of Black Ops II is a drug dealer, so drug references are numerous.
Nudity and Costuming: There is the minor appearance of the aforementioned scantily clad women, as well as some shirtless men; some Viet Cong soldiers in Black Ops, for example, are shirtless.
Player Interaction: Multiplayer is one of the strongest parts of the Call of Duty franchise, but as with any multiplayer game you can be exposed to all of the verbal vitriol that comes with competitive gaming.
Story & Themes
The most recent entries into the Call of Duty franchise fall under two series: Modern Warfare and Black Ops.
The Modern Warfare series consists of three games. The first, Modern Warfare (2007), tells the story of British and American troops involved in conflicts in the Middle East and Russia. The game opens with tensions already high in Russia as two groups compete for political power, and a coup being staged by a military commander in the Middle East (the country is unnamed). What follows is a nuclear blast the kills 30,000 people—and the beginning of World War III.
Modern Warfare 2 and 3 elaborate on the consequences of the burgeoning nuclear war and the conflict between the United States and now-ultra-nationalist Russia. In MW2 (2009) a conspiracy by a Russian terrorist implicates the United States in an attack on Russian civilians, and the two countries go to war. MW3 (2011) picks up right where MW2 left off, with a Russian invasion of the United States. After peace is brokered between the two countries, the game focuses on hunting down the terrorist Makarov, who was responsible for instigating the war.
The Modern Warfare series has an intricate plot that requires the player to keep track of a host of characters and their shifting allegiances. It deals with difficult decisions and complicated concepts; for example, when is it right to sacrifice innocent lives for the greater good? This theme is revisited in several examples. In one controversial level of Modern Warfare 2 an American soldier participates in a terrorist attack on civilians—for the purpose of infiltrating the terrorist group. The soldier knows that civilians will die, but the long-term goal is considered more important than hundreds of civilian lives. Later, another protagonist sacrifices civilians’ lives to put a stop to the war between Russia and the United States. The villains of the story are equally manipulative.
In a lot of ways the complex threads of Modern Warfare are a reflection on the increasingly tense and confusing politics of the real world. The early Call of Duty games that take place during WWII reflect a cultural attitude towards that time: sentimentality for morally justified war. In reality, WWII was equally complicated, but the setting lends itself to more simplified stories of heroism and glory.
Modern Warfare reflects an ongoing cultural cynicism about war, with morally ambiguous protagonists and messy politics. The games have been criticized for going over the top in the last two installments, leaving the realm of realism and moving into sheer action movie fare—with nuclear explosions, homeland invasion, President-nappings, and more. The gameplay, however, remains solid and entertaining.
The Black Ops series is a return to the semi-historical, taking place during the Cold War. In Black Ops (2010), the player controls CIA agent Alex Mason who is captured by Russians and then escapes. He is later sent back to assassinate the Russian who imprisoned him. The story is told through flashbacks while Mason is being interrogated, allowing you to experience a variety of fascinating locations and battles. Black Ops breathed new life into the linear Call of Duty franchise.
Black Ops II (2012) continued the story, this time with the player controlling Alex Mason during the Cold War, as well as his son in the year 2025. The goal of the time-skipping is ostensibly to justify the events of the present, by explaining the events of the past. The Black Ops II story has been called needlessly complex; it is the first Call of Duty game to introduce branching paths, where the player’s choices change the ending of the game.
Call of Duty games cover a lot of disparate topics, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that the multiplayer is what keeps people coming back. Though a campaign in Call of Duty might only be 8 hours long, the dedicated fanbase populates multiplayer servers every time a new game is released.
This part of the game is bloody. As the terrorists move through the airport, citizens try to flee. The terrorists will gun them down indiscriminately, and as the group exits the airport the ground is literally carpeted in civilian bodies. The main misunderstanding about this level stems from a belief that players are rewarded for the number of civilians they kill. This is untrue; the player is ordered only to follow Makarov through the level. It is possible to get through just by following, without shooting. That said, players can gun down civilians if they so choose. This video shows an abbreviated version of the gameplay in “No Russian”:
Because of the depictions of terrorism and mass shooting, this level was made optional; the player has the option to skip it entirely. It’s unfortunate that people have chosen to focus on misconceptions about the game (that the player is required to shoot civilians) rather than on the actual controversial content and gameplay.
In the Russian version, “No Russian” was taken out of the game.
Female characters: The first playable female characters are being included in the November 5th, 2013 release of Call of Duty: Ghosts in the multiplayer version. Prior to this there were no playable female characters in the main series.
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates due to violence against Islamic soldiers depicted in the game.
- Call of Duty: World at War was briefly banned in Japan for depictions of Japanese soldiers during WWII, but the ban was lifted.
- CoD: Black Ops was banned in Cuba because part of the game has soldiers killing a body-double of Fidel Castro.
- Black Ops was also banned in Germany for propagation of violent content, and because swastikas were used in some parts of the game.
- Do you think the battles in these games are realistic?
- Does playing this game make you interested in politics?
- Why are these factions at war? Do you think going to war was right?
- When playing online, do you usually team up with the same people? Do you enjoy working together?
- Call of Duty has been compared to an interactive action movie. Do you think that’s accurate? Does being involved in the action make the games more emotional to you than an action movie?
- Have you heard of war veterans playing these games? Do you think you would still play these games if you had been in a real war?
Like any sport, gaming online can get heated. Strong language is commonplace, and sometimes players get stressed and angry at each other. Parents should know that playing Call of Duty multiplayer means their child or teen is engaging in meaningful social interaction—it’s up to you to decide if that interaction is appropriate or not.
Players must work together in teams and communicate well in order to defeat other players. It takes a lot of practice to succeed. Unfortunately, anonymity online means that if you’re not good at the game, other players might lash out. Keep this in mind if younger children want to play multiplayer. Online play should always be a fun, team-building experience. If kids are getting stressed or nervous about their online play, they should probably stick to single player.
Blops: Refers to Black Ops.
Campaign: The single-player story mode.
Camping: Campers are players that hold a single position and remain there, picking off enemies from impenetrable cover. This is looked down on because it effectively eliminates competition, giving the camper an unfair advantage.
Choob: An experienced player who acts inexperienced for fun, or to frustrate others.
Clan: A group of players who play online as a team. Usually clans have names and membership positions.
CQC: Close-quarters combat; fighting without ranged weapons.
CTF: Capture the Flag, a multiplayer mode where players infiltrate the opposing team’s base, steal a flag, and attempt to cross back to their own side.
DM: Death match, playing till the last player standing.
FFA: Stands for free-for-all. In these matches there are no teams, and everyone plays for themselves.
First blood: The first kill of a multiplayer match.
Flaming: Viciously insulting another player; can result in a flame-war where both sides hurl vitriol. Flamers are usually trolls.
GWK: Game-winning kill; the last kill of the match.
KDR: Stands for kill-death ratio. This is the difference between how many kills a player has made versus how many times they die in the match. The more kills to deaths, the better.
Killsteal: When one players kills someone that another player was trying to kill. Looked down upon because it means that one player did all the work, and another got the credit.
OP: Overpowered, referring to equipment or weapons that give players a huge advantage over others.
PK: Player kill. This refers to when you kill another player in an online match.
Ragequit: When a player gets frustrated and quits out of anger.
Scrim: Short for scrimmage, a friendly match between clans.
Scrub: An inexperienced player.
TDM: Team death match, playing until the other team is eliminated.
Turtling: Playing defensively instead of aggressively.
Vent: Refers to Ventrilo, a chatting program used with multiplayer games.