“A Modern Miracle” was a top headline in the Financial Times yesterday. Your mind may be wandering to thoughts of a soldier coming home to his family, a lost child being found unharmed, a life saving surgery or other such heart-warming human stories. However, the article was referring to a violent video game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3," which has recently shattered video and movie game records. It is a "Modern (sales) Miracle." It was reported by Activision Blizzard Inc., the games distributor, that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 rang up $1 billion in sales just 16 days after it launched in stores Nov. 8. 2011. (NY Times 2011).
Activision, in a statement released Monday morning, placed Call of Duty in the same pantheon of other mega-entertainment franchises such as "Star Wars," "Harry Potter" and the "National Football League" (LA Times, Dec. 13, 2011). Unlike those ones this came is rated M for Mature and is about killing people. The Entertainment Software Rating Board defines M rating as, “Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”
While the Call of Duty website requires visitors to enter their birthday (17 years and older are allowed to enter the site) it is hardly a practical form of parental control over such a violent site. Most recently, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has recruited popular actors like Sam Worthington (from Avatar), Jonah Hill (from Moneyball and Superbad) and Dwight Howard (NBA basketball star for the Orlando Magic), to star in a live-action trailer for the video game. In the Minute and a half long trailer guns and weapons of all types are constant reminders of the violent and crude nature of the game. If you want to take a look, click here.
Perhaps the most alarming statistics are for the trailer and the overall sales of the game. The trailer alone has received 17,640,028 million views and 31,775 comments since its November 8, 2011 release date. Many hit TV shows and movies will never see that kind of viewing. To put things into perspective, it took James Cameron's "Avatar," a record breaking 17 days to reap $1 billion after its release in 2009. It also went on to break multiple North American and worldwide box office records, including becoming the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide. Meanwhile, it only took 16 days for Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 to reach $1 billion in sales. Of the top 10 titles sold on Amazon.com in 2011, six are violent and rated for mature audiences.
Top 10 titles sold on Amazon.com in 2011*
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (Activision Blizzard) (Rated M for Mature)
2. Just Dance 3 (Ubisoft Entertainment) (Rated E 10+ for Everyone over 10)
3. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks) (Rated M for Mature)
4. Battlefield 3 (Electronic Arts) (Rated M for Mature)
5. Portal 2 (Electronic Arts) (Rated E 10+ for Everyone over 10)
6. Batman: Arkham City (Warner Bros. Interactive) (Rated T for Teen)
7. Just Dance 2 (Ubisoft) (Rated E 10+ for Everyone over 10)
8. Madden NFL 12 (Electronic Arts) (Rated E for Everyone)
9. Gears of War 3 (Microsoft) (Rated M for Mature)
10. Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision) (Rated M for Mature) (LA Times 2011)
So is this the kind of "Modern Miracle" we should be celebrating? Further what is this saying about our culture? What is this saying about what our sons, our young men ( primarily) want to do with their spare time? Their downtime is spent killing people in more and more realistic ways. An amazing film which premiered at Sundance last year and likely to be an Academy Award Nominee is called "Hell and Back Again." This Film follows the US Marines Echo Company in Afghanistan, and one particular solider back to the US after an injury. What did he like to do in his spare time at home while in recovery? Play violent video games because they were so 'realistic' and gave him that rush which he so missed. I honor those serving our country but I also believe that violence is a drug. You can come to need it, even be addicted to it, and it can have horrible and devastating consequences for the individual, our families, our communities and our world.
My 11 year old daughter just started debate in school and her first assignment was on whether violent video games led to more violent behavior amongst school age children. Without citing all the compelling evidence the answer is yes. Do violent video games have anything to do with the increased level of random acts of violence that we seem to be witnessing more and more? I don't know, but doesn't common sense say perhaps?
My almost 15 year old son had 6 video games on his Christmas list, almost all of them violent M rated games. I stood in front of the rack at BESTBUY talking about them with him and the young male sales rep. The salesperson gave me a run down on them all - which ones involved killing real people ( women and children) versus aliens, how much blood generally spurted out when victims were shot, and so forth. I asked him if there were any games that were about solving world problems, helping people, and they both just laughed. He suggested I go over the Disney section.
Standing there I was reminded of a conversation I overheard two weeks ago on a plane. I was sitting beside a 13 year old boy and two younger boys across the aisle started talking about "Call Of Duty." There were no more than 8 years old. They were all talking about how awesome the video was, how they could not wait to get the game, how 'everyone' plays it. At the time I did not know much about the game but now I wish I would have ask that parent, 'what the heck was he thinking?"I am not perfect. My son has a couple of fighter games, but not the worse ones. I admit to cowering under the pressure of "come on mom, all my friends have these games and it's just not fair. They are not that bad. " He works so hard at school and a couple of hours of video games over the weekend truly seem to be his downtime, but it is breaking my heart.
The Christmas season is a time to take stock. It is a time to think about our family values and what messages we send our children by what we buy for them. Perhaps next year the "Modern Miracle" will be that violent video game sales are down, way down, and donations to charities that help people are way up. I know. Dream on.
Wishing you all the most joyful holiday season. Looking forward to sharing more in 2012.