Players in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aren’t the only ones making questionable decisions for America — Infinity Ward is getting in on the action, too. In an interview published at GameSpot, Infinity Ward narrative director Taylor Kurosaki defended one particular plot choice that has sparked controversy. And along the way, he invoked the singalong children’s show Schoolhouse Rock to do it.
For background, the most recent reboot in the franchise takes place in a fictional a fictional mishmash of Middle Eastern countries. Players are part of a group that works with local rebels in the early 2010s in order to take down Russian invaders.
While many of the in-game atrocities are based on real events, at least one major detail was changed in a very distressing way. Modern Warfare features a road called the “Highway of Death,” on which Russia supposedly carried out a multi-day bombing on retreating local troops. Meanwhile, there was an a real-world incident called the “Highway of Death” in 1991, during the Persian Gulf War. There’s just one major difference — it was the United States that bombed the retreating soldiers.
The alteration has been publicly criticized both in the gaming community and among Russians, with plenty of review bombs to boot. In the GameSpot interview, Kurosaki showed little remorse for the choice made, whether it had to do with the Highway of Death or the general “education” aspect of the game. (If such a thing really exists.)
In the interview linked above, the designer briefly describes the in-game presence of the Highway of Death. GameSpot Associate Editor Michael Higham points out that Infinity Ward is “bringing a real-world event into a fictional country.” He then digs into the question, basically, of whether and how the Infinity Ward team was okay with “flipping the script” in such a manner.
“I think you could probably find many instances of the words ‘highway of death’ being used in a lot of cases,” Kurosaki says.
We couldn’t find any. In English, at least, there appears to only be one well-known war allusion explicitly called the “Highway of Death.” It’s the one that former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark argued violated the Geneva Convention, and very likely killed children and other family members of retreating troops.
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In the questions leading up to the one about the fictionalized version of the Highway of Death, GameSpot Senior Editor Tamoor Hussain — who explains he was vividly aware of these wars as a kid — asked Kurosaki if Infinity Ward has a responsibility to “make a statement” on the conflicts like those depicted. Kurosaki responded that putting players in the shoes of the protagonist brings “enlightenment” about something “sort of outside of the understanding of a lot of people.”
“So you know that they’re based on real world events,” Kurosaki responded. “But yet you don’t give the player base the credit — you’re saying that the Call of Duty audience should be talked down to, or things should be simplified or dumbed down.”
Ironically, after the Highway of Death question, Kurosaki proceeded to point out that media can indeed be educational.
“Y’know, when I was a kid, I learned a lot about stuff through things like Schoolhouse Rock.” Schoolhouse Rock was a television series that explicitly laid out real-world math, biology, grammar, and U.S. history. While it often presented a… generous version of American history, it did not call out specific American war crimes by name as having been perpetrated by different national entities.
“This was a way that I was singing songs and learning about things, about real-world things, but in an entertaining fashion,” he continued. “And so I think for people today — I think that if we learn about some of these, even while we’re engaged in an interactive experience, I think that it’s still valuable.”