Modern Warfare 2 Sales Skyrocket Despite Controversy

Dennis Faas's picture

The recently-released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is not only smashing records for video games at most electronics retailers, but it's also raising the bar for home releases within the wider entertainment industry. All of that buzz has brought more attention to the game's controversial elements, none more captivating than a level where players fill the shoes of terrorists.

It was just last week that we reported on the controversy surrounding the game, which parents should note is clearly marked "M" for Mature (18+). Not only is the game violent, but to some critics it's unnecessarily obscene. The feature upsetting concerned parents and industry insiders the most: a level where players are asked to engage in a terrorist attack on a Russian airport, killing literally hundreds of civilians alongside several other computer-controlled characters.

Writer Underestimated Game's Emotional Impact

Now, the writer behind the scene is explaining why the Modern Warfare 2's creative talent refused to cut it before the game was released last week. In an interview with popular gaming magazine GamePro, writer Jesse Stern (who's also responsible for a number of "NCIS" episodes) said he was surprised that one level had aroused so much passion. "I never really knew you could elicit such a deep feeling from a video game, but it has," Stern said. (Source:

Still, Stern does admit that even prior to release, during the game's testing period, there was evidence that the scene could upset a lot of people. "When we tested the level, it was interesting. Steve Mancuda, who ran a lot of the testing, said people would get angry or sad or disgusted and immediately wonder what the Hell was going on here," Stern said.

However, that didn't stop the testers from playing on, and in doing so, carrying out the virtual attack. "And then after a few moments of having that experience, they would remember that they were in a video game and they would let go. Every single person in testing opened fire on the crowd, which is human nature."

Obscene Morbidity or Media Bias?

I've played the level and it is indeed a shocking experience that seems plopped into the game's story with little introduction and only slight explanation. And that's exactly why people are angry -- even though writers like Stern and the game's developer, Infinity Ward, have defended the level as necessary to the story, the story itself is most certainly the game's major weakness and it's hard to imagine the companies behind it didn't recognize that. In the end, the terrorist level comes off as a cheap ploy to create Grand Theft Auto-esque controversy in order to drum up the imaginations of 17 year olds.

And yet, it's impossible to ignore the fact that most players of this game are older than 17 (studies have shown the average age of console gamers is now over 30), and that both the game and the level, while fantastically detailed, are not nearly as visually realistic as the last Saw movie.

While we'll never know if the level's existence helped or hindered the game's sales, one thing's for certain -- it is selling like hotcakes. Modern Warfare 2 smashed game retailer GameStop's pre-order record and then went on to post opening week sales of $550 million, beating both the most recent Harry Potter movie and similarly controversial game Grand Theft Auto IV. (Source:

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