I’ve played a lot of AAA video game titles in the last month. AAA titles are the big ones. The ones your parents and grandparents have heard of. The ones you see commercials for at the movie theater. Games like Gears of War, Arkham City, and more recently, Modern Warfare 3.

And as I’ve played these games (and especially that last one) I’ve gotten this sinking feeling that these games, their plots, designs and even their advertisements aren’t for me. I’ve started to feel a lot like Sister Bear watching Brother Bear and his friends in their kick-ass clubhouse.

It’s a nagging feeling. Nothing quite definable. I can’t point at specific incidents to explain it, but playing these games don’t feel inclusive. Maybe it’s the focus on male camaraderie at the expense of female characterization. Maybe it’s the hypersexualization of the female form. Or the objectification of women. Maybe it’s that men play the heroes and women are usually relegated to sidekicks, Navi like bugs in the player’s ear and villains.

All these big bad AAA games and not one of them actively attempts to engage me, the lady gamer. I’ve got Uncharted and Skyrim and that’s about it. Those are the AAA games for me, and one of those two is gender neutral!

The worst of the crop is Modern Warfare 3. While other games have left me with a nagging feeling of discomfort, MW3 all but tells me to shut up and get back in the kitchen. The boys are at play you see. They’re saving the day in Delta Squad and the disavowed SAS 141. They’re battling villains and rescuing damsels and loving and communing with each other in a way that I just can’t.

Until this game I was a huge Modern Warfare fan. I firmly believe the first two games in the series are nearly perfect condemnations of war. They’re these wonderful anti-war pieces that gleefully dig into the horrors of warfare while also pointing out how inane and fickle war is. The detonation of a nuclear weapon in Modern Warfare and the terrorist assault on an airport in Modern Warfare 2 standout as some of the best uses of video games as devices for political statements. Those games toed a fine line between glorifying violence and castigating it.

But Modern Warfare 3 seems to have sacrificed nuance to create an eight-hour action film complete with ridiculously evil villains, betrayals and tragic deaths. While the level design is as great as it’s ever been (of particular note is a zero g gun fight on a crashing plane) the social urgency imparted by previous games is missing.

Infinity Ward, the company behind the Modern Warfare series has become known for their radical moments in game. The nuclear device. The terrorist assault. Those are watercooler moments that pack an emotional wallop. But this third game’s “watercooler” moment is forced. Some have called it tacky. Or inappropriate. Nope. It’s just a blatant attempt to manipulate the player and manufacture a memorable scene. Those other scenes occur naturally through the course of the games. They’re fluid and sneak up on us. But in MW3 the moment plays more like an active cut scene. You are pulled abruptly from a breakneck race through London’s Metro to a family trip to Big Ben that goes awry. It felt tacky, but only in how obvious it was.

But the worse crime of the “watercooler” moment is that it takes us away from the primary story, which isn’t the absurd plot to start World War Three, but the bond shared by men in uniform. There’s this gleeful and sophomoric love of the masculine throughout the game. You play as Russian patriots, American badasses and British protectors. All the characters you play as seem to know each other and share an instinctual understanding of each others’ lives. It’s an extension of the superficial boy’s club the game has fabricated. They have only to share a battlefield and they have a bond we cannot dare to intrude upon.

That battlefield boy’s club is purely part of the game’s story. While a little irritating(the bond of men at war is so overdone in video games, it now invites parody), it’s been teased at in the previous games and not unexpected. But then the boy’s club is extended to the multiplayer game and that’s where I found myself a little appalled.

I like playing multiplayer shooters. I like the fast pace and the satisfying feeling when I get a killstreak. I’ll be honest when I say I’m not sure why it struck me this time, but in the past I never really noticed the boy’s club Infinity Ward manufactured in their multiplayer experience.

Maybe it’s because of FemPop and a heightened awareness of the representation of gender in video games, but I couldn’t escape that aforementioned feeling. Unlike the Treyarch Call of Duty series, Infinity Ward uses emblems and titles as merit based awards in-game. Each title, each emblem you use to represent yourself in-game has to be earned. And a lot of those awards feature allusions to sex acts and drug use. It smacks of the juvenile when you go to check the name of another player and see that the title he uses is half-naked women.

What’s worse is that the titles featuring women are the easiest to receive. So early in the multiplayer experience you’ll see a lot of them. I’ve played hundreds of hours of shooters, including MW2 and Black Ops and this was the first time it struck me, and really appalled me. I didn’t find it cute. I just found it irritating. The Call of Duty series has come under fire before for its exclusion of women. This time around there were women voice actors who got to do more than scream, but women are still relegated to the background and they don’t take an active part in the combat. So why further push them down by making them sexy rewards in the multiplayer?

It’s another instance of Infinity Ward making this series, and this game in particular, a great experience for guys, and a completely foreign and vaguely hostile experience for women. We’re just Sister Bear, watching and hoping that the boys will let us play with them and their toys.

Notes

  • The cast of this game is like a who’s who of awesome actors. Kevin McKidd AND Idris Elba AND Timothy Olyphant AND William Fitchner?
  • The massive drop in the quality of the story? The doing of one PAUL HAGGIS. This guy has respect in Hollywood because he taught us racism was wrong in Crash but he’s a bad writer who relies on blatant manipulation of emotion to tell his stories. Crash, Million Dollar Baby, the awful In the Valley of Elah and Walker, Texas Ranger? What more could we have expected. I’d stake a large sum of money on him being the one pitching “family exploded by gas truck” moment.
  • No playable female characters, but this is the first in the series to feature a major female character. Too bad she’s a plot MacGuffin. Can we blame Haggis for her two? I apparently intensely dislike his work and want to rag on him for everything.
  • Thankfully the game play is still pretty dang great. I’ve spent way too many hours in the multiplayer.
  • Which means I’ve noticed something. A lot of these maps are badly planned for Domination mode. Bottlenecking quickly becomes a serious and frustrating problem.
  • Uncharted and Skyrim >>>>>>> MW3, Arkham City, and GOW3.
    I think when a game is intended for an audience that doesn’t just watch cartoons on Saturday morning, it tends to show its superior maturity level. Bioware and Valve have also proven this.

    • I finally got around to starting Skyrim and I’m really enjoying it…though I tend to find the Bethesda RPGs to be a little overwhelming in the choices offered.

      • Wait until you lose a piece of armor you regret trading or dropping, and spend the next few hours trying to retrieve it. Only in a Bethesda game.

  • Wait until you lose a piece of armor you regret dropping or trading, and spend the next few hours trying to retrieve it.

  • I very rarely play Modern Warfare, but that was worth reading just for the Berenstain Bears reference. I completely forgot about those books. What’s next? The Boxcar Children? Always fun to find a good writer who grew up at the same time as me.

    • Michael Doran

      I JUST finished reading the Boxcar Children to my four year old! He love it as much as I did. Now, to scour Ebay for a complete Happy Hollisters collection!

  • Kenny Hoonan

    Get back to the kitchen

  • Kenny Hoonan

    I feel that this entire website is devoted to criticizing men all the time. I wish you guys would take this site down. Thank you.

  • Kenny Hoonan

    who gives a shit what you guys think 

    piss off

  • Michael Doran

    Sounds to me like you are ready to make the switch to Battlefield 3. But first you have to ask yourself a few things.  Are you ready to play with almost strictly adults? Are you ready to stay alive in a multiplayer match for longer than 30 seconds? Are you ready to play tactically and not just run and gun? If you answered yes to all of the above you are ready for the switch.

    I totally agree with your post though. I keep waiting for a modern AAA title to pull a metroid prime. Can you imagine how epic it would have been if Halo’s Master chief had pulled the helmet to reveal a woman?