It might not have been the best day to release a trailer for the latest Call of Duty: WWII downloadable content, but if you’re in the business of selling simulated gun violence as entertainment, there’s never really a good day. So here it is, the trailer for Call of Duty: WWII’s new DLC pack, The War Machine. As you’ll see, it lets players experience diverse gameplay modes like:
• Firing guns at other human beings in Dunkirk!
• Firing guns at other human beings in Egypt!
• Firing guns at other human beings in Sicily!
• Firing guns at other human beings at an unnamed V2 facility that is definitely not Peenemünde, because that would be tasteless!
Of course, with the exception of the zombie modes, these are not just random arenas to fire guns at other human beings, but semi-accurate recreations of locations where large numbers of human beings fired guns at each other in the past. So any distaste you might feel at digital images of a soldier burning to death needs to be tempered by the fact that players can learn historical facts about a great civilizational conflict (and one that video games have barely scratched the surface of). For instance, did you know the rate of fire on the German MG 15 was carefully tuned until it could keep a perfect triplet beat to accompany “This is my World,” by Esterly, a song that wouldn’t even be recorded until 2016? Did you know it was a bad idea to stand in the blast trench of a V2 launch site during ignition? Did you know that the V2 rockets so lovingly showcased in this trailer were built by slave labor? Now you know, and it’s all thanks to video games! Except for that slave labor part, which doesn’t really fit the whole “Test-Stand-VII-as-Playground” aesthetic.
The ties between the video game industry, the military, and gun manufacturers are extensive, well documented, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. But the brilliant artists, mathematicians, computer programmers, actors, and creative types of all sorts who are spending years of their lives making sure that the images in a game like this—a young man twisting and flopping to the ground as the bullet in his head does what bullets do to heads, say—are presented as precisely and accurately as possible, while still being fun? They might want to consider this passage from Gravity’s Rainbow about the people who built the real V2:
So was the Rocket’s terrible passage reduced, literally, to bourgeois terms, terms of an equation such as that elegant blend of philosophy and hardware, abstract change and hinged pivots of real metals which describes motion under the aspect of yaw control … preserving, possessing, steering between Scylla and Charybdis the whole way to Brennschluss. If any of the young engineers saw the correspondence between the deep conservatism of Feedback and the kinds of lives they were coming to lead in the very process of embracing it, it got lost, or disguised—none of them made the connection, at least not while alive …
Nobody has to spend their short time on this planet taking money to abstract violence and death into the clean, sharp equations of computer programs. Every one of us has to live in the shadow of guns now. There’s no reason we have to play there too.