Call of Duty Infinite Warfare showed us space battles, future weapons, and distant planets. However, the thing that stood out for me was this one scene: a soldier with a Lebanese flag clearly displayed on her shoulder pad.
To the common gamer this really means nothing. After all the last thing we need in our video games is political drama, ironically, even in a game about soldiers fighting each other. But this scene means more than that. It means something special to me, my race, and where I’m from.
Let’s rewind time back to the first decade of 2000. Let’s just say Arabs weren’t shown in the best of light in the entertainment mediums. The post 9/11 terrorist attack painted a big bull’s-eye on us in various films, books, and yes, even video games. A lot of video games actually—particularly shooters.
The most notorious example has to be the game Heavy Fire: Special Operations which was released on the Wii. It was literally the pits of representing Arabs as the bad guys and I could easily label this as nothing more than an Arab shooting gallery. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 was no exception with its central conflict taking place in the Middle East against, you guessed it, Arab terrorists working with Russians—great…
Now I won’t deny that I certainly enjoyed playing Modern Warfare and definitely have a soft spot for it and its sequel, but the idea of yet another entertainment medium representing radical Arabs as the bad guys has grown tiresome. I guess this is what the Russians felt in the 80’s.
Fast forward to Advanced Warfare and things have changed drastically. Call of Duty, rather than focusing on radical groups of people, have changed their enemies to corporations or PMC’s which are manipulating countries via the war economy. It was an interesting shift and definitely something seen with more effort. It was also the first entry in the series to receive official Arabic subs.
With Infinite Warfare we see a distant future where soldiers presumably from different parts of the world (or maybe solar system) collaborate. It’s sort of a unification we dream of when thinking of UN working together. But when the trailer deliberately showed few seconds of Lebanese soldier is when it truly got me. I mean sure we could think of that as a fluke and maybe the editor had chosen the scene randomly but I disagree. The scene took it’s time to show us clearly the flag and soldier (being a women no less). It also received an Arabized trailer.
This could be interpreted in many ways but this is how I see it: positive. For once we are recognized not as mindless inept people who want to blow up the world and kill but as human beings looking to solve problems and helping people. I loved it.
Let’s also not forget that this is Call of Duty we’re talking about here. One of the biggest guns (heh) in the industry with so much influence that other game companies rarely choose to launch their games in the same week COD does. Even in the Middle East it has grown to be one of the of the most recognizable game IP’s following big hitters such as Assassin’s Creed, FIFA, and Minecraft. Heck, maybe that’s why they chose to show that soldier. Who knows?
But one thing I do know is that game developers are finally shifting to a more balanced ecosystem. One that doesn’t paint race, gender, or background as a villain. And yes, while it is ironic that Modern Warfare 1 (a game that does the opposite of that) will get released with Infinite Warfare, I’d like to imagine it as a way of seeing how far the series has come the past 9 years. From both a design and storytelling perspective.