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[Needless to say, there are a few spoilers in this article, but I shall try to keep them to a minimum.]

The significance of Modern Warfare 2 and its drip fed pre-launch information are nothing without the controversies that have followed its tumultuous path to existence. We’ve had price concerns, format concerns, distribution concerns, and most recently, content concerns regarding the much lauded “Airport Scene”, in which the player becomes part of a terrorist attack.

There were reactions from all corners of the media, with many lambasting Infinity Ward for scratching the still soft and throbbing sore on the belly of America’s national psyche. Others simply questioned the point of the level’s existence, claiming that it was nothing but another gear in the Activision hype machine that has consumed the media for the past year.

I take a different stance, I not only appreciate, and frankly, applaude the decision to include the scene, but I personally think more games need to break invisible taboos, and stop being afraid of the backlash that may or may not follow.

Hype or not, the mission known as “No Russian” has enlisted a heap of discussion among our staff, and unsurprisingly, just as much controversey in almost every gaming forum and online blog. Even post release, when you’d expect people to focus on their overall impressions, the stark division in the public’s reaction is startling.

Many have questioned not the emotional impact of the scene, but more the quality of it. As a few people have mentioned to me, they found it lacking in an array of areas. “I saw no standout part of this level. From AI and level design, to voice acting, set pieces and lighting.”, one of my colleagues noted, “Can someone please tell me why this level was good?”. In all honesty, he makes a reasonable point. While incredibly visceral and shocking, there was little the game did in terms of what made it different from any other firefight.

While, granted, most of the bullets were headed in one direction, the level of gore was toned down, the level was bright and stark, there was little communication between the terrorists, and the civilians had very little detail to distinguish one from the other. Compared to other portions of the title, it was practically elementary in design, an almost calm and careful display in relation to the ball busting plethora of explosions and chase scenes that encompass most of the title.

But maybe, just maybe, that was the point. Many short reaction tweets and blog posts to the level simply state that people found it eerie that the reaction they expected to have, shock and sadness, didn’t occur. Could the design of the level have been purposely made to dull your senses, remove your emotional boundaries and inhibitions, to make you feel like a stone cold killer? If the civilians had moaned, screamed, cried for mercy, and held their dead children as you mercilessly gun them down, would you have been taken out of the moment?

Another colleague noted that the Call of Duty games have always been about putting you in different boots. “The trainee, the war hero, the invaded, the invader” he said, “it paints a bigger picture of the nature of conflict, and the various roles people play within them”.

It’s to make you feel like you are a terrorist; it helps you switch off your conscience, so that you can follow through with these heinous acts. Infinity Ward had to make it seem easy, but not make it seem fun. It was a job, something that had to be done to push the story. How could you truly understand the fight, if you had not experienced the events through the eyes of your enemy?

Many other games have tried different ways to make you feel like you are involved in a greater cause, but very few have done it well. In most, you are simply told why you must hate the enemy, or shown a cut scene that attempts to create an emotional rise. But none of them are willing to cross the line that turns you into your enemy, or force you to commit unimaginable, but unfortunately, very real and terrible things like genocide or torture.

Many of you are probably asking, “Well yeah, of course you should add systems of consequence, since it helps build a sensible reward/punishment system”. And yes, that’s fine. But there are, right now, at this very moment, acts of unspeakable and unimaginative horror are being committed by madmen somewhere in the world. In the minds of these people, what they have done is justified to them, in whatever twisted way they hope to think.

Interactive situations like “No Russian” are, hopefully, the first step in game designers conveying “taboo” parts of stories, usually glossed over or simply placed in text, in a way that helps gamers understand what they are truly fighting against. Or, if the plot is daring enough to convey, what they are fighting for.

Additional note: I’m aware of the circumstances of your place in that particular mission, but that changes nothing. Once you commit the acts that you commit, for any reason, you have become no different then those who you are trying to defeat. In essence, you are the same. I personally don’t agree to the whole “Means to an End” philosophy, and so it seems, the game agrees with me.

  1. avatar Marcus

    We need more missions like it but done properly; as it stands MW2′s Airport level was very poorly done and immature.

    It could (and should) have been so much better, carrying the video game medium forward and yet it failed completely on so many fronts.

  2. avatar Joe

    Agreed these butt hurt liberals need to stop feeling butthurt literally and metaphorically. It’s Just a game people not real war.

  3. avatar Ryan

    Can’t say I was shocked at the shooting of the civies, it was the end of the level that really shocked me. I mean really to be committing such a horrible crime and then to have it shoved back in your face making what you just did pointless. Priceless shock.

    Kayne and Lynch had a few moments like these, first game to ever really make me feel like a bad guy. Too bad nobody played it. Maybe the 2nd one will change that.

  4. avatar Tim

    I totally agree with this article.

    I think this scene will soon become a case study in game design as it forces the gamer to feel a stronger emotional attachment to the antagonist. The score from Han Zimmer in this level was extremely effective in creating an uneasiness within me when playing, making me know that this was not meant to be a fun mini game.
    Furthermore, the deliberate pacing was another cue for a near Kubrick technique of observing the unspeakable acts taking place, leading to profound questions of if what was taking place was right or wrong. And that is what I believe the future of gaming is, given that the gamer uses a bit of his own mental ability to ask why or what idea each level is trying demonstrate. This is when games can achieve level’s of thought that films and books achieve

  5. avatar Paul

    I tried to play it, and found it too difficult to stomach. What it made me think was somebody could use this as a blueprint – how easy it would be for someone to actually do such a thing. So is that a good thing to show? I understand what they were trying to do, but personally it was neither believable or well explained enough in the way it was written. In fact I found it repellently bad – poorly thought out and badly written

  6. avatar Paul

    This game is one of the best.

  7. avatar Horney Bear

    This game rocks

  8. avatar f uck monster

    this game rocks.

  9. avatar Darius

    I enjoyed the impact this level had on me. As I saw hundreds of people running around screaming it gave you their perspective. I agree their needs to be more missions like this. I don’t think its just about shock value it contributed to me the story and the terrorist view point. I completely agree with you I applaud IW for doing this. These things happen, people do go on killing sprees, and just because its an atrocity doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. I study game software development and If I ever become a game developer/designer I will always put controversial things in a way that relates to the story, not just for the sake of it. I think they were right to do that and it had the desired effect on me, it played with your emotions and your mind. I think to fully appreciate this game you need to sit down and just complete it in a day. It was hands down the best single player I have played. Well done, well executed.

  10. avatar mona lisa

    Personally, I thought the level was shocking and well done – the way they walked slowly through was particularly eerie. I didn’t join in to be fair – I think most people played it this way (I hope!).

    However, I think the game suffers from being inconsistent. Where are the dead American civilians during the invasion? Nobody get killed in their house? It was cool in Brazil and the Middle-East to have people running about everywhere but USA feels too sterile and empty.

    End of the day, the game is coated in American patriotism that actually wears a little thin after a while. Need to have more balls for the art form.

  11. avatar WidMak

    Great idea, man! It’s so damn good, that I even have a name for the next entry in series of levels like this one! “No Muslims” I call it, and all player has to do is to kill a bunch of Muslim kids in Baghdad and knife-rape a dozen of Muslim women. I mean, it’s all done for conspiracy sake – the player is trying to prove his loyalty to terrorists by killing his own family (those kids and women, that is). Ain’t it cool? Are you sure, it is? Oh, and one more thing, I hope IW building (as well as Activision’s) is well insured, because, if they here people like you and will follow their advice to create levels as I’ve described… I bed I know the next skysraper to blow up.

  12. avatar Jordan Garski

    How exactly was it immature?

    Overall, I agree with this article. But I agree with the need for more things like this simply because stuff like this have been happening in books/movies/television for decades now. Nobody cried or raged when Hanz blew off Mr Nakatomi’s head in the first Die Hard, did they? Why is a video game that different? (And if you say “because it’s interactive with a participant”, to that i say “And how is that different than an actor?”)

  13. avatar Your Brother :)


    I’m liberal and I thought his mission was a brilliant idea. Dont discriminate, not all “liberals” think that way. All people are/think different in their own ways.

  14. I think it served it’s purpose, but I also think Infinity Ward/Activision chickened out.

    They included the mission, but they gave you the option to skip it. What other medium does this? For example, Modern Warfare 2 is rated M (17 or above): when you’re seeing a rated R movie (also 17 and above), does an announcer interrupt your movie to say “turn your head and cover your ears: someone’s about to die”? Why should video games be treated differently?

  15. I know someone who quit the game right whent he first shots were made in No Russian. Some people just cant take the scene becuase of their high morals, religious or not. You know him CJ, it was Josh.

  16. I still don’t get what all the fuss is about. Truth be told, I felt no remorse whatsoever being in that situation. While I didn’t shoot any civilians, shooting them would have felt no different, considering that I didn’t know any of these civilians personally. ‘No Russian’ was supposed to draw you in, make you shed a tear, and unfortunately it did none of that for me.

  17. avatar dj

    I didn’t find the scene at all emotional or shocking when I played it. For that to happen they would have had to make the game much more engaging and the story less lame. I thought the game should have ended right there at the elevator but the game wouldn’t let me shoot the terrorists, even though that’s what would surely have happened in real life.

  18. avatar Hs

    Why Always in this kind of game the enemy has to be country like Russia, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Japan and so on; if this is really fiction story and we are not offending anybody then the enemy could be USA too. As I know
    we’re all neighbor and brother on the same planet. After all, the only country
    around the world killing people is USA.

  19. avatar Joe

    Your Brother :)
    Yeah right. Hillary Clinton and Senator Lee are both liberals and they try to regulate games. That is why im a libertarian where we believe in small government while you tree humping liberals solve nothing and should realize that there have been a surplus of trees according to libertarian Stossal. But I digress. Point is that Republican Governor of Utah vetoed a bill that would charge game store employees for selling M games to Minors. But would not charge video store employees for selling R movies. Liberalism is a mental disorder and I pitty your perdicament.

  20. First let me say great article James! :-D

    This level really had quite the impact on me. I really didn’t expect it to since I already knew a lot about it thanks to the leak, and even with all that my jaw still dropped to the floor when it all began. I could honestly never get myself to pull the trigger and kill a single civilian.

    In one situation I couldn’t pull my eyes away from this one guy as he dragged himself across the floor, doing anything he could to survive in the last seconds of his life. I don’t remember the last time a level had that significant of an emotional impact on me.

  21. avatar dave

    i pulled the trigger on loads of sivilians..gave me a weird sensation i havent quite felt before..dont know if i liked it or not…

    (oh, and I’m a pacifist..people need to start knowing the difference between reality and videogames here..short but effective level imo, liked the ending)

  22. avatar FullMetalLemur

    I understand and support artistic merits like I’ve told EVERYBODY but still it ended up being tasteless especially when the main villain pretty much has no presence afterwards. I personally didn’t play it (my roommate did) but I watched it and I didn’t feel any emotion out of it since it’s just a game (for the most part).

    Also the story wasn’t as good as the multiplayer (minus the campers) this time around.

  23. avatar JJ

    Controversy? Yeah right, only because its not a USA Airport. It’s great and fun and “advancing the genre” because its set in a place far away from here. If this scene took place at a United States airport, the media would be all over it and I bet you they would be forced to change the level. The typical American ignorance…..

    • avatar Tsunayoshi

      Bravo. I agree with much of this. I lament that so many smart pelpoe are thinking like this yet have found themselves, through economic incentives, in a situation where both the platform’s mechanics and their organization’s mechanics create mountains of friction that they will not be able to overcome. I would be pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. In the meantime, some interesting potential happening with start-ups building games that utilize iOS/Android, SMS/MMS, FB Connect, email, and simple word of mouth in tandem with a unique experience. I want to co-opt Bing Gordon’s term and build a mobile treasure , I hope some of you are thinking the same way.

    • avatar Salah

      please someone just took me 600 mliniols, please Zynga do something, i was working for that very hard, you should know that. it’s not little, please, and now is something wrong and i just can write here, please answer to me, i took the picture of my profile where is written i have 602 mliniols and it’s updated yesterday and i didn’t play for maybe two weeks because of some my personal stuff so i didn’t even had Welcome Wagon achievements and now i have it so someone sit down with my account and took me everything, please do something, please answer to me, this is so wrong, you should really do something with it, please :-( (((((((((( i was privacy and i have password which is made of many many letters and numbers and nobody but nobody knew and know my password, OMG PLEASE do something Zynga, this is so so wrong :-( (((((

  24. avatar Dion

    To be honest, I think there was a good twist on the story at the end of that mission. However, I just didn’t like killing all those people at all. Yes, it’s just a game, but to think that someone could even implement something like that in the virtual world is already weird enough.

  25. avatar JW

    This good idea fails due to crappy storytelling, as why doesn’t the infilitrator just not shoot the terrorists instead, thereby removing the threat of Makarov and rendering the entire mission unnecessary (not to mention the whole game’s plot unnecessary). Learn to write stories IW.

  26. avatar Raging Bull

    this mission was like a typical day in GTA
    i mean i just treated like a game shot the f uck out of every civilian
    i put on the grenade launcher and watched them fly…

  27. avatar Dan

    Honestly I think the level would have been netter if there had been more explanation. I applaud it though for doing something different I mean sure you could play as the terrorists back in SWAT 2 but it wasn’t really effective. Although the killing of the civilians didnt really affect me (I joined in and shot a ton of them) I still enjoyed it for the fact that it switched up the experience that is a first person shooter.

    • avatar Vasiliy

      This leads me to say that while saicol games and saicol structures are interesting in theory, Facebook’s visibility problem is discouraging that innovation from happening I really like this article, but this one part bothers me. It’s a common conflation of two different things: Facebook as a platform really means different things to different people.In terms of its ability to enable saicol games and connected experiences using your saicol graph and profile information, Facebook is strong. This is where games have been failing to take full advantage of the Facebook platform, seemingly.In terms of its ability to be a distribution point for products (with its own advertising, app directory, curation policies, and content hosting/framing) Facebook is pretty weak. But this has very little to do with its abilities as a platform (or with games’ abilities to be more saicol).Despite parts of the company being now entirely dedicated to supporting games distribution (the games dashboard and Facebook Credits), the company’s mission has never been to become a distribution point for games. In fact, the moves towards becoming have been demanded by developers even as the rest of Facebook’s development moves them away from being a site of hosted content and toward being a distributed service across the web.

    • avatar Bushra

      Thanks, Ric. The game you linked is a bit too small for this list, but we are aware that there are two other Deal or No Deal games leitsd on Facebook with larger audiences. When we spoke with iWin about their Endemol USA partnership (see last paragraph), they mentioned that these other Deal or No Deal games existed under an old license agreement that would expire soon as iWin prepares to launch its official Deal or No Deal game sometime in the coming months.

  28. avatar f00kVGIndustry

    Amazing how much hype this has generated, i suppose because of the interactive nature of it. Let us not forget that 1. its a game 2. its fiction 3. youre shooting at pixels 4. how can you feel bad when all you mow down are like 4-5 models cloned all over. was it twins day at the airport? Besides, it was short and pointless (as the level’s ending can attest). why nobody commented feeling “shocked” when captain Price murdered a POW in cod4, raping Geneva conventions, is beyond my comprehension of hypocrisy. Love the quotes by good guys Cheney, Powell and McNamara!

  29. avatar Dan

    FFS guys you kill people in the game irrespective of the level

  30. avatar Plan B.

    Wow. Are you kidding me? Its like you’re asking for the media to get a whole bunch of parents riled up over this. The more you hype this scene, the more people think about it, the quicker that the major news networks (MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, Jon Stewart [quick fact: yeah, his slightly true news program is more watched than the average news station], Talk Radio, etc.) will pounce on it like a wolf on sheep…parents will be alarmed that “8 year olds will be able to play as terrorists and kill people in an airport” regardless of the facts that Infinity Ward clearly warns you of the content, as well as a content block, and even gives you a double warning. They won’t care; the press is made to print lies to make money, get viewers and listeners, and if it means taking away experiences we could have as gamers because some idiot walks into an airport with a knife and makes the lame, terrible excuse of: “I saw somebody do it on Call of Duty,” leaving more false game-blame to go around… have you even seen a gamer try to tell the press that they’re lying to everyone? They just ignore and continue, as if the guy isn’t even there.
    I would just shut up and let this die down for now, because bringing it up for a little attention, ESPECIALLY in a time where the government needs something to draw attention away from the people more than little balloon boy, with a President who does not agree with VIDEO GAMES and thinks we need to REGULATE the violence and language like certain European countries and just not allow games to be sold here due to the graphic reference (regardless of his wonderful advertising in Paradise City). I don’t hate the president, just informing you that the political situation could use a huge distraction to get the people from the health care bill–causing something that is bigger than its worth. I mean… come on guys. Don’t we know better from GTA?

  31. avatar BennettMVP

    I agree that the level achieved its objective in making the player feel emotion. I mean, the first time I played this level, I knifed the terrorist leader, only to be instantly shot by the rest of them. I couldn’t bring myself to shoot these people right away. But then I realized what had to be done. I’ll admit, it was an extremely weird feeling playing this level. The sad thing is, I feel as though some group of nut jobs will, ultimately, try to re-enact this level. Then, all the developers will be accused of having a role in the murders. Such nonsense; but I hope, at least, the developers of this game considered that risk before making the level. Hopefully, such a tradgedy will never occur, and the impact of this level will influence people in an emotional and positive way, not in a psycho-path, lunatic, sort of way. Cheers.

  32. avatar Bandit24

    I want to know what makes this so different from gunning down civies in Grand Thief auto games . We all did it and had fun doing it . Who has’nt stood on top of a building in one of the GTA games and shot down police hellicopers and sniped people walking on the street in the game . People need to remember it’s JUST A GAME ! Did I enjoy killing those people in the airport ? No , But the way the level was made …. It’s the first time in my 20 plus years of playing video games that I felt so detatched . It was so very new and different and is’nt that way we play games for something new and different ?…….

  33. avatar vzvz

    but WHY Russians? Stupid Activision should put some Arab terrorists.

  34. avatar Rice221

    OK some of you guys are stupid racists. MUSLIMS DID NOT INVENT/COIN TERRORISM. Bin Laden is a deposed SAUDI Arabian Prince who knew the only way to gain support was to appeal to devout muslims. Turn off fox news long enough to know that the IRA has been killing English citizens and SAS members longer than AL Qaeda has existed.

    The level quality was poor compared to the visual bombardment that is the remainder of the game. But that definately had more impact on me that COD4′s nuke. And it was russia because its a rival super-power able to invade American on that scale. And Makerov wasnt a larger part because continueity in sequels is hard to come by.

  35. avatar name

    no thanks i think this has caused enough controversy as it is.
    if more games were like this, 50 bucks says games would be banned outright.
    than i would be stuck importing everything off ebay spending 20 bucks more and waiting a month longer to get it.
    im already going to have to import
    dantes inferno, heavy rain, alien V predator, god of war 3 not to mention the ones i already have imported.
    living in AU sucks donkey balls!
    having sony treat us like second class citizens isent bad enough?

  36. avatar Anonymous

    My first playthrough of the level i killed all of the civs with no remorse, what shocked me was the ending and i enjoyed its storytelling element. However, my second and third playthrough after expecting what was anticipated of me i somehow felt guilty, to me the level makes a lot of sense, you have to kill these people although reluctantly and go through that “i have to do this but i dont know why” mentallity. Yet i think the main difference between this scene and gta4 is that here you have to participate in this massacre. When i play a game, much like when i read a book or see a movie i like to put myself in the characters head, as if i actually were this person, and think why am i doing this, how will this benefit me, what are my emotions, what are the consequences for my actions? My second playthrough gave me a sense of regret and frustration that i feel a book or movie cannot portray.

  37. avatar sugreev2001

    Haha…Liberals aren’t the ones who complain without any knowledge,Joe..that’s the job of the conservatives.

  38. avatar fff

    i just shot em no feelings grow some balls

  39. avatar Hisham

    I agree with this article entirely

    I don’t know about you, but I felt like crap just walking in, loading my weapon and then just cutting down innocent civilians. The weird part about this is is that I feel that this could be a realistic scenario of how something like this was played out if something like this happened. Being undercover you can do nothing, but shoot even though you are the one who is supposed to protect these people.

    • avatar Roberta

      Registration will end on Friday, November 18th at 12:00 noon. you can register beweten 9am and 12 noon. Late registration will take place on Monday and Tuesday, November 21st and 22nd from 9am to 12 noon.

  40. avatar ColeBeans

    To be honest I didn’t think the level was graphic or would offend anyone at all even if your Russian. The ending of the level was really shocking and overall the level was really good and i think we should have more levels like this.

  41. Anyone who takes the time and effort to object to the “No Russian” mission should be ashamed for not directing that compassion towards existing human lives that suffer from war.

  42. avatar tim

    …ehh to the joe guy that left the butthurt comment. it’s conservative people who are upset, liberal people would push for things like that

  43. avatar tim


    disregard. what i was meaning is that eliminating a terrorist scene would be a conservative idea since liberal thinking is supposed to be free and expressive. also after reading the previous comment i realized it sounded like an attack on you and uneducated. sorry.

  44. avatar Drummer_si

    I thought this level was excellent – A welcome break from the norm ..

    usually in these games I happily go from one spot to another shooting people who are shooting back!.. This level came along and it was VERY different! Suddenly, people weren’t shooting back – They were running for their lives.. Innocent people waiting to go on holiday.

    It made me feel bad, and truly appreciate the difference between war and terror.

  45. avatar this dood or that dood

    there’s a point why it’s rated M…it was great that they put no russian in the game!It’s not like America hasn’t done it for real…that’s not the point though…if you feel offended by it then just don’t play,seriously,i don’t like GTA games so i don’t play them because they’re immature!No russian was done well…it showed a glimpse of Makarov is able of doing…so it only pumps you up to stop him or maybe not…MW2 rules!

  46. avatar A_pizza

    This game is truly well thought of.. even the “No Russian” level. However, this level’s message was to tell us gamers that terrorism is so real out there.. and wants us to be in the shoes of one which participated in the attack. Just like the numerous real terror attacks happening in the world, but you get to see the consequences and the people you killed.

  47. avatar Thoughts

    I agree that “No Russian” should have been even more realistic, with its graphics being on the same level as those from the rest of the game, but I also see why IW wouldn’t. Look at how much debate this has brought up just between us who play video games and realize they’re just a game, what would the rest of the world say if they saw a clip of a very realistic looking scene of people gunning down innocent, fleeing civilians? A lot of people have a hard time understanding that a game is only a game.

    I think this portrayed an excellent message of terrorism and how it’s not just the stereotypical “Al Qaeda bombing people.” Sure it takes place in Russia, but while in game all you see is people in an airport running away from people shooting them, it could happen anywhere. This mission is, to me, the creator’s way of further explaining to us that war is no longer uniforms (from the intro video). It has more to do with the evolving way of foreign conflicts and foreign affairs and is trying to open people’s eyes to it, rather than evoking an emotional response to the mission. Acts of terrorism can happen anywhere, done by anyone. That’s what “No Russian” says to me when I first played through it.

  48. avatar iTz a GAME FFS

    i just blew them away…pretty sure i killed everyone. Really i see nothing wrong

  49. avatar Anonymous

    I wanna see Duke Nukem shoot all of the terrorists! :P

  50. avatar eggman100

    the only mission that made me nearly cry and i mean really nearly shed just one tear was when shepard shot roach and where ghost shouted “NOOOO!!!!!!!!” – then shepard shot him, i felt really sad that they got killed

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