Wherever Call of Duty Black Ops goes, it seems destined to upset someone. The latest of the aggrieved: the Cuban government, which lashed out at publisher Activision and developer Treyarch for a mission in the special-ops-themed first person shooter that asks players to assassinate a young Fidel Castro.
"What the United States couldn't accomplish in more than 50 years, they are now trying to do virtually," reads an article posted the Cuban government's state-run news site, according to AP.
"This new video game is doubly perverse," continues the article. "On the one hand, it glorifies the illegal assassination attempts the United States government planned against the Cuban leader.. . and on the other, it stimulates sociopathic attitudes in North American children and adolescents."
Whatever you think of Cuba and Castro, it's hard to sympathise with the CIA's noxious (and repeatedly bungled) efforts over the decades to bump him off. On that point, I'm frankly sympathetic with Cuba.
But everything else about the Cuban government's statement seems overwrought and melodramatic. The United States isn't "trying to do" anything virtually here. Activision, a for-profit private publisher, is in fact trying to sell millions of copies of a modern military shooter that like any other modern military shooter plays fast and loose with historical facts. That, and let's be honest, a game titled Call of Duty: Prevent the Assassination of a Communist Dictator by a Capitalist Hegemony in the US isn't selling copy one.
I can't speak to the "glorification" charge as I haven't played the mission, but if during the mission prep some special ops flak preaches how important it is to do your duty for king and country, who's surprised? That's what mindless military shooters that want to sell a bazillion copies in their country of origin do. Call of Duty's never been a particularly introspective or politically intrepid series. It's you against a bunch of faceless bad guys, cops versus robbers, white hats versus black hats. Don't Cuban children play such games? Do children anywhere not?
But it's the misinformed, histrionic sabre-rattling about stimulating "sociopathic attitudes" that's really egregious, not to mention scientifically false. Professor Christopher Ferguson, quoted in the AP story, and someone I've interviewed at length here, says "there is no evidence that video games, violent or otherwise, cause harm to minors." Ferguson's one of 82 scholars in the social sciences, medical sciences and media who recently filed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court claiming studies linking violent games to socially aberrant behaviour and cited in EMA vs. Schwarzenegger, a battle over a California law which seeks to criminalize sales of games to minors, are unsupported by the data.
So let's take it down a notch, okay Cuba? The assassination attempts were deplorable, granted, but their inclusion in a fictively shallow game about the Cold War, a game experienced from the perspective of US special forces, doesn't make them endorsements, nor anyone that plays them into a sociopathic Castro-hater.