Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has had its fair share of controversies due to the gritty depiction of war. And now, the game is under fire, yet again for how it rewrites a particularly grim part of US history in the Highway of Death Campaign mission, reassigning blame for a massive war crime from the United States to Russia.
The mission in question is played from the perspective of a United States CIA agent, tasked with eliminating enemy terrorists across a valley full of shacks and degraded vehicles. In the briefing for the mission, Russia is blamed for the death, destruction, and dilapidation across the roadway, nicknamed the Highway of Death on account of the large death toll. However, the Highway of Death is a real place where the United States carried out attacks on Iraqi forces in 1991, which claimed the lives of an estimated 500-600 people, similar to the events of the game. Many have accused Modern Warfare of flipping things around to make Russians look bad while the United States comes across as heroes.
The real-life events of The Highway of Death were controversial and many referred to it as a “war crime,” arguing that the United States jeopardized the lives of Iraqi civilian refugees. In fact, it was reported that only 28 of the deaths were military-related, while the hundreds of others were civilian. Some have accused the game of being Russophobic, the inaccuracies depicted in the mission coming under the most criticism.
This issue was brought to the forefront by a Twitter user named Chowderhead. You can reference their tweet below:
So, uh, it turns out that the new Modern Warfare game just sorta lies about a US war crime and makes it a Russian one because it needs the US forces to be seen as the good guys.
So that’s… I don’t really have words for how to feel right now. Disgusted, probably. pic.twitter.com/8wGRIuYkKk
— Chowderhead (@TheChowderhead) October 27, 2019
As with any controversy, there are people on the other side of the fence who argue the game is a fictional work of art and should be distinguished from real-world events. There are a number of instances in the game that mirror historical events while taking on fictional names for the missions, locations, and characters involved, however, the Highway of Death takes its name from an actual location which is where a large part of the controversy springs from.
In a blogpost from Activision, the company addresses the campaign’s narrative:
The Campaign mode takes players through an immersive narrative that at times requires them to exercise thought, skill, and judgment to navigate some of the issues and challenges of warfare in the modern age. The Campaign is a fictional story that does not represent real-world events.
This has also reignited a near three-decade-old debate about whether the real-life Highway of Death attacks were in fact war crimes, or if the United States operated in a lawful manner.