Call of Duty

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About 93 percent of Americans watch sports. I am one of the 7 percent that doesn't watch a single game in a given year. Yet recently I have come to realize that there is, in fact, a sport I like: Call of Duty, an online video game about virtually shooting the avatars of other players, ideally in the face.

Call of Duty is, on the surface, a first-person shooter game. But with its annual season, its consistent playing field for all who compete, and its intricate, fast-moving tactical play, it's also an "esport"—one that just happens to be built around the simulation of repeatedly murdering everyone on the other team.

One of the reasons for my lack of interest in traditional sports is that they serve as a stand-in for violent nationalistic conflict. This is particularly true of football. Call of Duty, I suspect, fulfills a similar role on a micro level, channeling individual aggression rather than amplifying it, transferring certain impulses into something that is, if not necessarily socially beneficial, then at least not terribly destructive.

The game is also fun, and the reliable provision of fun is itself a social benefit. Call of Duty offers an accessible, inexpensive way for millions of people around the world to harmlessly enjoy themselves, often in the virtual company (if not the physical presence) of friends.

Indeed, for all the ways the game resembles a conventional sport, its physical harmlessness is a notable difference. Even someone like me, who has a strong aversion to real-world violence, can enjoy it. Yes, the game involves killing other people, but what's important is that it's only simulated: Unlike football, no one playing Call of Duty actually gets hurt.

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  1. I have always heard how terrible video games are. They foster violence like school shootings. The kids’ brains are being damaged, leading to a spike in attention deficit and other disorders. The producers are ripping us off. They are made abroad.

    I don’t limit my kids’ exposure to screens and games. I do guide them into productive or educational lanes as much as possible, but they voluntarily consume a wide variety of games and content, some of which is incidentally beneficial.

    My younger brother was a severe Word of Warcraft addict from ages 16-20-ish. All day long, he sat in front of several computer screens, wearing a headset-mic, managing complex variables and coordinating the actions of real people in a virtual world. “Get off that computer and stop wasting your life,” mom would say, “that stupid game will never benefit you in any way.”

    Now, he is an air traffic controller.

  2. The criticisms of video games, when they are fact-based at all, are rooted in two fallacies: lumping different things together, and reversing cause and effect.

    Normal children and adults know video game violence is make-believe and not something to apply in real life. If it has any psychological effect, it’s cathartic – they are less likely to assault annoying people after splattering dozens of make-believe enemies across the video screen. The only negative effect is that it’s yet another way to waste time.

    The effect _may_ be different for children and adults with abnormally violent tendencies. However, what we really know is that such people are likely to choose the most violent games and to spend more time playing them. To conclude that this causes their violence is to assume without evidence that the games are the cause and the violence the effect.

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