Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (opens in new tab) recently came under fire (opens in new tab) for portraying an American war crime as being lead by Russian forces, and on Wednesday the game's narrative director defended the controversial plot point in a weighty conversation with GameSpot (opens in new tab).
First, some context. In the simplest of terms, "Highway of Death" refers to a real-life highway in Iraq and the site of a two-day long Gulf War-era attack by American-led allied forces on Iraqi troops, who were in the process of retreating from the area. The bombing was widely condemned both domestically and internationally, and a day later the president declared an end to hostilities.
However, 'Highway of Death' is also a mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare that takes place in the fictional country of Urzikstan and bears a resemblance to the real-life attack by the US. Only in Modern Warfare, we're told it was Russian forces who bombed people trying to escape. In real life, Russia had absolutely nothing to do with the historical event.
Responding directly to a question about the Highway of Death mission and whether it was appropriate to take "a real-world event and [flip] the script in the same breath," Modern Warfare narrative director Taylor Kurosaki had this to say:
"I think you could probably find many instances of the words 'highway of death' being used in a lot of cases. The reason why Urzikstan is a fictional country is because we are taking themes that we see played over and over and over and over again, over the last 50 years, in countries all over the world and locations all over the world, and we're not making a simulation of one particular country or one conflict. These are themes that play out over and over again, and with a lot of the same players involved. We don't portray any one side as good or bad," Kurosaki said.
"In our game, there are American characters who betray the trust of other characters in the story. There are Middle-Easterners who resort to tactics you wouldn't think are above-board. There's also characters that are from the same region that you think are more morally just. Same thing for Russian characters. We have Russian antagonists and Russian heroes in this game, and again that was our goal. This is not some sort of propaganda. This is reporting on what is happening in these conflict zones ... And the biggest victims of these proxy wars are the local people on the ground … And I think that this is a thing that we're really building awareness for."
While reviews are mostly positive for Modern Warfare, the game's Metacritic score recently tanked after an influx of negative reviews by largely Russian-language critics. Of course, Modern Warfare never claims 100% historical accuracy, but it clearly borrows from real life in many different aspects. Infinity Ward’s approach has been heavily critiqued in the days since launch, and we are intrigued to see how the studio – and other developers – handle sensitive flashpoints in history moving forward
Here's how we ranked the 10 best Call of Duty games (opens in new tab).