Activision will reportedly release a censored version of Modern Warfare 2 in Japan that punishes you for shooting civilians. In Western versions, players can fire indiscriminately into crowds of people during the game's controversial "No Russian" level. In the Japanese version, however, players will automatically fail the mission if they shoot noncombatants thronging the level's realistic rendition of Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. Note that this information--an unconfirmed rumor, actually--stems from a tip passed to games-gossip blog Kotaku.
If true, the retool would further obscure Activision's already tenuous rationale for the level. As noted in "Modern Warfare 2's Misunderstood Terrorist Level," I've argued the level comes off like a tabloid-caliber attention grab. It does nothing to involve me in the experience, placing me in media res with a bunch of guys my character's supposed to be thick-as-thieves with, but who I wouldn't know from Adam. It doesn't make me care that I'm shooting innocents, who might as well be ducks in a midway shooting game sporting human halloween masks and clothes. It's not the graphic violence I find disturbing, in other words, but Infinity Ward's willingness to embrace sensationalism over design fundamentals.
In a recent interview with GamePro, the game's lead writer Jesse Stern -- also known for his work on CBS's NCIS -- attempted to justify the level on the basis of its emotional effect:
"It feels so real but at the same time it's a video game and the response to it has been fascinating. I never really knew you could elicit such a deep feeling from a video game, but it has."
It's easy to throw controversy in front of a camera and get a reaction from a crowd, but it doesn't tell you much about the endeavor's quality or worth.
In our impassioned and often necessary defense of games as "artful" and/or worthy of the same respect afforded other mediums, we don't want to make the mistake of defending the badly designed bits just because some game's designers claim they were trying to be intellectually provocative, when careful analysis suggests they've only succeeded in being crudely inflammatory.