McMillan’s Codex #29 By C.T. McMillan

Call of Duty: Ghosts Part 2

 When writing fiction, establishing a sense of verisimilitude, the bridge between reality and fantasy, is important. That is why Tom Clancy can write about IRA splinter groups trying to kill the King: because there is a realistic degree of logic around the premise that people can identify. Verisimilitude is vital to narrative. Whoever wrote Call of Duty: Ghosts saw fit to leave out verisimilitude entirely. Why explain the minutia of a tacked-on story in game that is not good to begin with?

Why not?

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The back-story is that after the Middle East is depleted of resources, South America would become the new oil haven. This prompts the rise and spread of the Federation from Venezuela. As the Fed took over, they were hunting down US born citizens and executing them for no discernible reason. Then America ordered the assassination of its leader before the invasion two years later.

In speculative fiction, this premise is plausible. South America has huge oil deposits that might be exploited in the event conventional sources are lost. To the US, this change would not make a difference due to fracking, but South America’s rise to prominence as a global supplier is a reasonable assumption. As a result, key countries in the region vie for control of the deposits, and what country is more skilled in the concept of centralized economic systems than a socialist “republic”?

But what would prompt an invasion if this country can claim dominion of oil rich lands? The most logical answer is the placement of the ODIN satellite. How could you not feel threatened by a kinetic bombardment platform hanging in low orbit above your territory? From the opposite perspective, this imagined United States probably felt intimidated by the Fed, and established a deterrent to prevent a possible ground attack.

That still does not explain why the Federation would invade. The Fed’s opening gambit was the capture of ODIN, which was used to open up a way into the Heartland by crippling the southern border.Of course, the Fed forces could have just destroyed the satellite. Why did the Federation proceeded with an invasion? Was it out of revenge for the assassination? Maybe the Fed wanted to keep its genocidal train rolling and wipe out America completely? It could not have been for resources if they are a wealthy world supplier. Did they want to halt domestic U.S. production of oil to increase their profits?

Here is the thing: the game does not explain or get into the background of the Fed’s creation and motivation. The information in the last three paragraphs is based on my assumptions. The game makes a habit of implying without further explanation because the writers did not foresee players wanting to explore any depth of narrative.

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10 years after the invasion, the US and the Fed are locked in a stalemate. In addition to the wall along a no man’s land between Mexico and the Heartland, many cities are repurposed military installations to stave off attacks. As far as I can tell, America has been mostly successful in preventing further incursions. What is not clear is the sense of desperation.

The US is up against significant opposition in this scenario, but what happened to our allies? What happened to the fact we spend more money on defense than the next 34 countries combined, and significant numbers of our citizens are armed? Was our economy declining before the launch of ODIN? Did our reliance on oil imports lead to our demise? That would not make sense because domestic oil production has been on the rise for years thanks to the controversial and dangerous practice of fracking. If we could hypothetically afford to put an orbital bombardment platform in space, we can afford to defend our own borders.

Perhaps if the effects of the war were more defined and involved the player in that 10-year period, the steady decline of America’s fighting spirit would be tangible and sympathetic. It would make sense why many of your missions involve gathering intelligence and turning the enemy’s weapons on themselves. However, the game does not explain anything and drops you into the fight. You are given no incentive to suspect you are up against impossible odds except for when the characters say things are bad without showing you.

This brings to mind the game’s ham-fisted theme of fatherhood. You play as Logan, the archetypal silent protagonist, with a brother named Hesh (seriously?), and both of you look up to your father Elias, voiced by the venerable Stephen Lang. It is made obvious that your dad is a Ghost and he has been training you to join the unit. It is not clear how long this training has taken place, nor if his sons are prior service, but between the 10-year jump Elias has tested the boys and somehow strengthened their bond.

Too bad you do not see this story happen or develop sympathy. You are told you have a bond, and are never shown that bond through visuals, causal dialog, or any of the available methods in this medium. All Elias does is tell the boys what to do over radio, provide backstory, and say wise things. Such empty characterization a missed opportunity to explore the idea of a father training his sons to be soldiers.

What if Hesh wanted to be an artist and had contempt for Elias trying to force his lifestyle, while you listened and joined the Ghosts? What if Hesh had all these daddy issues up until the Fed invasion? He would be forced to become a soldier, leading to interaction with his father, maybe some quality time in the midst of war, and a renewed relationship. It would make Elias’s death at the climax more palpable–and the game did not even bother. I wrote a better story in this paragraph than the game’s entire script.

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When gameplay fails, narrative must pick up the pieces, but the story of Call of Duty: Ghosts is a tragedy of failed potential that could have been better than a generic shooter. This is a lesson for all writers, especially of videogames, to look past the mere playability of your chosen genre, and strive to do something more memorable and alive. For a better shooter with actual depth to its narrative and characters, I highly recommend Wolfenstein New Order as an alternative.

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CT McMillan 1

C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer.  He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.

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