Call of Duty's "racist content" should have been stamped out a long time ago

Sean Carey - June 6th 2020

The death of George Floyd shook up the world and has been the catalyst for people to take to the streets and support the Black Lives Matter movement. The video game industry is showing its support too, with companies making donations, shutting down servers and making changes to their games. One of those is Infinity Ward who will be cracking down on player-generated "racist content" in its games Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone. However, both Activision and Infinity Ward should have stamped out the racists and racism that's been infecting its games a long time ago.

Infinity Ward announced it would be bringing in new measures to combat "racist content" from players in Modern Warfare. In a statement, the developer mentioned that more resources would be put towards monitoring and identifying racist content, making several technical changes to increase the number of bans per hour, adding restrictions on username changes and increasing the number of permanent bans. This is all very commendable, and it's great to see — racism is vile and shouldn't exist in today's society — but it also raises questions. Namely, why weren't these measures in the game already? In my eyes and many others', it's sad that it's taken the death of George Floyd and the current Black Lives Matter protests for the company to step up to tackle racism in Call of Duty.

For years, Call of Duty has had issues with racist content finding its way into games from players. From my own experience, I remember consistently hearing racial slurs shouted in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I've seen Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 lobbies filled with player-created emblems of swastikas, KKK imagery and other despicable pictures and words. The same can be said for more modern Call of Duty titles such as Call of Duty: WWII. The series, unfortunately, had a track record, so Infinity Ward and Activision both should have known better when it came to Modern Warfare — swastikas and other inappropriate words are still not unheard of today. Even reading the replies to the latest Infinity Ward tweet will reveal some similar examples.

How are these things still happening in Call of Duty today? For a publisher as large and with as much money as Activision, it really should have ploughed resources into the game to make sure this type of racist content isn't viewable from the start. Infinity Ward says its banned thousands of racist and hate-filled usernames since the game's launch, but it's clearly not enough. Surely, implementing a content filter on Activision usernames isn't too much to ask? We contacted Activision for comment on why Infinity Ward is only now stepping up their measures in the game. Activision did not respond to our request for comment.

The timing of all of this may seem cynical to some, but I do believe Infinity Ward isn't doing this just for the PR. Infinity Ward is doing the right thing, and although reactive in its approach, and the changes have come around far too late, it still must be commended for admitting its failings and for vowing to make a change. It would have been much easier to stay quiet — nobody wants to admit they've failed especially on issues such as this.

Racism isn't just prevalent in Call of Duty. Plenty of developers suffer from abhorrent people jumping into their games who spout disgusting racist epithets and target other players. Some are better and more well equipped for handling things than others, but it's time all developers, and publishers start taking racism in games more seriously. It's an extremely hard thing to police when voice chat and private messaging are involved, but content filters, outright bans and monitoring of racist content should be a default in game development — not an afterthought. Many big video game companies have shown their support and stepped up in their own way; some with donations, the closing of servers or just messages that show solidarity towards the Black Lives Matter movement. It's fantastic to see the industry uniting in the fight against racism. However cynical some may think the timing of these gestures may be, I would much rather see companies say something instead of nothing.

Activision and Infinity Ward should rightly be criticised for past transgressions, but hopefully, they have learned from past mistakes, other developers and publishers will follow suit, and those who are hateful enough to use racist language in multiplayer games will think twice before speaking or creating a disgusting username or avatar. Infinity Ward apologised to its players for its failings and has updated Modern Warfare and Warzone with a powerful message of support to the Black Lives Matter movement. Now is the time for the developer and Activision to finally clamp down, stick to its pledge and start being more proactive in the fight against racism going forward.

"The time is always ripe to do right" - Martin Luther King Jr