Recently, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare became roundly mocked when images showed a funeral event where the player is asked to “Press [F] to Pay Respects.” Some were quick to point out that Batman: Arkham City had a similar event where Batman could honor his fallen parents. There are several key differences between the two events, however, and it’s worth investigating why the former is the one that’s turned into a ridiculous meme.
1. Choice vs. No Choice.
In Arkham City, the player is likely to come across Crime Alley, where Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down, by chance while exploring. The prompt is how the game signals to the player that this is, in fact, that infamous alley. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the player decides to pay their respects or to keep on walking. The point has been made.
On the other hand, Call of Duty forces the player to Pay Respects for the game to proceed. It’s a mission objective just like any other, complete with an interactive reticle floating above the coffin. Furthermore, it’s embarrassing to ask the player to take this action explicitly. This is a military funeral! What else would you do, blow a raspberry? It’s no wonder players feel insulted.
2. What are you asking the player to do?
Look closely at the syntax. Arkham City asks the player to “[A] Pay Your Respects” – a complete action, with the contextual button prepended as a UI element. Call of Duty asks the player to “Press [F] to Pay Respects” – to push a button in a video game in order to perform the action. With this small change, the player’s action (push a button) now overwhelms the in-game result (Pay Respects).
Imagine this exact same scene recontexualized as a text adventure (“> PAY RESPECTS”) or as a Twine game (“You are attending a military funeral. Pay Respects“). None of these are as ridiculous as the text “Press [F] to Pay Respects”. By emphasizing the player action, the scene is immediately robbed of any possible emotional content.
3. Seriousness of theme
Batman is not real. Military funerals are real. This key distinction may have been lost on Call of Duty’s designers.
4. What are you telling the player?
When playing Arkham City, it’s easy to forget that this is the city where Bruce Wayne grew up. While a bit on the nose, implementing this alleyway (as just one of the city’s hundreds of alleyways) is a strong tool to pull the player out of their video game fugue state and remind them: this city is Gotham City, not just a random collection of streets and disposable thugs. It also reminds the player in an unexpected way that, despite being a billionaire badass with wonderful toys, Bruce Wayne still feels the loss of his parents. The interaction is about Bruce Wayne’s relationship with his deceased parents.
In Call of Duty, we don’t learn anything except the blindingly obvious: people are respectful at military funerals. Worse, by implementing the action in a mandatory and unskippable way, the game suggests that people are only pretending to be respectful at military funerals–that they are only acting polite because that’s the behavior that will let them get on with the rest of the day. The player has to Pay their Respects in order to check an item off a list, nothing more. The interaction is about the player’s relationship with a video game.
In some ways, it’s commendable that even a violent military game like Call of Duty now feels the add to need a moment of restful reflection in between all the guns and explosions. But hopefully the next time the designers decide to try their hand at an emotional interlude, they do so with a bit more respect.
This blog post originally appeared at The GIA.