But I recall having an uneasy feeling when first installing the original Call of Duty on my PC sometime in the winter of 2003. I didn’t know what to expect. I'd played the numerous shoddy and sub-mediocre World War II PC FPS’s of the day like The Deadly Dozen and the god-awful D-Day: Normandy.
Needless to say, the FPS's of circa 2001 didn't do much to impress someone who'd grown up on The Duke, B.J. Blaskowicz, and a certain Martian Marine.
But lo, that ill-at-ease feeling quickly dissipated. Call of Duty was unlike any other World War II FPS I'd ever played. With tight, responsive controls and competent enemy A.I. that, at higher difficulties, morphed into brutally relentless automatons of mass destruction, COD blew me away.
Everything about the game drew me in. A year later, the expansion pack, Call of Duty: United Offensive, did the same. Even today, the original COD holds up and remains one of the hardest, most frustrating shooters I’ve ever played.
Enemy A.I. proved deadlier, far more intelligent, far more pitiless in their strategy than before. Although still linear, level paths grew richer, more diverse; the entire diegesis became a near sand-box milieu, full of dark cubbies in which to hide in a firefight, from which to snipe marauding sentries. When I first saw it on the Xbox 360, it simply seemed incredible.
It blew me away.
Regardless, one thing stood out so obtusely that it couldn’t have been ignored.
Inarguably polarizing, the player was no longer required to scour the level for healthpacks; now, with regenerative health, all the player had to do was hide (or take cover) for several moments and bang, they were right back in the thick of things.
A wonderful achievement; I didn’t have to waste time sleuthing around like some amateur Sherlock Holmes searching for opium to continue blasting fascists away. I could do it unbridled. Hell, I felt like a god.
But of course, then came Modern Warfare 2, the exemplar of gaming in my early 20s.
For me, it ushered in the era of reinvigorated social gaming, but, more pointedly (and I would say detrimentally to some extent,) the era of the trophy hunter. MW2 was the first game I drudged over laboriously to achieve that ephemerally elusive, signature PSN “ding;” not since Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the original Playstation had my thumbs blistered, my back ached, or my legs so profusely throbbed from obscene hours of continuous, all-engrossing play.
Because of it, I played games I never would have; I played games I abhorred; I played games I cherished and grew to detest. The incessant sojourn of the hunter led me down dark, cobbled pathways full of such distasteful fogs and shadows that I thought I might never return.
How could I grow to hate Castlevania: Lords of Shadow? Oh yeah, “Epic Victory” and “Trials XII.” How could I grow to hate Demons’ Souls? Oh yeah, the “Darkmoon’s Trophy” and the “False King’s Trophy.” It all felt so wrong, playing games for their trophies, for those ethereal denotations of sacrificed hours, place holders of space and nothing more. What had Modern Warfare 2' platinum elicited in me?
(O' God the horror...)
I experienced rage, disgust, melancholy, and greed, sentiments that wholeheartedly engendered in me loss and unshakable guilt. I missed so man narratives, so many worlds because I was trophy hunting. I played so many games without truly experiencing them; I played so many games without playing them, but instead playing the addictive meta-game that preyed on me more fiercely than any Dracula or Shadowlurker ever could.
Today, I instead game for fun. I game to experience. And every once in a pale moon, I’ll venture out in search of a trophy – or achievement, since I now call Steam home, for the most part.
And for a long time I hated Modern Warfare 2 for what it did to me, for instilling in me some aberration, some venomous jinx. But I’ve returned to it, played it, and enjoyed it for what it is…without trophies.
I caught a lot of stuff I missed the first time around.