Feb. 17, 2011 at 6:41 PM ET
The game “Call of Juarez: The Cartel” is the focus of some controversy, considering over 3,000 people were killed in drug-related murders in the real Ciudad Juarez, Mexico last year alone. The third installment to the franchise has moved from Old West to modern times. Jumping forward in time isn’t an unusual choice, especially considering the second game was a prequel to the events of the first story. However, making a game out of the modern day Juarez may just hit too close to home.
The Juarez of today is in the midst of a very real drug war with real casualties. On average 60 people die in in the city every week. It's a city torn apart by the drug cartels that are battling for control of the $2 billion drug trade flowing through the city into the U.S. This isn't happening a hundred years ago, this all going on right now, and because of that, it's not likely to be something that an average video game can handle sensitively. (To help understand this conflict you should check out this slideshow of images from the drug war in Juarez.)
According to the official website for the game:
This first-person shooter brings the lawlessness of the Old West into present day. You'll embark on a bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez, Mexico immersing yourself in a gritty plot with interesting characters and a wide variety of game play options.
From that brief description it doesn't sound like a thoughtful analysis of the human cost of the drug trade — a trade that just last week claimed the lives of three high school students from El Paso, Texas:
A spokesperson from the game's publisher Ubisoft released this statement:
"Call of Juarez: The Cartel" is purely fictional and developed by the team at Techland for entertainment purposes only. While "Call of Juarez: The Cartel" touches on subjects relevant to current events in Juarez, it does so in a fictional manner that makes the gaming experience feel more like being immersed in an action movie than in a real-life situation. Ubisoft is an entertainment company and our intention is to create a unique experience for video game fans.
Last year, the "Medal of Honor" series tried to bring players closer to real war while remaining an entertainment product by depicting military action in Afghanistan — but I think it failed to be entertaining or impactful. Video games have the potential to bring social awareness to real and serious situations going on our world but that doesn't appear to be the motivation of either the "MoH" developers or the creators of "Call of Juarez."
For now we have no additional story details, but we expect more information to emerge this March, and we won't have full sense of the game till we play it ourselves. They certainly have our attention now, but maybe that is the point of the controversial choice of setting in the first place. For now, what we do have is the reality of Juarez, as reported in this grim Nightly News segment:
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