"Call of Juarez" wasn't a provocative title, when it referred to the Mexican border town during the Old West. As the modern-day scene of more than 3,000 murders in the past year, it's a touchier subject.
"Call of Juarez: The Cartel" will be the third offering in the Ubisoft series, and it brings the tale into modern-day North America, as a "bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez." Ciudad Juarez is across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, and has been the scene of horrific, drug-trade violence that has stripped away any semblance of order or protection.
As a controversy, it is positioned to hit a rare double in the violent video games debate: Being criticized for glamorizing abstract criminal violence (as Grand Theft Auto traditionally is) while being "too soon" for current events (such as Medal of Honor's playable Taliban in its multiplayer mode, or the abortive Six Days in Fallujah concept offered by Atomic Games.)
Community leaders complained to the Reuters news agency that Call of Juarez: The Cartel is no better than the narcocorrido or "drug ballad" that is analagous in Mexican culture to what gangsta rap was in the U.S., particularly in the 1990s. In real life, Ciudad Jurez averaged eight killings per day last year, among them beheadings and torture deaths.
"This goes along the lines of narco-songs that portray cartel leaders as heroes, but both are a gross misrepresentation of who they are," Gomecindo Lopez, of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, told Reuters.
Ubsioft gave a boilerplate statement dissociating the game from current events: "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."
That hardly puts to rest any controversy about the title, but it'll be interesting to see how long or how persistent the outrage holds over Call of Juarez: The Cartel. The violence it invokes may be painful to communities on both sides of the border, but to the American consciousness it's largely a regional conflict. And this game is being marketed to U.S. consumers primarily. The bottom line is that it's not how soon you're portraying bloody events, but whose blood is being shed.