The image above is of a French soldier currently on active duty in Mali. He's wearing a mask that looks like the one a character from Call of Duty wears. This is, somehow, cause for enough indignation that the French military and government have opened an investigation into what they call "unacceptable" behaviour.
The entire controversy stems from the fact the mask makes the guy look like Ghost, a character from the Modern Warfare series. It's not the deathly visage itself, just the association people have made between the soldier and a character in an "ultra-violent video game" that's seen as distasteful.
At a press conference earlier this week, reports AFP, French Colonel Thierry Burkhard said in response to online observations that the soldier resembled "Ghost" (pictured) that the wearing of the mask was "unacceptable behaviour", and that it was "not representative of the action that brought France to Mali to help". French authorities are now trying to identify the soldier, presumably so they can reprimand/make a scapegoat out of him.
Well, Col. Burkhard, and everyone who took note of only the observation and whose knee jerked instantly in response, you might want to investigate the mask before investigating the man.
For one, you've got to feel for this particular guy, since skull masks (or balaclavas, which is actually what Ghost is wearing) are incredibly common in armed forces across the world, especially the US. American soldiers have been wearing them, and have been having their pictures taken in them, for years.
This leads us to perhaps the more important point: the mask was not invented by Call of Duty, or its developers Infinity Ward. Indeed, its presence in the game was inspired by the mask's use by soldiers in real life, as it's been worn by US troops — who first took to it as a fashionable alternative from regular gear (it began life as a designer ski mask) at the beginning of the Iraq War — for almost a decade now, long before development ever began on the Modern Warfare series.
It was even in Hollywood movies before it was in Call of Duty, with 2005's Harsh Times (left) featuring a scene in which Christian Bale is sporting a "skull mask" almost identical to the one "Ghost" — and now this French soldier — wears.
In short, the mask is in Call of Duty because it's associated with real soldiers, not the other way around. To say it's somehow representative of the game makes no more sense than saying bad tracksuits are only around because of Grand Theft Auto IV.
The photographer at the heart of the controversy, AFP's Issouf Sanogo, is "surprised" by the resulting media storm, no doubt because he's got half a brain.
"A helicopter was coming in to land and churning up tremendous dust clouds", he told AFP. "Instinctively, all the soldiers grabbed their scarfs to avoid getting a mouthful of sand. It was evening, and rays of sunlight were pushing through the trees and into the dust clouds. It was a lovely light. I spotted this soldier wearing a strange scarf and took the photo. At the time, nothing about the scene seemed especially unusual or shocking. The soldier wasn't posing and there was nothing staged about the image. He was just standing there, protecting his face from the dust, waiting for the chopper to land. No one tried to stop me shooting the picture."