The Silly Outrage Over A Soldier Wearing A ‘Call Of Duty’ Mask

The Silly Outrage Over A Soldier Wearing A ‘Call Of Duty’ Mask

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.”

Unmasking a controversy in Mali [AFP]


  • Colonel Burkhard is quite right in that it is “unacceptable behaviour”. The soldiers are being sent to Mali to help and what do the locals see? Some French guy with a gun dressed as a skull? Way the freak out the natives and fill them with confidence.

    It’s not about some COD reference. It’s about acting responsibly and professionally. What do you think people would think if you turned up to work dressed in a pink tutu each day?

    • Absolutely. I don’t know where the outrage is supposed to be coming from. You do NOT want your troops dressing like that in foreign countries. It gives absolutely the wrong message.

      • Depends. If the soldier is just a basic army grunt, then yeah, you don’t want that (they’re the ones mostly involved in policing the place). If it’s a spec-ops operator, eg; Ranger, Delta, SAS, etc, then there’s no problem. Their job isn’t to play nice with the natives so to speak, it’s to eradicate threats with impunity. They have no fear for they are fear incarnate. 😛

        • Not really. A big part of the special forces job is to work with the locals and to NOT piss them off. This is the last thing one of the SAS would do.

          There’s a really good doco about the sas selection course that they run on ABC a couple of times a year, it goes into good detail. Basically if you’re the kind of guy that’s a stone cold killer, who likes wearing death masks, they don’t want you.

    • As the story said, he put this on because there were dustclouds created by helicopter landing. He isn’t wearing while passing out bottled water to earthquake victims or something, just covered his mouth for a couple minutes while it was mighty dusty out.

      Pretty sure locals would have been busy covering their eyes not wondering why the grim reaper was unloading a helicopter.

  • I don’t know about the video game link, which is tenuous, but given the French military’s goals in Mali it does seem inappropriate.

  • From the article I’m trying to understand if the controversy is over the fact that the mask looks like its from Call of Duty, or if its purely about the fact that it’s a Skull mask.

  • This all could be taken out of context, Yes the US armed forces will let to a point personal gear to be used and i know that our defense force forbids this practice. This is what the Colonel could be stating is “unacceptable behaviour” that he is breaking regulations of the uniform and just that he said that he resembled “Ghost” was used to describe the soldier.

  • Pretty sure Ghost from CoD wore a balaclava with a skull pattern on it. This guy is just wearing a bandanna. Doesn’t really change much if they don’t like it, but it’s got nothing to do with video games. A friend of mine has the exact same bandanna and wears it the same way riding his bike around when it’s cold.

    Although I do think soldiers should be pretty careful with how they appear to the locals, especially when in a foreign country. Don’t need to give anyone reason to be uneasy or to look at you in any way other than you just being a soldier doing their job.

    Then again, was this guy on patrol, or is this a photo from a training exercise or something? If he wore it during an exercise, or perhaps to cover his identity for the photo, it might make sense. Don’t know much about the French military, but this guy could be some sort of special operations.

    Who knows?

  • The mask the soldier is wearing has nothing to do with CoD. Hell, I’ve had a mask with that exact design on it for my motorbike riding long before CoD came out. Next they’ll be saying ‘OMG soldiers are using guns, just like in them vidya games!’

    Still not appropriate in general though.

  • Kind of depends on the reason for the military to be there.
    If you are in an active warzone fighting a known enemy, then the use of skulls and deathly imagery can have a negative psychological impact on the enemy. It’s a tactic that’s been used for thousands of years, though back then it tended to be severed heads on spikes or something like that.
    However if you are there as a peacekeeping force to help the locals, it’s probably not sending the right message.
    That being said – it’s pretty harmless. I’m sure these soldiers have skulls, guns, knives and explosions on their patches and squad markings etc etc.

  • Some of my best trolling was done by telling people that the AC-130 that Infinity Ward ‘Invented’ was so good that the Air force decided to build them. A group of friends and myself also used to joke that call of duty was real life and that real life was just copying call of duty but failed because call of duty was so much more realistic.

  • He’s outta uniform, he’s knowingly outta uniform, so he’s gonna get punished, case closed. There’s a reason why you wear uniforms, so your own guys don’t shoot ya by mistake.

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