Why Soldiers Wear Call Of Duty-Style Masks

Now that Call of Duty: Ghosts is an official thing — and since the only detail we're being given is something to do with masks, I think — it's an interesting time to look back on what the famous and one-time-infamous Call of Duty skull mask even is. You might not remember the event that tried to place infamy on the balaclava that Lieutenant Ghost (ahem, ahem) wears in Call of Duty.

Luke wrote about it back in January, back before Call of Duty: Ghosts was a thing. But the interesting part here isn't the outrage that followed the erroneous assumption that real-life soldiers were wearing masks based on a video game. The interesting part is what the mask is all about.

An excerpt from Luke's piece:

...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 isn't one guy acting alone, it's an established "fashion" amongst soldiers worldwide.

Which 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.

It seems like Call of Duty: Ghosts might treat the mask as something more than a fashion statement.


    it is also to scare the enemy. OOHH YEAHHHHHHH ballsack

    Last edited 02/05/13 3:03 pm

      I thought in gaming they acted as protection from teabagging.

    Unless the mask makes me run faster and take less fall damage i don't really care about it.

    The SAS operating in Ireland were wearing them both because it's cold... and it hides their identities.

    I'd like to point out that this article doesn't actually answer the question it poports to answer.

      +1, I noticed this also...

        The question needs to be changed to "Why COD brought in the skull balaclavas that soldiers have been wearing for years."

      There's probably something psychological about dehumanising themselves from their role... and maybe about creating a barrier between themselves and their enemies?

        Why do people look into it more than:
        "Man, my face is cold, that balaclava looks warm and has a skull on it, that's fucking cool"

        Not really. Customization of ones personal appearance is a primary driver, same as with those Oakleys everybody started wearing in Iraq etc, other stuff, thats less in your face shows this too (boots, general head wear, gloves etc), . Ironically others pick it up and then everybody looks the same again. Customization goes further than clothing too...some German soldiers started painting skulls on ammo boxes of HMGs on their APCs...that didnt go down well with command.

          Yeah. You see the same thing happen with school uniforms. Skirts and jackets worn in particular ways. Pretty much anything you can get away with adding your personal touch, even if it is just copying someone else's personal touch, is a way to move away from the stock standard uniform.

      I'd like to point out that this article doesn't actually answer the question it poports to answer

      Fashion. That's the article's answer to its own question.

      Holy shit you're right, it's a bunch of blathering shit that doesn't even answer...

      Oh wait Tina Amini.

      Should've known.

    In my unit (reserve), you wear a mask that's not supplied via DMO (ie, your own), you'll be on the recieving end of a stern (re loud) 'chat' for wearing non-standard/unapproved gear and pick up additional duties (ie, shitty, shitty tasks) for doing so. On the purely personal level, you'll be ridiculed mercilessly for doing anything Call of Duty related. CoD occupies a very low rung on the professional respect ladder amongst my colleagues, particularly due to the number of kids asking us dumb, CoD related questions during open days and other events, dropping military-esque lingo (kids using Seppo bullshit like Oscar-Mike is one of our faves!) and so on. For example, one of our guys plays in a band and got himself a fauxhawk with closely shaved sides, we tormented him and his 'Roach' style cut for a few weeks. He got sick of his 'cock' moniker after about day 2 (since we call them cockroaches, not roaches here). Good times.

    Last edited 02/05/13 3:20 pm

      Oh please, please share more stories of stupid CoD kids asking what should be obvious, stupid questions.

      Yeah you guys would be more into BF3 faw shaw

      Have you ever deployed? My experience is that regulations are getting quite a bit more loose the minute foreign soil is being touched. I remember very well, how anal procedures regarding personal equipment and clothing were in my home garrison. Other stuff too. Very different picture then in Kosovo and Afghanistan (German army)...

        There's a difference between loose and idiotic. I havent deployed (May not ever get to) but yeah grunts get to either have their RQ issue them special kit or buy their own, but its still in their best interest to act professionally (not wear a skull mask like a Frenchman or 16 year old air softer).

        No operational unit has ever passed inspection...

        I should imagine there'd be plenty of dirty chocks who are even more snake than the regs

        No operational unit has ever passed inspection...

        I should imagine there'd be plenty of dirty chocks who are even more anal than the regs

      Id actually love to hear some of the inane things kids ask during open days and other events

      Bleh, classic reserves. God I hated going from regs to reserves. Self-righteous wankers who never leave the training mentality behind.

        Seconded. They are incredibly cocky and seem to have a sense of entitlement. It's like they expect people to praise them for their heroic service to their nation.

        Kind of sad actually.


      Warries from a choco.

      Almost as good as kapooka warries from recruits.

        Haven't always been a WW, only recently. And stories of woe and heartache from blunties are what pull at my heartstrings

      You have never deployed have you. Try being in a desert without a face-mask. 10 sec in a sand storm and you have no skin on your face.

        He was referring to non-standard issue gear. He did not object to wearing a balaclava or bandana.

          What you said Para. We have a lot of regies on base, but it's like you say, it's different on deployment. The anal/rigid attitudes about trivial things fall by the wayside mostly. There are bigger concerns than 'polishing boots' and doing the dusting. Not to say that attitude doesn't disappear completely.

    Tina just cut and pasted Plunkett.
    Surely this is an indicator that we are nearing the end of days?

      In a few more months this article will be quoted in another article that doesn't answer the question by another lazy Kotaku submitter.

    But the title says "why soldiers wear masks" and nowhere in the article do you say why???

      I think the reasons are pretty obvious though; Protection from elements and simple filter, face concealment and anonymity (which can have a psychological effect). Besides, Shemaghs work better anyway.

      Best thing is they say "skull mask = balaclava", which is wrong, as most soldiers actually use a bandana-style piece of cloth (including the French guy in the picture). The whole custom is derived from the fact, that bandanas are usually standard issue in many military forces as means to offer additional protection primarily against dust.

    We all know music and fashion go around in a cycle, the wearing of masks by Soldiers now could be a throwback to when soldiers wore decorative helms. Look at the Shogunate era in japan - scary masks, Medieval Helms, Roman full face helms etc. Designed to impress and scare. Just my thoughts on the matter.

    I'm a soldier and I would be fucking murdered if my RSM saw me wearing something that stupid.

      Yeah no shit. Pretty sure ASODS doesn't mention skull balaclavas

    OMCs have been wearing home made versions for decades; This didn't start recently, it was only adopted by the armed forces in the last 20 years, and for the same reason - Dickheads want to look more badass than they really are. It's a fact of life. An army pal advised me that anyone under him would get their arse kicked for wearing something like that (ADF, so I can't speak for any other armed forces).

    Apart from fashion, I imagine it might be a similar reason to why Samurai wore menpo (the lower face armour) designed to make them look like Oni or having fierce expressions. Psychological warfare.

    I'm still coming to terms with the knowledge that some people might consider this an original (and somehow historically transcendent) concept thought up by Infinity Ward for the CoD games in the first place...

    As far as what it means, well I'll assume the item itself was born of necessity and the trend evolved into something more personalised. It's really not uncommon at all. These things are just eye candy and pointless self glorification in games to the civilian majority. Pointless unless associated with some in game mechanic, or incorporated let's say into a more realised version of the Ghost Recon headsets/ HUD...

    As for it's symbolic relevance to any one soldier or mercenary in active duty I can't say. I do know that if my face was cold, then I could care less about a skull design. If I wanted to intimidate the enemy it may be an option also.

    As far as just wanting to look "cool" goes I don't buy into it. I don't care. Bikers don't care either but I wouldn't go out of my way to tell them what I thought about it.

    These are just motocross masks and have been available for decades.

    And bikies have been wearing skull face balaclavas when riding for even longer.

    Mask are gay

    Last edited 03/05/13 12:34 am

      Pffft. Yeah sure. After compass, map, water bottle, rifle, knife, boots, hat, rope, shelter etc.

      You get my point. It's the last accessory to have as it serves almost no purpose in keeping you alive. Everything I listed does.

        That's nice to know but why ur telling me this?

          You edited your comment. I was replying to what you previously said.

      Confidence? I feel much more confident sitting behind the armour of my LAV and my 7.62mm GPMG than I do wearing any kind of cover over my face. I mean if you want a confidence boost, do it right! :p

        If ur ugly a mask could help ur give u a confidence boost.

        How many people here in Kotaku claim they're in the military?

        Actually being the gunner on a moving vehicle makes it all the more relevant to wear some kind of face cover to protect against dust and sand, unless you are sitting inside crewing a RWS. We never had fancy stuff like that though. I was designated driver on a M113, and at least in training I always had to stick my face out (and protect it).

          Yeah, you learn it's value after a ride that results in mouth full of bugs, dirt, grass and shit. :p

    Why the title is like this and the article is like that...it makes me confused.

    Oh I love it when civis and journos talk military. *gene wilder face* Please, tell me about balaclavas

      Got nothing to do with being civilian or journo. Its about research and fact-checking. I have met plenty of active or former servicemen, who had as little a clue about many military aspects. I have also met many civilians and a few journalists, who had plenty of solid insights.

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