In Case You Missed It, Reagan Was A Scumbag

In Case You Missed It, Reagan Was A Scumbag
Screenshot: Activision / Kotaku

America’s 40th president was a lot of things: a right-wing talk radio host, a Hollywood actor, a Red Scare monger, a charismatic liar. A great leader wasn’t one of them but for some reason Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War seems keen to revive that long-standing conservative fantasy.

I can only guess how many hours and how many indie game budgets went into meticulously detailing every weathered crack, mole, and discoloration in Ronald Reagan’s 70-year-old face so he could tell a room of CIA spooks in a voice of unwavering, fatherly assurance, to go do crimes in foreign countries.

I can also only guess why, in an otherwise cynical single-player campaign full of untrustworthy spies and conflicting truths, Treyarch and Raven Software chose to portray Reagan, whose legacy is now marked by scandal and disgrace even in many centrist circles, as a commander-in-chief of unimpeachable integrity and clear-sighted decision making.

Call Of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War: The Kotaku Review

Call Of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War launched on November 13 across multiple platforms, marking the first Call of Duty title to support cross-gen crossplay. Even during a pandemic and a shortened development cycle, we get all the Black Ops goodness we could expect from a Treyarch Call of Duty. There’s a paranoid-filled campaign with iconic Black Ops characters, fast-paced multiplayer, and the return of the undead.

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Instead, Reagan provides the game’s clear moral throughline, reminding the player that, no matter how messy the fog of war or the spycraft nations use to influence geopolitics, the United States’ intentions are good and its safety and dominance must be safeguarded at all costs.

The scene introducing Reagan begins with a political aide complaining that Black Ops Cold War’s protagonists are being too paranoid about shadowy Soviet menaces, and later that illegal clandestine operations could blow up in the administration’s face. The CIA agents, framed as world-weary badasses, fire back that everything they do is illegal, and if they don’t take action innocent people will die. When a secret service agent enters the room, everyone goes silent, stands, puts out their cigarettes. Reagan strides in, full of swagger and his big-boss pants pulled up tight, to break the bureaucratic gridlock: The Soviet menace is real, the fate of the free world is at stake, and you and your spy bros will blow up whatever you need to ensure that the U.S. remains top dog.

Screenshot: Activision / Kotaku Screenshot: Activision / Kotaku

It’s a dick-swinging caricature without an ounce of irony that might make even the National Review blush. The real Reagan, of course, did have a soft spot for backchannel sabotage, illegal CIA operations, and blowing stuff up. As the New York Times reported a year ago based on recently unsealed documents, 1980 presidential campaign surrogates Reagan worked with closely admitted to trying to impede the Iranian hostage negotiations in order to prevent Jimmy Carter from winning the election.

The infamous Iran-Contra scandal saw the U.S. sell arms to Iran to fund right-wing rebels in Nicaragua who kidnapped, tortured, and executed men, women, and children. Unlike Black Ops Cold Wars’ Reagan, who is very keyed in on the details of every CIA operation, the real one claimed to have no knowledge of people in his own administration breaking international law to fund death squads in South America. Ultimately fourteen Reagan administration officials were indicted, including Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who at the time was part of the National Security Council, and later went on to consult on Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

Most Reagan hagiography focuses on his Cold War bluster, perhaps because his legacy on the homefront is even more damning. Morning in America is a foregone conclusion in Black Ops Cold War. What are you defending? Booming capitalist markets and low inflation rates, of course. But in reality Cold War warriors were protecting the looting of America’s working classes by turning unregulated markets and union busting into anti-Soviet virtues. Reaganomics saw the rich get richer while the minimum wage continued to stagnate.

Meanwhile, Reagan blamed the immiseration at the bottom on “welfare queens” and addicts, escalating the war on drugs and paving the way for the modern prison industrial complex that disproportionately incarcerates and disenfranchises people of colour, especially Black men. More funding went to police departments under Reagan, and newly implemented mandatory minimums sent more people to prison. All of this under a backdrop of campaigning on racist appeals to states rights, small government, and individual freedom meant to undermine federal legislation around voting rights and desegregation.

Screenshot: Activision / Kotaku Screenshot: Activision / Kotaku

What’s weirdest about Black Ops Cold War’s nostalgic homage to Reagan is that it’s coming not in the years of Bill Clinton’s “the era of big government is over” capitulation to Reagan’s legacy, or George W. Bush’s “with us or against us” global war on terror, or even the unseemly Reagan bootlicking of the 2012 and 2016 Republican primaries, but in 2020, a year in which even the so-called standard-bearers for principled Reagan conservatism let the mask slip off their corrupt, reactionary faces and then ran it over with a pickup truck just so Donald Trump might tweet nice things about them.

Maybe after four years of Trump Black Ops Cold War was supposed to offer a call back to a more respectable time when political leaders of deep conviction with clear moral compasses guided the country through tough and divided times. We’re in a pandemic after all, and some actual leadership on issues of literal life and death would be much appreciated. Of course, Reagan oversaw his own national health crisis — the AIDs epidemic — and he didn’t give a shit about it either. In fact, his administration started out by making fun of it.

Do I want to fight to save Reagan’s America? No, I do not. And fortunately Black Ops Cold War doesn’t ultimately force you to. What I would like to do is play a time-travelling bounty hunter and wheel Reagan’s arse before the Hague. Because, in case one of the soon-to-be best-selling games of the year gave you the wrong impression, he was an absolute piece of shit.


    • Just completely ignore all of the historical record and the evidence presented by the article. Hand wave it all away because you don’t like the left or something.

      Reagan was responsible for incredible crimes against humanity both overseas and against his own people. He was garbage.

      • All of them were terrible. Will Kotaku write an article about any representations of Obama and the amount of drone strikes he condoned that butchered civilians? American Presidents being garbage isn’t exactly a new concept for the rest of the world.

          • Give it time, I’m sure a whole bunch more Presidents, including Obama, will end up in COD or something similar and we’ll hear crickets, because god forbid acknowledging that the job inherently attracts bastards.

  • Ethan sure is mad about a president he wasn’t around to experience.
    Don’t worry, I doubt anyone’s getting their opinion on American presidents from a video game.
    Also, lol at trickle down economics. What a crock of shit that was, and continues to be.

  • “What I would like to do is play a time-travelling bounty hunter and wheel Reagan’s arse before the Hague.”

    As a non-political aside, I would 100% play this game.

  • Also don’t forget that the AIDS crisis was exacerbated by Reagan’s indifference and his administration’s inaction – and sometimes active contempt – in what was informally known as the “gay plague”. In the end, over 89,000 Americans died of AIDS during Reagan’s administration.

  • Hagiography of shitty, horrible people and simplification and white-washing of history into black/white, good/evil morality plays should always be called out. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to play the single-player campaign, and they’re going to internalize a version of Reagan that didn’t exist, elevating the things he stood for and denigrating the things that he opposed.

    • Its almost as if the game is fictional. Not meant to be accurate. What’s next? A game set during WW2 and an article titled “In case you missed it Hitler was a scumbag”

      You are acting like the game is gonna bring on the second coming of Nazi Germany.

      • except of course, I’ve yet to see a AAA game that glosses over hitlers faults to paint him as an avid pacifist who spouted compassion and love. Just because Reagan, Thatcher and the like were the ‘good guys’ doesn’t mean their shittiness gets swept under the rug.

        • Yup.

          People make deliberate creative (conscious or otherwise) choices about what to include, what not to include, etc. What informs all of those choices is a massive complex web of our own knowledge, experiences, influences from people around us and a million different other systems that impact our lives in ways big, small, and sometimes invisible.

          What’s grating about the ‘Not everything is political’ line is that it ignores the influences on creative choices. People don’t make art, games, media or any kind of semi-creative or fully professional creative work in some kind of bubble. It’s constantly drawing from external sources, and what creators do and don’t include is always a deliberate choice.

          That’s not to say everything should be drilled down like a polsci essay, or that every game or piece of art warrants heavy self reflection. But we shouldn’t shy away from looking at games when they get closer to that wire. The developers are effectively licensing real life and making choices about what to portray and what to exclude, and it’s natural for those choices to come under a more critical lens.

          We shouldn’t shy away that kind of criticism or writing. It won’t always be on point — no human or creator nails it every time. But it makes no sense to come into an op-ed and then complain about it not being like every other piece of coverage; that’s what all the other stories are for! The internet doesn’t need another piece of content that treads the same track as everything else.

          Also, just to add to the Reagan was a piece of shit pile, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of innocents who were either executed or tortured thanks to Reagan’s continued support of certain despots.

  • I suppose when you don’t have a good point, you invent a lousy one relating to an entirely different world leader.

  • Beep Boop indeed.

    Look at me. I write for Kotaku. I just get so darn mad at everything. What about Thatcher shutting down all them mines! Grrr! Hang on. Mining is bad, isn’t it? Does that make Thatcher good? It’s so confusing being on the left. I wanted to cancel Reagan, but then my dad told me he died years ago. Selfish!

    Sigh! Kotaku running out of things to bleat about?

    Feel free to delete my post again, Kotaku. That’s how it works now isn’t it? Anything that doesn’t support the woke narrative gets scrubbed from existence. There was a time when the left actually encouraged disparate views. Good times.

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