There's been a lot of virtual ink spilled about Modern Warfare 2's now infamous "No Russian" level. In an attempt to not till the same wee patch of soil, there's just one specific issue I'm going to call out. I actually wasn't intending to write about this at all, but a friend brought up an interesting issue when we were talking about this last night. (And obviously, there are massive spoilers ahead.)
There are a lot of problem with the "No Russian" scene, most of which have been discussed in the links above. It comes out of nowhere, fitting poorly into the game's plot. Even if it's meant as a critique of Jack Bauer's "ends justify the means" hawkishness, it still makes little sense. It's also severely incongruous with the rest of the tenor of the game (which just minutes before had you rocketing down a snowy mountain on a snowmachine, doing totally sweet, crazy jumps and all but swilling Mountain Dew).
But the biggest failing of "No Russian" is that it unnecessarily betrays both the player and the uniqueness of interactive systems to create something "shocking."
"No Russian" falls down because if you don't play this scene exactly how Infinity Ward wanted, they rub your face it in and say, "You'll do it again, just like I said this time." Any attempt to deviate from the intended sequence of events, including getting killed too early, means failure and having to try again.
There's absolutely no reason for this kind of strict control. The outcome of the mission is your character being killed and framed by Makarov.
The scene would have been vastly more effective if firing upon the terrorists, being killed by the Russian SWAT response and making it to the end of the level all had the same outcome. In the case of the former two, a fade to black after being shot and then briefly back into consciousness where Makarov reveals his intentions. It doesn't even need a separate failure state, beyond making the presentation a little dynamic.
In short, you should play "No Russian" just once. Succeed (get to the end) or fail (take too many hits, fire on your "allies"), the outcome should be the same. But this would allow the player to express themselves if they felt as Anthony Burch did, and simply couldn't watch the atrocity anymore. It would set it apart as something different, asking you to sit up and pay attention.
Unlike other media, games are a conversation, their systems the lingua franca. But in the case of "No Russian," there is only the lecturing schoolmarm, wrapping the player's knuckles when they dare speak up. This isn't even about emergent vs. authorial or anything like that. It's about recognizing that games are interactive systems and they are far, far more powerful when they exploit this.
Beyond the other problems with "No Russian" (and they are myriad), this scene is a squandered opportunity to demonstrate to the likely tens of millions of players what more interactive meaning looks like. Instead, it's just another level where you shoot some dudes to get to the end and at the beginning, there's a horrific cutscene. I won't make hyperbolic claims about it being the worst thing I've ever seen. But given the reach Infinity Ward has with Modern Warfare 2, it's a shame they opted for a shocking but shallow moment instead of utilizing the unique strengths of interactive systems and creating something truly memorable.