“Social solidarity can be defined as the degree to which social units are integrated” (Allan, 2010, p. 122). Durkheim believed that it refers to the following three issues: the subjective sense of group membership individuals have, the constraint of individual’s behavior for group good and the organization of social units and groups. This gives social solidarity a psychological, behavioral and structural aspect. Together they help to analyze how much individuals feel part of a social unit, how they are constrained by it and how these units are organized. Call of Duty players might have the feeling that their passion for the game is shared by all other players, but can also regret the time limit that is set on their games. The structure of this social unit is quite complex, since there seems to be an interactive community outside of the game itself.
Durkheim argued that there are two distinct forms of social solidarity. The first is called mechanical solidarity and the second organic solidarity. According to Durkheim, organic solidarity would develop out of mechanical solidarity.
A society dominated by mechanical solidarity can be compared to a machine or a motor. This means that all parts are very similar. There is a very intense relationship with all other parts. The solidarity is very high, because of the similar values and standards shared by all. They are likely to develop a collective consciousness. As stated by Allan “For Durkheim, the collective consciousness is the totality of ideas, representations, beliefs, and feelings that are common to the average members of society” (2010, p. 108). This is reflected in the first Call of Duty games. All players that used the online multiplayer played the game very alike. They all used the same controls and in-game weapons. Characters looked alike and gamers shared the same tactics. They played the game because they enjoyed it rather than anything else.
Over the years, in accordance with the Durkheimian socioevolutionary approach, the amount of people playing the game grew. The series became more successful and popular. This led to what Durkheim describes as moral density. The increased number of people means an increased number of opinions and beliefs. An increased number of morals. The social interactions became more and more complex. People started playing the game because they had played the previous games or simply because their friends played it, not only because they enjoyed it. Other motivations and other expectations came into existence. In addition, a community started to develop outside of the game itself. People had discussions on forums, uploaded video clips capturing footage of their experiences in the game and started making strategy guides. In-game, the developments were more closely linked up with the Durkheimian idea of division of labor. According to this idea, people would specialize into specific direction under the pressure of competition. This was triggered by the increase of the population. In Call of Duty players started to focus on a certain method or strategy. While some players preferred close combat and generally used shotguns and other such weapons, others used sniper rifles to stay on the background and take part in the fights from there.
Consequently, the solidarity of the Call of Duty community became one of the organic type. In an organic social environment, the social unit acts as an organism. All parts have their own role and only combined they make up the whole. Therefore they are very different and they relate through various subsystems. Also, as a whole it is an open system that responds to the environment. Here the parts are connected not so much because of their similar natures, but because of their utilitarian necessity. They simply need each other to exist. Nonetheless, the individual is almost ‘sacred’ in these systems. However, “while organic solidarity and difference tend to dominate modern society, similarity and mechanical solidarity never completely disappear” (Allan, 2010, p. 123). This also goes for Call of Duty. While the modern community and the latest games have been organic rather than mechanical, the mechanical aspects did not fully disappear. Still, all players make use of the same servers and the same maps. They all play the same game after all. Nevertheless, since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released in 2007, players have been offered the ability to develop much more of an individual style. In the game, the player could earn points that could be spent on weapons, weapon add-ons and perks. Perks gave players the opportunity to equip three modifications, for instance to run or reload faster. In combination with the weapons, players could more easily specialize and develop their own preferred style. This style could now be far more complicated than close combat or long range and therefore far more individual and unique. The subsystems had been developed through the forming of forums, online communities and even real life conversations with friends about it.
The Call of Duty series went through this evolution of solidarity very rapidly. If Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare can be marked as the official turning point that gave the Call of Duty franchise organic solidarity, it did so in only four years. According to Durkheim this evolution would cause problems if it happened too quickly. There were two possible consequences: anomie and the forced division of labor.
Anomie refers to the personal instability and unrest that was brought about by a breakdown of understanding. This collapse of shared values and standards itself was caused by the quick population growth. Therefore the moral values would break down and people would not be able to deal with this. However, in the Call of Duty series no such thing was the result. Although players had different motivations, styles and expectations of the game, the moral values did not change to an extent that people did no longer know how to react.
Also, the other possible problem did not come true. The forced division of labor is based on the idea that as labor is divided, some people will not have the choice of what labor they want to fulfill. They will be forced to do the jobs that the others do not want to do. The reason that this is not applicable to Call of Duty is fairly straight forward. It is a game, a game that was designed to be fun and give freedom to the individual. There are no tasks that nobody wants to do and if there were, nobody would be forced to do them.
However, there is no complete freedom in this game. After all, the limits of the game cannot be ignored or tempered with by the player. This is exactly how Durkheim saw society as a whole, because he followed Montesquieu who “argues that the human being is really the product of society, not the other way around” (Allan, 2010, p. 105).
Therefore, Durkheim’s conception of the individual was very much determined by its society. A big part of the individual is its identity. Who is he? What is his goal? Durkheim made a separation based on the society in which the person in question lives. The two forms of societies are the society in which mechanical solidarity is dominant and the one in which organic solidarity plays the bigger part.
In a society of mechanical solidarity, identity is based on ascription. When Durkheim talked about such societies, he meant those of the old days in which the social class system still existed in its most evident form. As a Dutch sociologist once said: “Who was born a nickel, would never become a dime.” Born as the son of a baker, it was likely that one would someday become a baker as well. So at birth a certain identity was ascribed to a person. An etiquette that could never be peeled off. Whoever played the first Call of Duty was a standard character. There were no aspirations of becoming something more, because there was nothing more.
“Yet as societies differentiated both structurally and socially, the self became more and more isolated and took on the characteristics of an individual. Thus, in modern societies, the individual takes on increasing importance” (Allan, 2010, p. 133). In such a society, identity was not ascribed. Instead, it was brought about by achievements. The accomplishments of a person would give him a feeling of who he was and what he could do, because in such a society one was no longer bound by social class and the sky seemed the limit. Very much alike, players of the later Call of Duty games had the possibility to distinguish themselves from different players. As the same Dutch sociologist explained: “To be is to be different.” By earning points and purchasing new equipment players had the feeling of achievement. Also, leaderboards led to individual competition for the sake of achievement. These leaderboards are lists of the players that for instance scored the most points. Reaching higher positions gives players a better feeling of accomplishment. These feelings of achievement and accomplishment would therefore bring the feeling of self.
Durkheim recognized that this modern form of society in which the individual was ‘sacred’ could be problematic. As mentioned above, the society produces the individual and therefore a balance must be sought between society and the individual. This struggle is known as the struggle of the Homo Duplex, Latin for divided man. This balance is based on two aspects: group attachment and behavioral regulation.
The group attachment can be described as the sense of we-ness. This determines someone’s purpose, meaning and reality. It might sometimes be hard to distinguish personal meaning and reality from social ones, but in the end everyone always wants them to be similar to some extent. If they are not, someone would be declared strange or crazy. In the last case, he could end up in a psychiatric hospital, stripped from all freedom and individuality. Allan illustrates this by stating that “Low group attachment leads to extreme individualism and the loss of a sense of reality and purpose” (2010, p. 133-134). Durkheim even goes as far as stating that this would lead to suicide. Egoistic suicide as he calls it. On the other hand, group attachment can be too high. “High attachment leads to complete fusion with the group and loss of individual identity, which can be a problem in modernity” (Allan, 2010, p. 134). This can in extreme cases lead to suicide as well. Altruistic suicide as it was dubbed. There is certainly a sense of we-ness among Call of Duty players. Although people might be competing for individual gain within the games, to the outside world all players are united in claiming that their games are part of the best first person shooter series of all time. Similar games are criticized out of a general feeling of we-ness.
Then there is the other factor; behavioral regulation. Behavioral regulation comes down to the extent to which society influences the individual. Durkheim believed that mankind “suffers from the everlasting wrangling and endless friction that occur when relations between an individual and his fellows are not subject to any regulative influence” (Durkheim, 1887/1993, p. 24). This explains why even in a highly individualized modern society behavior regulation is necessary from a Durkheimian point of view. “The lack of regulation of behaviors leads to a complete lack of regulation of the individual’s desires and thus an increase in feelings of meaninglessness” (Allan, 2010, p. 134). This is mostly found in combination with anomie, therefore the suicide that is committed for this reason is called anomic suicide. Nevertheless, “overregulation of behaviors leads to the loss of individual effectiveness (and thus increases hopelessness)” (Allan, 2010, p. 134), leading to fatalistic suicide. In Call of Duty there is a lot of behavior regulation to be found. Since it is a game that has been programmed and developed in a certain way, players are obliged to stick to the rules and behave accordingly to them. People will be forced to compete in certain maps, with a predetermined amount of weapons and only so many perks. Nevertheless, a player can choose his own path within the set rules. It is like a box that limits the movement, but still offers space to move within the sides of the box.
As mentioned earlier, Call of Duty has been linked up quite a few times with incidents that have led to homicide and suicide. In the theories that relate the games with the incidents, elements from all of the four forms of suicide are taken. Such incidents mostly deal with individuals that experience overregulation of behavior. They feel that they are held down by overall society and therefore they distance themselves from it. By doing so they have low group attachment in the overall society. This could even lead to lack of behavioral regulation giving them more freedom to follow their own will without being bothered by others or by a conscience based on the morals of others. In this freedom, they would turn towards videogames, Call of Duty in particular. Their group attachment with Call of Duty would become so big that they accepted Call of Duty’s reality to be their own reality. However, within the game they would experience the overregulation of their behavior once more. Rules of a game cannot be changed. Finally, they would put the actions they performed in this game into real life action and often commit suicide as well. This suicide is often characterized as a last statement. A statement of not being meaninglessness as their lack of behavioral regulation led them to believe. Therefore such a suicide can be seen as egoistic, altruistic, anomic and as fatalistic. Whether or not the videogame is truly to blame for these incidents remains to be under question.
Nonetheless, it can be concluded that Durkheim, 94 years after his death, is still present through the world of videogames. Call of Duty displays the socioevolution from a society based on mechanical to the one based on organic solidarity. In this evolution it has not experienced the problems of too rapid change as described by Durkheim, although things changed at a high pace. Furthermore, it shows the signs that Durkheim used to define individualism and its struggle against society. There is even a case to be made that it has led to suicides combining the four forms that Durkheim described. So what is Call of Duty? Is it a videogame, a murder simulation or a manifestation of Durkheimian thought?