On the evening of Oct. 26, popular streamer Jack “CouRage” Dunlop publicly apologized to his girlfriend. In a chirpHe said, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 tomorrow he leaves. You will not see me. You won’t hear me. I will play until my hands drop. I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.”
The tweet expressed his excitement about the next installment of the popular first-person shooter game and served as a cheeky way to let his girlfriend know he’d be away for the days following its launch. She also called out other Call of Duty boyfriends who commented on the tweet in support of the Call of Duty boyfriend’s behavior. Over the next few days, TikTok would fill with female friends mourning the loss of their boyfriends to the new game, sharing messages like, “Hi, my boyfriend… he’s not dead, the new COD just came out yesterday.”
Call of Duty is one of the most commercially successful video game franchises. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 surpassed $1 billion in sales within 10 days of its release, Activision announced, breaking the worldwide sales record previously held by Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Critics have covered the games’ political ideology and the war messages they communicate, but less attention has been paid to the real-life people who play these games and how it shapes their lives – or, perhaps more accurately, the way it takes over their lives.
Being a COD boyfriend doesn’t really mean being a literal boyfriend. Anyone can be a COD boyfriend if she wishes, regardless of gender identity or relationship status, according to the self-identified “Call of Duty boyfriends” I spoke to. However, the idea of Call of Duty boyfriends has taken over social media, as couples playfully play or dismiss the “gamer boyfriend” gender stereotypes. But some of these boyfriends find themselves bristling at etiquette.
“I can be quite competitive in games, so I guess nothing is quite as magical to me as queuing up with friends and teaming up to get some W haha,” said Maxine, who considers herself a COD boyfriend, via Twitter. They have been playing Call of Duty games since 2009 and had planned to spend Modern warfare 2It’s launch day online with friends, even canceling plans with a romantic interest to do so. Call of Duty and video games have long been a way Maxine connects with friends.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the best relationships I have aren’t with my immediate family or real-life friends, but with the people I play games with,” they said. “Specifically, my relationships are better when we both genuinely care for each other, play games together, and are both too busy to want more from each other.”
On TikTok, however, the “Call of Duty boyfriend” is often a vehicle for couples to shed light on gender stereotypes, squashing men who play video games or women who can’t play games. One popular video mocks a girl who is unaware of her playing games and picks up the game after her boyfriend hastily hands her a controller; she then she follows the directions of her teammates in voice chat. Another popular video format highlights how disruptive late night gaming sessions can be, parodying moments when the sound of game guns wakes a girl up. Another trend teaches cuddle positions that allow for physical contact with a “gamer bf,” but only in a way that doesn’t completely interfere with his or her ability to continue playing.
There are many COD boyfriends who find ways to balance their relationship by playing tons of game. “I haven’t really played the game to the point of ignoring her or absolutely avoiding her,” Rafay said, of his girlfriend. He first played Call of Duty as a teenager on his Xbox 360 and has been keeping up with the games ever since. “Sometimes I’ve sacrificed some sleep to play and spend time with her too.”
He told me that other than the weird fight here and there, it hasn’t really gotten in the way of their relationship. “She found her abusive and she doesn’t really understand her appeal, but I understand why she feels this way,” she said. According to him, his girlfriend sees it as a “typical boy” game, but she understands that he also likes other games that don’t fit into what a typical gamer brother might play, such as Pokémon.
The violent nature and politics of the games have led some COD boyfriends to question their love for the series. The ideologies portrayed in Call of Duty, plus sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits filed against franchise publisher Activision Blizzard, led Maxine to consider leaving the series altogether. Eventually they returned to playing mainly thanks to the friends they made there.
“What changed was that enough friends and family would get the game that I thought I should get too, to help maintain relationships. I’ve gotten a bit pessimistic as I’ve gotten older, I suppose. If I was younger I probably wouldn’t have bought the game in principle, but I work a little bit more and it’s become more difficult to keep in touch with people.”
And then there are the COD boyfriends who finally put their controllers down. Collin, who has been playing Call of Duty since high school, recounted his experience of being estranged from his friends who played it. In high school, he skipped midgame while playing Call of Duty: World at War – Zombies to go see his girlfriend.
“I told my friends I had to go, but I still wanted the result!” he said. “So, I just AFK into the game and stood in the corner, hoping my friends could carry my dead weight and complete the final steps without me. But the space was tight, the difficulty was scaled down to 4 people, and in the end they failed and they all died.” The issue caused a falling out in the group of friends, who said it was “putting her above them.”
Collin’s high school predicament becomes a larger dynamic that underpins boyfriend COD. Underneath it all, there’s this idea that doing anything else takes time away from “Call of Duty and the Boys.” But the COD boyfriends I spoke to mostly identified with the label in any way they wanted: from using it to spend more time with friends, to finding ways to have a life outside of it, to stepping away from it altogether. it. Collin said embracing life with her girlfriend—whom he’s since married—opened up her joy in her life, and now he lives with her and shares the joy of games with her.
“My wife is amazing and understands that games are important to me and encourages me to make time for them and play with my friends when I can,” Collin said. “She listens to me talk about the game I’m currently playing or any industry news that’s coming that day without fully knowing what I’m talking about, but since I’m passionate about it, she cares.”