Black Ops game draws fire from Cuba over Castro target

Cuban leader Fidel Castro is known to have a rather dry sense of humour when it comes to the myriad of unsuccessful assassination attempts that have been carried out against him. "I think I hold the dubious record of having been the target of more assassination attempts than any politician, in any country, in any era," he once remarked in a speech. "The day I die, nobody will believe it."

But his regime has taken a dim view of the latest Call of Duty game in which players take part in an imaginary attempt by a US special forces to hunt down and kill the Communist leader.

The island’s state run media today launched a visceral attack on the game, claiming America was trying to initiate a virtual assassination of the Cuban leader through a game that would turn children into “sociopaths”.

"What the US couldn't accomplish in more than 50 years, they are now trying to do virtually," was the opinion of Cubadebate, a state-run news website. “This new video game is doubly perverse. On the one hand, it glorifies the illegal assassination attempts the United States government planned against the Cuban leader ... and on the other, it stimulates sociopathic attitudes in North American children and adolescents."

The target for Cuba’s ire is Call of Duty: Black Ops, the latest game from the highly popular first-person-shooter franchise by US publisher Activision which had its global release on Tuesday.

The game is set at the height of the Cold War with players taking part in covert missions against Communist enemies of the United States such as the Soviet Union, Cuba, Vietnam and Laos.

The opening level is set in the hours leading up to the Bay of Pigs invasion, the disastrous 1961 attempt by Cuban exiles and the US military to topple the Castro regime. Gamers take on the role of a member of an elite CIA assassination squad sent into Cuba before the invasion to try and decapitate the regime.

After a series of skirmishes in the streets of Havana, the squad breaks into a villa where they are told the Cuban leader is hiding.

The assassination team bursts into a room and guns down a bearded man in military fatigues that they suspect to be Castro. At the end of the level, however, one of the members of the squad is captured and discovers that they only succeeded in killing a body double. The “real” Castro, complete with pixelated cigar and menacing laugh, then hands over the CIA operative to a renegade Soviet general.

Although the game’s mission is fictional, for the Cuban regime it clearly contains shades of reality that are a little too close for comfort. According to Castro’s bodyguard, the Cuban leader was the victim of more than 600 assassination attempts that ranged from plots to infect his wet suit with a deadly fungus, to exploding cigars.

There was no official response from Activision yesterday although marketing analysts said the reaction from the Cuban regime had handed the software makers a free shot of publicity after what was already one of the most expensive video game launches this year.

The California-based company has frequently caused controversy through its Call of Duty franchise. The developer’s last release, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, received criticism in some quarters for featuring a level where players could gun down passengers at an airport in Russia.

Both titles carry an adult rating and should only be bought by people over the age of 17 in the US and 18 in Britain although large numbers of teen and adolescents are clearly able to get their hands on copies.

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