Meet the Call of Duty boyfriends who play until their ‘hands fall off’

On the evening of Oct. 26, the popular streamer Jack “CouRage” Dunlop issued a public apology to his girlfriend. In a tweet, he said, “Modern Warfare 2: Call of DutyTomorrow launches. You won’t see me. I won’t speak for you. You will not hear from me. I’m sorry for what I’m about to do.”

This tweet expressed his excitement for the latest installment of Call of Duty and was also a playful way to tell his girlfriend that his absence would occur during its initial days. The tweet also attracted other Call of Duty boyfriends, who responded to it in support of Call of Duty boyfriend behavior. In the coming days, TikTok would come to be filled with girlfriends lamenting the loss of their boyfriends to the new game, sharing messages like, “Saying bye to my bf… he’s not dead, the new COD just came out yesterday.”

Call of Duty has been a hugely commercially profitable videogame franchise. Modern Warfare 2: Call of DutyActivision has announced that they have surpassed $1Billion in sales in the 10 days following its launch. They also broke the previously established world record for total sales. Black Ops 2: Call of Duty. Critics have covered the political ideology of the games and the messages about war they communicate, but less attention has been paid to the real-life people who play these games, and the way it shapes their lives — or, maybe more accurately, the way it It’s time to take overThey live a full life.

Being a COD boyfriend isn’t really about being a literal boyfriend. Anyone can be a COD boyfriend if they want, regardless of gender identity or relationship status, according to the self-identified “Call of Duty boyfriends” I spoke to. Still, the idea of Call of Duty boyfriends has taken over social media, as couples play into — or playfully push back against — “gamer boyfriend” gender stereotypes. However, some boyfriends are not happy with the title.

Soldiers from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022) sitting in a helicopter, bathed in red light

Image by Infinity Ward/Activision

“I can be quite competitive in games so I suppose nothing is quite as magical to me as queuing up with friends and just collaborating together to get some W’s haha,” said Maxine, who considers themself a COD boyfriend, via Twitter. Their Call of Duty gaming experience began in 2009 and the couple had planned to continue playing for the rest of their lives. Modern Warfare II’s launch day online with friends, even canceling plans with a romantic interest in order to do so. Maxine uses video games and Call of Duty to make 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 people I play games with,” they said. “Specifically, my relationships are best when we both genuinely care about each other, play games together, and are both too busy to want more of the other.”

On TikTok, however, the “Call of Duty boyfriend” is often a vehicle for couples to make light of gendered stereotypes, by dunking on men who play video games or women who can’t play games. Another video features a confused girlfriend, who grabs the controller from her boyfriend and follows the instructions of his voicechat. A popular video parody shows how late-night gaming can disrupt a girl’s sleep. Another trend teaches cuddling positions that allow for physical contact with a “gamer bf,” but only in a way that doesn’t completely interfere with his ability to continue playing a game.

Many COD boyfriends find ways to keep their relationships balanced by playing lots of the game. “I haven’t really played the game to the point of absolutely ignoring her or avoiding her,” said Rafay, about his girlfriend. He first played Call of Duty as a teen on his Xbox 360, and he’s kept up with the games since. “I’ve sacrificed some sleep at times in order to play and spend time with her too.”

He told me that other than the odd argument here or there, it hasn’t really gotten in the way of their relationship. “She has found it violent and doesn’t really understand the appeal but I get why she thinks that way about it,” he said. According to him, his girlfriend views it as a “typical guy” game, but she understands he’s also into other games that fall outside what a typical gamer bro might play, like Pokémon.

Some COD boyfriends have questioned their affection for the series due to the violent nature of the games and the politics involved. Maxine considered quitting Call of Duty because of the ideologies depicted in it, as well as sexual harassment claims and discrimination lawsuits against Activision Blizzard’s franchise publisher. They returned to play because of their friends.

“What changed was that enough of my friends and family were going to get the game that I figured I should too, to help maintain relationships. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become a bit of a pessimist I suppose. If I was younger maybe I would have not bought the game on principle but I work a bit more and it’s become harder to stay connected to people.”

Then there’s the COD boyfriends, who eventually put down their controllers. Collin has been playing Call of Duty since highschool and recounts his experiences of being different from the other players. He skipped out on a match while playing Call of Duty in high school. Call of Duty: World at War – ZombiesGo to see his girlfriend.

“I told my friends that I had to go, but I still wanted the achievement!” he said. “So, I just AFK’d in the game and stood in a corner, hoping that my friends could carry my dead weight and complete the final steps without me. But the space was tight, the difficulty was scaled for 4 people, and they ultimately failed and all died.” The issue caused a falling out in the friend group, who said he was “putting her over them.”

Two soldiers walk through a dimly lit room. One has a headlamp on with a scope built in.

Image by Infinity Ward/Activision

Collin’s high school predicament gets at a larger dynamic that underpins the COD boyfriend. Beneath 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 talked to mostly identified with the label in whatever ways they wanted — from using it to spend more time with friends, to finding ways to have a life outside it, to stepping away from it completely. Collin said that embracing life with his girlfriend — whom he has since married — has opened joy in his 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 gush about whatever game I’m currently playing or whatever industry news is breaking that day without knowing fully what I am talking about, but since I’m passionate about it, she cares.”

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