Call Of Duty's 'Trans Bullets' Are The Latest Right Wing Conspiracy Rage Bait

Image: Monica Helms / Activision / Kotaku
Image: Monica Helms / Activision / Kotaku

A possible Call of Duty bug is causing a new Pride-themed cosmetic to paint the bullets in one version of one of the game’s guns the colors of the transgender flag. Now, right wing rage jockeys are seizing this to peddle transphobic conspiracy theories so idiotic they would be laughable, if not for the real world threats underlining the outrage.

Season 4 of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Warzone went live last week. In addition to a host of new content, including Gundam skins that turn players into walking anime mechs, the update also rolled out free Pride cosmetics on June 1. “Call of Duty is for everyone, and we’re proud to celebrate Pride Month by offering seven different Weapon Camo variants, each representing the colors of the different LGBTQ+ flags,” Activision wrote on its website.

One of those camo variants is the transgender flag. When the camo is applied, it paints the players’ gun into a glittery version of the flag’s colors. It also applies the flag’s design to the texture on the ammunition cartridge for one skin on one particular gun: the M4. Call of Duty leaker BobNetworkUK discovered this almost immediately and tweeted a screenshot of it out as a joke. “THEY COVER THE BULLETS ON SOME GUNS,” they tweeted on June 1. “TRANS BULLETS they’re gonna hate this one.”

Hours later, the shitpost got picked up by the Twitter account InsaneCope, which tries to dunk on liberals by reposting screenshots of things they tweet. From there it quickly spread without any context to the usual gaming-adjacent outrage accounts. Current “FreeStellarBlade” petitioner Mark “Grummz” Kern picked it up the day after on June 3. Former Gameranx blogger Ian Miles Cheong re-shared it as well. All of them derided Activision for adding “trans bullets” to their game.

That’s where the account Libs of Tiktok, run by Chaya Raichik and infamous for pushing homophobic and transphobic conspiracies, found it. “Call of Duty is now enabling kids to roleplay being a literal trans t*rr*rist,” Raichiktweeted. “With the uptick in actual trans violence that we’ve been seeing, it’s alarming that Call of Duty would introduce this.”

Call of Duty didn’t introduce this, though. Unlike all of the grifters clout-chasing off the screengrab, anyone who actually investigated the source of the transgender flag bullets would have quickly realized they’re seemingly isolated to one particular skin on one particular gun.

Modern Warfare 3's M4 came with a special “Soul Harvester” weapon blueprint (which included a skin, specific attachments for the M4, and “tracer rounds” which are colorful ammo options that also leave traces of different visual effects like paint splatters or rose petals ) for those who spent $100 to purchase the Vault Edition of the game. Based on Kotaku’s testing, it appears the “trans bullets” only appear when applying the transgender flag camo to that skin on that specific weapon blueprint.

Gif: Activision / Kotaku
Gif: Activision / Kotaku

It’s unclear if this is a bug (at one point during testing, the bullets in the cartridge were only the pink color in the trans flag) or an extremely idiosyncratic reflection of how Call of Duty’s complex shader system interacts across thousands of items and cosmetics. During testing, any other skin camo applied to the M4 “Soul Harvester” blueprint resulted in the bullets in the cartridge changing color to match that skin. Kotaku could not replicate the “trans bullets” with other weapons, including others that use tracer rounds similar to the M4 “Soul Harvester.”

Activision declined to comment, referring Kotaku to the original Pride Month section of its season 4 update.

Of course, the fact that the “trans bullet” narrative is bunk doesn’t really matter. It hasn’t stopped Libs of TikTok and other accounts from peddling baseless or misleading stories in the past. The right-wing refrain about a scourge of violence perpetrated by queer people blew up in 2022. Ahead of the election, Florida passed its “Don’t Say Gay” ban, and conservatives started accusing gay, transgender, and liberal people they didn’t of being sexual predators. And conspiracies started circulating online claiming the Uvalde, Texas mass school shooter was actually transgender. It’s now become a mainstream conservative talking point to blame gun violence on trans rights activists.

Another thing accounts like Libs Of TikTok are seizing on in the Call of Duty case is that the parents of the children killed in the Uvalde mass shooting recently sued Activision and other gaming companies over the way some of their games fetishize particular real world guns. The lawsuit alleges a connection between the in-game promotion of real world weapons and real world acts of mass gun violence, calling Activision’s games a “training camp for mass shooters.” A spokesperson for the company has called the Uvalde shooting “horrendous and heartbreaking in every way, but said scientific research shows “no causal link” between video games and violence.

This isn’t the first time Call of Duty has become a flash point for a moral panic about LGBTQ+ people. During 2023's Pride Month, Activision pulled a skin from the game based on Nicholas “Nickmercs” Kolcheff after the popular streamer after he tweeted that LGBTQ+ rights activists need to “leave children alone.” Call of Duty streamer Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar defended Kolcheff and the company ended up removing his in-game skin as well at his request.

Additional reporting by Alyssa Mercante

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