Nov. 10, 2010 at 5:01 PM ET
It seems not everyone is as fond of Activision's bullet-riddled advertisement for "Call of Duty: Black Ops" as I am.
Sam Machkovech, a columnist for The Atlantic, calls it "twisted" and "a troubling melange of gun, grenade, and rocket combat acted out by blue-collar workers, children, and celebs."
The 60-second "There's a Soldier in All of Us" TV spot (see below), features talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and NBA star Kobe Bryant along with a host of average, everyday people (a cook, a firefighter, an office worker) firing all manner of heavy weaponry on an explosive battlefield. And they all appear to be having a whole lot of fun doing it.
With all due respect to Machkovech (who is, indeed, an experienced gamer), I've read the column and I still don't quite understand what the problem is.
Machkovech's article describes video games as "sophisticated games of Cops & Robbers. They're silly; they require colorful, funny-shaped controllers; they stay decidedly in the domain of detached fiction." (An odd description, I think, coming from a gamer ... but I digress.)
And then he takes the "Call of Duty" ad to task because it:
"...equips people with real guns and simulates real-life, no-CGI combat. The thud of recoil, the screams of rockets, the dust of explosions ... and the look of exasperation on that little, shotgun-wielding girl. The only things missing are the dead bodies on the receiving ends of each bullet and blast."
So ... if I understand correctly, video games and their advertisements are OK as long as they remain "silly?" Games and their commercials are to be penalized if they dare depict grown-up situations and let us grownups have some fun playing them? Have you any idea how many adults are playing games these days? Have you not played "Heavy Rain?"
What gets under my skin here is the way Machkovech, like too many others, seems to think video games must play by an entirely different set of rules than every other entertainment medium out there. It's an absurd and outdated rule book that requires game makers to walk on eggshells while filmmakers, for example, are free to go merrily about stomping on chickens themselves.
Consider this movie trailer:
Or how about this one:
And what about this:
Are these "twisted advertising campaigns"?
I could go on and on with the examples. But hey, wasn't that Arnold Schwarzenegger I just saw? The very same Arnold Schwarzenegger who wants the Supreme Court to approve a law that bans the sale of violent video games? Well ain't that rich coming from the man who starred in uber violent movie scenes such as these.
Don't worry folks, now that Mr. Schwarzenegger has cashed his checks from the movie studios, he's going to protect your children from those eeeeeevil video games.
You see, unlike Machkovech, I was disappointed when Microsoft pulled this advertisement:
That advertisement, like the "Black Ops" ad is awesome. And if it had been created for a movie, well, obviously no one would have batted an eye. Nor should they have. It simply pays homage to humanity's long, long, looong tradition of playing pretend shoot-em-up.
But as I said, video games are being held to some mysterious standard.
Machkovech makes the mistake of calling the "Black Ops" advertisement "disingenuous" when, in fact, it's perhaps the most honest advertisement you'll find. The advertisement makes it clear: What people love about "Call of Duty" is pretending to be soldiers.
In the ad, nobody gets shot and nobody dies. There is no blood. That's because none of it is real – just like in the video game. And just like in the movies.
Some argue that the problem with games is that they put us real people in the driver's seat of these violent fantasies and that the act of letting us drive these stories and live out these fictional lives ourselves somehow threatens to corrupt us.
But guess what: Movies do very much the same thing. Yes, we go to see movies like "Rambo," "Inglourious Basterds" and "The Expendables" because we think it's fun to see Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Brat Pitt blow sh*! up. But let's be honest here: We also go see these movies because it lets us imagine ourselves living out these wildly exciting scenarios and wildly exciting lives.
We love super hero movies because we love to imagine being a super hero ourselves. We love zombie movies because we love to imagine what we, ourselves, might do to survive a zombie apocalypse. We love to imagine. Not because it's corrupting but because it's cathartic. And also, it's fun.
Video games are simply more honest about who it's all really about – us. And they shouldn't be penalized for that.
It's also worth noting here that Machkovech gets highly sensationalistic when he makes reference to "that little, shotgun-wielding girl" in the advertisement, claiming that the director actually used children in the making of this spot.
Let's be clear: There are no "little girls" in this advertisement. This is an adult game and, every person you'll see in this ad, is clearly an adult. A couple of them certainly qualify as young women, but it's offensive on a whole different level to call them "little girls." Also, it's highly manipulative. But I think that was the point of Machkovech's article in the first place.