Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, describes the Call of Duty video game franchise as a force of nature (“Call of Duty”). To date, it has earned titanic profits. The most recent edition, Black Ops II, achieved estimated sales worth $500 million worldwide in the first 24 hours of its release. It is projected to become the best selling first-person shooter game of all time.
Considering the countless competitors in the video game market, you might assume these sales are primarily predicated upon the product’s merit. However, after playing CoD for nearly a decade, stagnant is as apt an adjective as I can use to describe this series. There exist many games that are superior in terms of aesthetics, innovation, and immersion. The quality of the product does not substantiate its popularity.
How has Activision grown this brand despite their product’s inferiority? Of the many factors that conspire to keep people loyal to their franchise, I concern myself with the efficacy of their advertising. Research done by Interpret LLC indicates that:
“The core audience of shooter games remains 13 to 34 year old males, who make up more than 60 percent of the total audience…” (Gaudiosi).
Their intended audience is thus delimited. The nature of the majority of the rhetoric in the following artefact supports this claim. I posit that Activision persuades some consumers by portraying self-indulgence as transcendental. This is based on the presupposition that men are superior beings in society. CoD is conveniently presented as an appropriate selfish behaviour for men.
The ad inspires the act of abandoning real-life responsibility to play CoD, specifically the new content. This is to be done by the viewer, the agent in this interpretation. The Replacer represents the agency with which the viewer will perpetrate the act. Seven instances of stereotypical male experiences are depicted, and serve as scenes. The purpose of employing the Replacer is to escape the alleged burdens of being an adult male in contemporary society.
The implicit motive is self-indulgence. Self-serving behaviour is a basic human instinct. Consequently, the commercial augments its persuasive power through this subtle, yet universal appeal.
Being so selfish contradicts the rules for living subscribed to by the audience. Justification for transgressions as severe as leaving your wife without emotional support during childbirth must be offered. The absurdity is mitigated in part by the humourous tone of the ad, but conceptually, the suggested act remains jarring.
The necessary absolution of guilt is obtained through transcendence. This ad insidiously construes the consumption of Activision’s product as a higher calling in a man’s life.
Terministic screens enable the viewer to adopt the implied motive. Here are two examples:
- The Replacer is an archetypical American badass. He is a tall, well-dressed Caucasian male with a powerful car. He listens to iconic rock music, popular with the prescribed generation. He exhibits aggressive and dominant behaviour. Additionally, his described role and attire are remniscent of Winston Wolf – a badass featured in Pulp Fiction, an iconic film from the mid-90s. His symbolic allure is evident. He has been rhetorically optimized as relatable to the viewer. His cultural capital confers status and authority. This underwrites the power of his explicit suggestion that CoD is more important than real-life responsibility.
- Another screen is symbolically constructed by the Replacer’s body language, attitude, facial expressions, tone of voice, and dismissive treatment of other people, particularly women. In the final scene, the Replacer finishes his task and then bitterly exclaims, “Now you shovel my ****!”. This implies the people that benefit from a man’s hard work are ungrateful and no better than simple-minded primates. This screen insinuates the Replacer’s superiority in comparison to those around him. It follows that the desires of those to whom the average man is obligated are subordinate to his own. This supports the idea that indulging yourself is a higher calling, by denigrating other people who interfere with this pursuit.
Record-breaking sales are not the only consequence of advertisements that manipulate their audience in this fashion. The disturbing and pervasive ideology of male superiority has been promoted, on top of the base motive of self-indulgence. CoD‘s playerbase is massive. Is Activision’s disregard of the impressionability of the younger members of their audience surprising? They make millions of dollars selling a product rated M (17+) to children. It would be naïve of me to think that their advertising would be any less devoid of integrity.
That being said, I am going to play Black Ops: II after I post this, despite my girlfriend’s expectations. Who cares what she thinks, I am a man, and I want to kick ass.
Gaudiosi, John. “New arsenal of shooter video games target older players”. Reuters. January 21, 2010. Web. January 30, 2013.
“Call Of Duty®: Black Ops II Delivers More Than $500 Million In Worldwide Retail Sales In First 24 Hours”. Activision. Acquire Media, November 16, 2012. Web. January 30, 2013.
The Replacer – Official Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Video. CALLOFDUTY. YouTube. YouTube. January 22, 2013. Web. January 23, 2013.