Being Selfish Is Transcendental (If You’re A Man)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Works Cited

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.


2 thoughts on “Being Selfish Is Transcendental (If You’re A Man)

  1. This analysis of the “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” advertisement was thoroughly examined through the dramatistic perspective. Overall your content was put together quite well, but your style could use some improvement. The changes that would make your voice as a writer stronger mainly has to do with your word choice. I found at times that some words didn’t quite fit, or felt forced with the rest of the sentence. For example, when you say “Their audience is thus delimited.” Perhaps, you could have said “Call of Duty therefore controls shooter game audiences.” It’s important to have your sentences flow; reading your writing out loud can help you recognize if a word fits or not.

    Moving on to your arguments, I would have to say your strongest one is the first argument that you make. You do an excellent job of backing up the claim “This ad insidiously construes the consumption of Activision’s product as a higher calling in a man’s life.” You argue this well by the two detailed examples that you give. Especially when you give the example of the Replacer cleaning up after the monkey by pointing out, “This screen insinuates the Replacer’s superiority in comparison to those around him.” and that “[…]the desires of those to whom the average man is obligated are subordinate to his own.” You clearly state what is being shown in the ad and then explain why this is important to the audience.

    Your weakest argument, is actually I was unable to tell exactly where your other arguments were. Again this goes back to style, it is crucial for your reader to be able to distinguish where each argument begin and end. For me personally, I thought your second argument was your final paragraph but that also seemed like your conclusion. What would have been helpful is if your thesis was more clearly stated in the beginning. My problem was I did not see your arguments relate back to your thesis in an efficient way. I would have liked to have had your introduction be more direct. I understand your thesis to be, “I posit that Activision persuades some consumers by portraying self-indulgence as transcendental.” It seemed the following sentences were about how you were going to prove this claim, but the phrasing needed to be more direct. For example, you could have stated, “I will prove this by Activision’s promotion of male superiority which is argued through CoD being presented as deserved behaviour for men to indulge in.”

    Overall I would say you proved your point about the success of the game, you just need to focus on the way you present this information. For next time, nail down your writing style and be explicitly direct about your thesis so that the quality content you have will be that much more effective.

  2. Hello Nicole!

    I am grateful for the constructive criticism you’ve provided me. You have acquitted yourself in a kind, yet comprehensive fashion – I hope my scheduled reply can remain as objective as yours.

    It is my duty as a writer to entertain serious feedback. I must develop a more nuanced sensitivity toward my intended audiences. The nature and content of your response have been edifying. My impetus in responding is to improve. Consequently, I require some clarification, if you would be so obliged.

    Concerning my voice as a writer, specifically my word selection: Concision was the element we were striving for as a class. I am turned off by authors who write superfluously. In the past, my own style has been instrumental in obfuscating my message. I try to express myself with words that are at once varied and relevant. “Their audience is thus delimited.” was as succinct a phrase as I could muster. It appears you have conflated the meaning of delimited (read: outlined/indicated) with “controlled”. Your suggested substitute is lucid and firm, but would not convey my point.

    Thank you for appreciating my central argument. In retrospect, because of the number of inferences I made, I would have benefited from stronger structure. Due to the casual, ranting style characteristic of blog posts (as I see them), I did not keep things as formally redundant as I could have. I will display clearer chains of reasoning the next time I write.

    The weakest “argument” presented in my blog is my claim that CoD is an inferior product. I exhibited obnoxious personal bias by casting myself as an authority. I did not cite any qualitative or quantitative studies. This was lazy, and could be dismissed outright.

    The conclusion was an injection of further personal musings, under the guise of exploring the implications of my analysis. In the future, I will summarize my points.

    With what I said above in mind, could you elaborate on where my word choices let me down? Thanks.

    Take good care.

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