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New Call of Duty commercial sparks controversy

John Watson 11/12/10 8:04 PM

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            Violence in video games is nothing new. Neither is the controversy that surrounds it. What is new, however, is the level that some video games (and entertainment arts in general) are taking it. A prime example of this is one of the commercials for the popular new first-person shoot, Call of Duty: Black Ops. Usually, commercials for even the most gruesome games feature either in-game video, or animated/live video of said characters. With this new commercial however, all of the characters are your run of the mill citizens...with guns.



           That's right, the entire commercial is based around the tagline "There's a soldier in all of us". The commercial tries to emphasize this point by showing a plethora of ordinary civilians (such as a hot-dog vendor  dual-wielding pistols, Kobe Bryant with a machine gun, and Jimmy Kimmel with a rocket launcher) battling it out on a war-torn stage. I understand the message they are trying to send; everyone and anyone can be a gamer. However, I believe their execution of that message is a bit off.

            One of the glaring flaws I see in this commercial is simply this: one of the close-ups is of a young girl breaching a door with a shotgun, then backing away while another teammate (who appears to be a hospital worker wearing scrubs) tosses in a flash-bang grenade. The camera zooms in on the young girl's face and the obvious joy she is getting from the experience. The problem, though, is that Call of Duty: Black Ops has an "M" rating, meaning potential buyers of the game have to be 17 years of age or older. The girl shown in the commercial is clearly younger than that.

            The actor's age itself wouldn't normally be an issue. But, as Tim Buckley, creator of the Ctrl+Alt+Delete webcomic puts it; "Kind of an odd choice of imagery to present while the Supreme Court is debating a ban on violent games, huh?" He is speaking of an ongoing court battle over new legislation in California that would change the way video games are rated, and even limit the sale of some games in the state. Probably not the best time to release a commercial as controversial as this one (especially since Black Ops would be one of the games affected by the new legislation).

            I do understand why the publisher of the game, Activision, decided to go this route. Controversy creates interest, and interest creates sales numbers (Black Ops has gone on to break the 24-hour launch sales number, beating its predecessor Modern Warfare 2 by close to a million sales). However, I find myself agreeing with Los Angeles Times writer Mark Medina in saying that the commercial is actually a little disturbing, because it shows everyday civilians handling guns like they are toys.

            I'll be completely honest. I've played my share of violent video games such as the Resident Evil series, Call of Duty, Diablo, etc. over the course of my life, and I consider myself a (fairly) stable individual with very few homicidal urges. I don't believe that video games cause people to become violent any more than music or movies can. I do believe, however, that this particular commercial is not only poorly done and a bit distasteful, but reflective of a disturbing trend across all media arts. As people become accustomed to the gore and violence they see and hear every day, those in the entertainment business will continue to push the envelope further and further to create the "shock factor". The question is, what will be the breaking point?



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