Thursday, January 27, 2011

Violence, for everybody!

After 4 solid hours of playing Black Ops on the Xbox and procrastinating, I found it was time to post a relevant video to our discussion on violence in the media. On November 9th, Activision's Black Ops broke the record for launch day sales, and received over $1 billion in revenue worldwide over the following five day period . During the days preceding the release, the following trailer entitled "There is a Soldier in All of Us" was televised :

The first time I saw this, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity and shear awesomeness of the concept. Thanks to a video game, you no longer needed to endure grueling training to become an elite soldier. You could be a concierge or a pizza chef, and still dual wield Glocks. Even national basketball icons like Kobe Bryant could make a guest appearance to an important tactical fight in a derelict building. Everyone could having a blast (no pun intended).

Notice that this trailer praises the "coolness" of war and completely bypasses all of the horrors, similarly to a US Army recruitment video. You get to shoot guns at faceless targets, blow stuff up, meet new people, and blow more stuff up together. Despite all the rounds fired at these pedestrian "soldiers" who don't find much necessity in using cover, no one is hurt. This is especially obvious in the last few seconds of the trailer when everyone is running about in the open: they might as well be playing laser-tag. One man in the football jersey looks like he may have been hit when a car explodes, but the audience must assume that he will get up unharmed, laugh it off, and start shooting away--because you cannot show death in a commercial.

It's interesting how violence can be embraced when there is no concept of loss. It loses a great deal of its significance when the person the violence is directed towards can just brush it off, in which case one might ask if it can still be called "violence". Such violence sells, and thus the marketers behind Black Ops gave the intended audience exactly what they wanted.


  1. I totally agree that violence seems to be embraced when there is no loss of significance to a person. What greater deterrent for a person is there than the loss of a dear friend's life or even possibly the one of your own. This is why video games are so appealing to the general public, you get to experience something thrilling (almost completely realistically now with technological advancements that have created a better gaming experience) without worrying about any form of repercussions. The same could be said about other thrill activities like skydiving and roller coasters.

    I think in many ways, this is a troubling trend because people will come to have this romanticized and idealized idea of what war and violence is like, although it was probably a great deal worse before WWI and WWII, where people really had no idea whatsoever how gruesome violence and combat could be (also, I'm not saying that roller coasters or other thrill activities necessarily lead to violence or interest in it therefore). Yet, at the same time, video games are presenting a more realistic idea of what war is like than ever. If you get shot in black ops, you bleed out and die. You see your fellow soldiers being killed and how much blood and guts is truly involved. I think it is definitely a significant improvement from the early 20th century where all soldiers had were romanticized novels which idealized violence, bravery, and fighting for one's country.

  2. I think that people may be looking too far into the aim of the commercial. The first time I saw the commercial, I commented on how I found it interesting that Kobe, who was later berated by ESPN's Skip Bayless, was one of the actors. The Call of Duty line of games can just about sell themselves these days, as they are held to be one of the most realistic shooter games on the market. As these shooter games have evolved, so have the audiences who purchase them. New technology allows gamers to connect with individuals around the world who share a common interest in the gameplay.

    I think the commercial is simply drawing on this idea that the people you may be playing with and against come from rather diverse walks of life such as doctors, businesspeople, and even professional athletes. I do not think this commercial nor the game glorifies violence in the way the media has led us to believe. When I begin playing these games, I am more concentrated on the tactical aspect of the gameplay rather than the bloodshed. This opportunity to plan missions and communicate with people thousands of miles away draws me to a game such as Black Ops.

    As U.S. citizens, perhaps our distance from the front lines has awarded us with this sort of disconnection between war and the actual death that stems from the violence. Despite our distance, many of us can still name friends and family who have lost their lives abroad. I find it hard to believe that any person would try to draw comparisons to the violence game and that of an actual war where the casualties are very real. But with the international popularity of the game, even in places where violence is constantly present, I think there seems to be a message. Even for the brief time we spend in these digitally-created worlds, we are able to be someone other than ourself and fight to become a hero. I think this speaks volumes as to the highly-respected position that individuals in the military still hold within societies around the world.

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  4. Certainly the game is a venue for testing one's tactical prowess and skill, but it is done by killing your enemies in often gruesome and shocking manners. One of the more satisfying ways a player can dispatch his foes is by stabbing them in the back with his combat knife for an instant kill that allows the player to experience the victim's death gurgles in full HD glory.

    A question one might ask is, would the game have the same appeal if the in game avatars used paintball guns instead of assault rifles? The answer is obviously "no", because the violence adds an element of excitement and satisfaction when an enemy is eliminated by the player's hands or when an objective is complete. Surrounding gunfire and explosions cannot be mimicked by the sound of CO2 canisters firing paint balls. Black Ops depends on the player's ability to see past the violence to accomplish the missions all these people from different walks of life set out to finish, yet depends on the violence to draw the crowd.

  5. The violence in the Call of Duty games is graphic and seems to be getting more realistic looking in each new generation in the series. However, the fast-paced, deathmatch style gameplay of the series makes the depiction of violence almost cartoon-like. Deaths in Call of Duty come easily and frequently, and are not that painful to the player because of short respawn times. The real life warfare that the games aesthetic is modeled after is in many ways different to the Call of Duty experience.

    Some video game shooters, such as the Operation Flashpoint and Armed Assault series feature a high level of realism in game play. In contrast to the Call of Duty games where the player is most interested in gaining as many kills while dying as few times as possible during the match, to win missions, players in these series must cooperate with their teammates and use a level of communication and planning similar to that required by modern day military operations. There is usually no respawning in these games, so death is more harshly punished. The weapons are designed to shoot much more like their real life counter parts, with realistic ballistics and physics.

    I find it interesting that games such as Call of Duty are the focus of criticism of violence in videogames while realistic simulations of warfare such as the two games listen above are seemingly below the radar. As far as the experience goes, playing one of these games should in theory be more close to experiencing actual warfare, and therefore more similar to the psychological experience of wartime violence.

  6. Despite the violence for everyone in this commercial, I have to give major props to the advertising team on this one. It truly makes me want to go out and buy the game because honestly, this looks like a ton of fun. I remember seeing this for the first time and just laughing through the whole thing, it makes violence so regular to the point its even comical. The madmen behind this brainchild of a commercial deserve a pat on the back. This makes me wonder how the people that create those annoying Progressive 'Flo' girl commercials still have a job. If it were up to me I would hire that dual glock wielding Pizzaman to go there and give 'Flo' a piece of my mind. But getting back to my original point-great commercial with a violent but inclusive undertone---a job well done Activision Ad team!


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