The new commercial for Call of Duty: Black Ops is very unusual for a video game; It features several female gamers, and not just token Lara Croft look-alikes. So why has it been dubbed the most "disappointing game-related ad"?
In the commercial, men and women of various races and professions are shown tossing grenades and taking down helicopters in a realistic war scenario. The aim is to show that the game appeals to people from all walks of life (including Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel).
The game's popularity is undeniable; since its debut on Tuesday, it's made more than $360 million. While traditionally, video game marketers only reach out to women when they're trying to sell something with cutesy graphics and lots of sparkles, this ad actually acknowledges that not all of the 5.6 million copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops sold in the first 24 hours were bought by white men ages 18-34.
So far the commercial hasn't received much attention for its inclusiveness, and on The Atlantic's website, Sam Machkovech complains about the campaign, calling it "twisted." He writes:
I couldn't have asked for a more disappointing game-related ad. These aren't the video games I play. Even at their highest levels of action and violence, video games play like sophisticated games of Cops & Robbers. They're silly; they require colorful, funny-shaped controllers; they stay decidedly in the domain of detached fiction.
This ad 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.
There's certainly an argument to be made that all first-person shooter military games like those in the Call of Duty and Medal of Honor series are disturbing, particularly when they recreate situations soldiers are currently engaged in overseas.
But it seems Machkovech's main gripe with this particular ad is that the distance of CGI has been removed, so he can see the "look of exasperation on that little, shotgun-wielding girl." I actually only spotted a confident, shotgun-wielding woman enjoying a video game, but either way, how does featuring real people in a war zone make this ad worse than any other commercial? In our society, violence is trivialized in everything from fashion ads to action films. Here we see adults firing weapons into real vehicles and buildings with no consequences, but seeing a CGI man gush blood after getting shot doesn't bring home the horrifying reality of war either.
Machkovech has every right to object to the irresponsible way many video games portraying violence. Though I have friends who love first-person shooters, like Machkovech, I choose not to play them myself. However, I'm still excited to see marketers reach out to female gamers in an way that doesn't demean them. As Latoya Peterson wrote, the first thing advertisers need to understand is, "Women gamers are not a monolith." When I play video games, the only combat situation I want to be in involves Hermione fending off flying Lego bricks with a magic spell. But, just like men, some women want to open fire on virtual soldiers, or zombies, or sometimes even zombie Nazi soldiers.
Of course, female first-person shooter fans may like to play as a woman too, but Call of Duty: Black Ops only features male characters. Even if women are still second-class citizens in the world of video games, hopefully this commercial is a sign that marketers are starting to realize female gamers make up a large and diverse group. And sometimes we enjoy a good explosion, even if it isn't pink.
Related: Review: Call Of Duty: Black Ops Redefines Modern Warfare [Kotaku]