Activision's Call of Duty is no stranger to controversy, but usually its limited to the actual contents of the games themselves. This time, in an attempt to market the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the controversy has started before anyone's even got their button-smashing hands on the thing.
Last week, Activision reskinned and rebranded their Twitter account to appear like a genuine, if unknown, news organization named 'Current Events Aggregate.' They then proceeded to post fictional tweets that appeared to cover a major terrorist attack in Singapore.
The account, which has since returned to its original Call of Duty name, included tweets which alluded to massive explosions, the collapse of social order and talks of Quarantine Zones and violence. Here are just some of the tweets:
At the end of their fictional reporting, the Twitter account returned to normal and posted the following tweet:
Of course, as you'd expect from this type of gimmick, it didn't take long for various individuals to decry this stunt as irresponsible and disrespectful. Chief among the complaints were suggestions that those unfamiliar with Call of Duty could believe these were real events that were unfolding. For example, Kyle Sledge of Gamerant stated:
Activision should regret creating such a tasteless marketing campaign. Yes, they successfully achieved the goal of getting people to talk about their video game – as we’re doing right now – but the method was rather tactless, as Activision’s manufacturing of a fake terrorist attack could have easily been misconstrued as the real thing, and led to panic.
Although it seems like no mass (or even minor) panic actually followed the marketing ploy, others have suggested it is simply bad taste to try and use today's legitimate fear of terrorism to sell a video game. DailyDot added that its choice of Singapore was also particularly poor form considering its past, and present, struggles with groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah and the so-called Islamic State.
More Call of Duty Controversies
However, as mentioned above, this certainly isn't the first time Call of Duty has courted controversy. In fact, it could be argued that stirring up controversy about their titles is now part of Activision's tried and tested marketing strategy. Let's look at some examples:
Call of Duty Attacks Al Jazeera
Everyone seemed to love the rebranding of the Call of Duty franchise as a gritty, modern shooter, except that is, for Al Jazeera. The Arabic based news organization claimed its offices were used as the inspiration for a mission in which U.S. Marines assaulted a television studio. Although Activision claimed any similarities were coincidental, the two locations do share many similarities. Compare the in-game photo above with the one below to see what I mean:
Killing Fidel Castro in Black Ops
Call of Duty 'quasi-spin-off' title Black Ops also saw the action move to a new decade as you take on the role of a US special forces soldier assigned to kill Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.
The climax of the first mission sees you barging into his bedroom where he takes a scantily clad woman as hostage. This mission, understandably, was frowned upon by the Cuban government, who released the following statement:
What the United States couldn't accomplish in more than 50 years, they are now trying to do virtually. It glorifies the illegal assassination attempts the United States government planned against the Cuban leader ... and it stimulates sociopathic attitudes in North American children and adolescents.
Fighting Against Grenade Spam
More uproar was caused when Infinity Ward released a short viral video for their sequel, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The video, which featured Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, was ostensively a humerous video concerning grenade spamming - a tactic by which players simply shower an area with grenades. However, the acronym created by the purported 'sponsor' of the PSA - Fighting Against Grenade Spam - led to some commenters claiming Infinity Ward was condoning one of the communities worst homophobic slurs. After facing criticism, Infinity Ward eventually backed down and pulled the ad. Despite that, the video can still be viewed below:
The infamous 'No Russian' campaign mission from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is perhaps the best known example of Call of Duty controversy. The mission, which places the player in the role of an undercover agent hidden among terrorists, depicts an airport massacre which the player can choose to help perpetrate.
Critics claimed the level essentially allowed you to play as a terrorist, while generally being incredibly graphic and distressing. Infinity Ward responded by claiming they were attempting to create a believable scenario which would illicit an emotional response in the player. The critics fired back by suggesting the mission actually does little to progress the story or provide any kind of justification - but was merely shallow violence for the sake of creating a controversy.
Russia completely removed the level, while Japanese and German versions of the game included a modification that resulted in an immediate 'Game Over' if the player killed a civilian. In all other versions, the level can be optionally skipped with no penalty.
London Bombings - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Although not on the scale of Modern Warfare 2's No Russian controversy, Modern Warfare 3 also contained a odd cut-scene which did not escape without criticism.
The moment sees the player take control of a father on holiday, he films his family in London before they are unceremoniously blown up by a terrorist attack. As well as conjuring distasteful memories of London's 7/7 attacks, the scene was also criticised by some commenters for delivering violence without depth or violence simply for the sake of violence. For their part, Infinity Ward's creative director Bret Robbins claimed the intention was to "push the envelope."