Call of Duty should be treated like cigarettes and booze and banned from children’s spaces

This series is dangerous for children, and needs to be treated as such.

9 mins read
Call of Duty Burger King deal is grotesque

As much as we all live in a world that champions the idea that speech should be as free as possible (rightfully so, of course), we make exceptions to that rule all the time (also, rightfully so). For example, it has been illegal to advertise cigarettes across much of the world, particularly in a context where children are consuming the media. Increasingly, there is also pressure placed on alcohol advertisements and sponsorships for the same reason.

Gambling has been another nasty. Traditionally, gambling companies have relied heavily on advertising during sporting events (you know, the thing that people bet on). However, there is increasing pressure on regulators to limit that because – yep! – children rather like sporting events too. We keep children out of casinos, and therefore it stands to reason that we should keep gambling out of our children.

Of course, it’s not just a ban on advertising, either. Actually selling these things to children isn’t just “frowned upon.” There’s no industry-managed “rating system” that allows children to buy these things anyway. You get caught selling or providing cigarettes, alcohol, or gambling services to children, and you’re screwed. We, as a general society, agree that these restrictions are a good thing.

So, let’s talk about Call of Duty. Because Call of Duty is advertised to children, sold to them, and consumed by them, and just about everyone turns a blind eye to that. It’s a problem, because Call of Duty is dangerous.

Just today came the news that Call of Duty had partnered up with Burger King for a promotion. Burger King, of course, is a fast food obesity machine that relies on the very not-yet-18 market to keep its revenues healthy. Would Philip Morris be able to strike a deal with Burger King to distribute a free cigarette with every greasepile burger? What about a coupon for a six-pack of beer? Or a free two-way bet on a horse race? No?

No, of course not. If they tried any of these things there would be a meltdown. So why do we treat Call of Duty differently?

Every time Call of Duty rolls around I do find myself surprised with just how uncritical the games industry and media is of it. The same games industry that’s just about eliminated fan service from Japanese games because it is supposedly sexist uncritically embraces the aggressive military propaganda of Activision’s series. Yes, when a Call of Duty game decides to assign American war crimes to Russians there might be a note of it in the review. However, the media is much more likely to write flattering praise about how Call of Duty now allows you to assign non-binary genders to your characters than it is to criticise the game for inserting a positive vision of Ronald Reagan into the story.

Kotaku’s biggest concern with this Burger King deal was that it’s expensive. If the games media had its head screwed on right, it’s not the cost, but the content that would offend people a whole lot more than the bounce physics in Dead or Alive.

Call of Duty is actively used by militaries around the world for PR, advertising and recruitment. I’ll never forget the time, a decade ago, when I went along to a gaming convention in Australia and saw that the military had set up a booth immediately opposite the exit to the Call of Duty booth, on the premise that “you shot these guns in the game, now see what they really feel like.” It was that egregious and grotesque, and it’s only become worse since. More than a few parents I know personally have expressed concern about the view of the military and warfare that this series presents. That it’s an adventure. That it’s a matter of goodies and baddies. That you can be a hero. That getting a killstreak is “fun.” And so on and so forth. That Call of Duty encourages people to see the military as an exciting adventure (just as recruitment propaganda in World War 1 and 2 did), and that the western military is righteous and good, and therefore something to support.

So, when Call of Duty advertises via Burger King, then Burger King, too, is supporting the recruitment propaganda of the military. Did you know that a bullet hole to the head is more of a health hazard than a cigarette or glass of beer? So why do we allow the promotion of military propaganda when we’re so concerned about the influence of advertising could have in selling cigarettes and alcohol?

And, again, why do otherwise progressive people and media feed this? You’d naturally expect the right-wingers to indulge their usual hypocrisy and celebrate “patriotism marketing” even as they’re so offended by an ad with a black person selling a shoe or something, but why does the left consider this harmless entertainment and appropriate marketing? The left pushes to ban the advertising of sugar to children, for Christ’s sake. Sugar! And, yes, sugar is a major concern when it comes to obesity, but, again, Call of Duty is propaganda for a hole to the head.

If we treated Call of Duty like it should be treated, then we should be banning it from associating with any space that is considered “children-friendly.” Furthermore, copies of the game should only be available from behind the counter at retail, and while no one can stop a parent from being a terrible parent and allowing their child to play the game at home (after all, plenty of parents turn a blind eye to drinking and smoking, too), we need the laws about unhealthy games like Call of Duty to have some teeth. That way, at least, parents won’t loudly proclaim “oh, you want Call of Duty?” to their 10-year old kid, march up to the counter with it, and then have the salesperson ask them if they want a copy for themselves as well.

I’m not suggesting that Call of Duty be banned completely. Like with cigarettes and alcohol, if adults want to partake, then they should be able to without harassment. If parents are fine with children doing the same, then so be it. But we need to stop pretending that this series is in any way benign or healthy. It’s an active, aggressive work of propaganda, and while I understand that jingoism means that a bunch of people are too indoctrinated to see the problem in this, the reality is that this kind of propaganda is every bit as malignant and harmful to our society as the other nasties that we, rightfully, distance children from.

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Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • An excellent opinion piece; a saner world would have put this in place decades ago. I’m sure it’ll prompt howls from children, but anyone who’s actually served in combat would see the sense in this.

    • I got to admit, the lack of criticism about what Call of Duty is and does frustrates me. I don’t know if the industry turns a blind eye because of the money involved or simply that as a collective we’ve been so indoctrinated into jingoism that most genuinely can’t see it… but it’s so concerning.

  • Cigarette advertising is very strict here in the United States. Alcohol and especially gambling(sports betting primarily) advertisements are extensive though.

    Strangely, sports betting is allowed in many states, while online poker(which actually has some skill) is illegal in the vast majority of states. Doesn’t make much sense.

    • I was very tempted to make a comment specifically about Kinder Surprises in America, and how they’re banned for health concerns with children <_<. But yeah, Australia's fairly similar otherwise. The alcohol advertising is on the wane, and the push to kill gambling advertising is *incredible*, but it's only cigarettes that are outright banned almost anywhere. My point was more behind the push for these things to be restricted. I don't know if there's much of a pushback in America at the moment.

  • Are we going to get a yearly rantpiece now? Good stuff!

    Also: the difficulty here is that the state should regulate this, but it’s that same state that is pushing the propaganda in the first place of course.

    • To be fair I have kept the rant pieces coming for some time with COD. Last year I dressed it up as a review ^_^.

      You are right, of course, that a government agency benefits from the propaganda so of course they won’t regular the propaganda. I can only do what I do to push back on that, until the government here drives me offline :D.

  • “Hear, hear!”
    As a teacher in the US, I can confirm that kids and teenagers mainly play three sets of games:
    – free-to-play games such as Minecraft, Roblox, Valorant
    – Switch games, especially Smash, Pokemon, and Splatoon
    – Call of Duty & (until recently) Grand Theft Auto — 2 game franchises that underage players should be nowhere near. The fact that they’re advertising Call of Duty at Burger King makes me feel even sicker than I would eating a Burger King burger and fries…

    Living in the US in 2022, with guns proliferating on the streets around my kids (in many states carried openly by average citizens with average intelligence and little-to-no training), I tire of videogames that glamorize real gun violence on real-looking people. It doesn’t cause the gun problem we have in America (which has myriad causes and is fueled by dark money), but the immense popularity of CoD/GTA and our gun violence problem do go hand-in-hand.

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