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.