Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

[Update: The internet in action! Isn't it wonderful? It seems that Robert Bowling of Infinity Ward (@fourzerotwo) has either pulled or identified a reason for pulling the Youtube video in question. Either way, the video is no longer up due to "concerns" registered. I'd call that a win for sensible gamers everywhere.]

The Brainy Gamer blog featured a terrific post today directed at Infinity Ward's questionable "FAGS" advertising campaign, in which Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels decries grenade spam. It's covert advertising for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, of course, although the acronym with which said message is provided is obviously the source of the most worry.

Abbott astutely covers the seeming non-response by Infinity Ward's target audience:

If we want to teach boys why compassion and civility are essential to their development as men, we must do it one lesson at a time. We can disapprove of EA and Activision's despicable choices, but we shouldn't presume our outrage will impact the underlying reality. It's not about the games or the ad campaigns; it's about how we raise and teach our kids. We have created this callous consumer, and we should expect marketers to target him accordingly. Are companies who sell games and music and body spray complicit in all this? Of course. Are they to blame? No.

Again, said beautifully, and Abbott goes on to say in the comments section that no one should be giving Infinity Ward a free pass.

My one comment in all of this, however, is that Abbott's view about how the gaming audience has received the marketing is somewhat muddled, if not overly pessimistic.

For one, Abbott starts the post by saying that the gaming blogosphere has already unleashed a degree of backlash at Infinity Ward, but then says the YouTube comments for the advertisement in question support the unstated theory that this sort of brazen insensitivity appeals to gamers (who, by the way, are primarily adult in audience, and not "youth," as is sometimes declared).

I don't think Abbott is necessarily wrong, but I do think this sentiment needs some sorting out. Certainly, gaming blogs represent a more pointedly academic or thoughtful perspective than most gamers bring to the table, but that does not mean the "backlash" sentiment isn't present in many gamers—many who are undoubtedly homosexual. I think (or at least I hope) these blogs tap into an underlying sentiment in the reactive, progressive portion of this culture… the portion that wants to clear the air before investigating a bit further as to how an ad like this serves as "cultural artifact" or how the game itself stands alone (and I do believe it stands alone).

Does that mean the outrage somehow washes out support for the ad? Not at all. I think Abbott is striking at something far sadder than "the average gamer" in his post:  He mentions how insensitivity is in and empathy is out in our culture, and I think this is true to a certain extent… among conservatives.

I don't mean to turn a discussion about video games into a political rant, but to be honest the word "conservatism" isn't merely political these days. Conservatism in our society has now taken on the form of the man or woman who is self-serving, immediate surroundings first and thinking outside the box a distant second. It isn't a Southern or Republican trend; this has become the mode for all citizens of our country—and perhaps Western democracies in general—who would rather be seen as stoic and impassionate than somehow "weak" for their ability to step outside their own myopia.

I believe that is what allows some to find some sort of comfort in this advertisement. It represents niche thinking to a supposedly niche market (which gaming is not), a warm blanket for those who feel best when they can throw darts at the rest of the world with impunity. I don't think it necessarily has to do with gaming, or the way all games are currently marketed. If you look at Sony's recent PS3 ads, aimed at men and women alike, you'll find something far more humorous, warm, and mature about our current gaming culture than the odd EA "Sin to Win" promotion would evidence. I believe these kinds of advertisements are definitely the outliers.

The backlash is out there… and it will trickle down slowly in response to conservatism. Like yin and yang, it's impossible to have complicity without scrutiny, and I do think the scrutiny will eventually balance out the free pass many have given to Infinity Ward's PR department here.

That said, there is also the issue of whether to point blame at Infinity Ward as a whole. Abbott suggests that we cannot point fingers at the company but then closes the post with this:

The day your son gets a load of "Sin to Win" and decides he'd rather spend his money on another game is the day we begin to turn this around. And the marketing will follow suit. Those PR types know how to hit a moving target.

Well, wouldn't buying another game mean blaming the company? I doubt the enormous team responsible for Modern Warfare 2 itself has much to do with this particular ad, and it's important to recognize that big-budget games are not made by homogenous entities but rather teams of hundreds, if not thousands, of talented men and women who slave over computers with artistry, not advertising, in mind. Suggesting that an informed consumer would reject the product indicates that everyone responsible for the game is culpable, and I do not think this is the case at all (and I'm sure Abbott agrees, which makes his final paragraph all the more puzzling).

Is not buying a game the most rhetorically effective way to reach a company's PR department? In the case of EA's Sin to Win competition, the backlash was so strong that EA found itself on its heels and apologized. I think the best way to reach advertisers is to reject the advertising… not the products themselves.

Read more on the Game in Mind blog.

Matthew Kaplan
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