Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Call of Commercialism

This Chinese Call of Duty Online promo starring Chris Evans is nothing especially new or unusual—not as Call of Duty commercials go, nor in the realm of bizarre foreign ads utilizing American celebrities. Even so, I find it unsettling for a couple reasons:

1) It's Chris Evans—Captain America himself—shilling for a version of Call of Duty that is exclusive to China, the United States of America's greatest rival as a world power.

2) Actually, even though it's a China-exclusive release, it's still an American-produced game, which dramatizes a principally American conflict. I don't know if Chinese players will explicitly be taking on the roles of U.S. soldiers (and they certainly won't be fighting against Chinese villains), but still it brings to mind that awkward anecdote of the Japanese gamers who gleefully took to gunning down their ancestors in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (or, for that matter, Capcom's 1942). It makes me wonder, when was the last time a video game asked Americans to play as representatives of a real-life present-day government agency of any nation other than the U.S. or UK? I don't know the answer, but I'm guessing it happens infrequently and, in any case, not with a lot of earnest eagerness.

3) All of the Chinese characters in the ad are in awe of the one white guy. Maybe if Chris Evans were actually appearing as himself, the Hollywood actor, this would be a perfectly understandable case of them being starstruck. But he's here playing some unnamed "foreigner" who randomly joins the Chinese team's session, and immediately it's just "understood," both by the characters and by the audience (via cues that I suspect are racial), that he is the badass in the room. We see how the skewed white American media colors perceptions of race even in foreign, fairly homogeneously non-white countries, such that the universal image now of the "badass soldier type" is a white guy.

4) Ultimately, the most unsettling aspect is that it's Call of Duty. As mass market as these games are, the series has long posed an ethical dilemma, not altogether intentionally. The games excel in all technical facets, and are not devoid of narrative ambition. Still, I don't think there's anybody who can play through the single-player campaign in a Call of Duty and not feel that there's something a little distasteful about the experience. Here, we see that it goes beyond jingoism, as the games really exist to serve not the U.S. but Activision, wherever they can find a market for their almost peerlessly mercenary glamorization of war.

1 comment:

Robert Fung said...

"When was the last time a video game asked Americans to play as representatives of a real-life present-day government agency of any nation other than the U.S. or UK?"

What about Luftrausers, moi droog? Oh wait, Luftrausers wasn't present-day, and moi droog wasn't real.