Advertising is, of course, limited in what it can actually tell us about an object, intentionally skewed as it is to paint that object in a positive light. What advertising can reveal, however, is what certain brands or companies think of themselves: the image of themselves they want to project, the ideas they value, the people they want to attract.
Take, for example, this trailer for Activision’s 2010 title, Call of Duty: Black Ops:
This trailer tells us that Activision sees their Call of Duty franchise as, essentially, a game. Everyday, normal people of a variety of backgrounds can come together in explosive, spectacular skirmishes. “There’s a soldier in all of us” the trailer tells us at the end, noting that this isn’t a game only for elite, die-hard military fans; it’s something for fun that everyone can engage in.
Leaving aside for a moment the obvious issues with reducing modern warfare to a “fun game” (something that myself and others critiqued at the time of its release), compare this trailer with the most recent trailer for Call of Duty: Ghosts, which is released today:
On one hand, it’s the same story: a bunch of normal people treating war like a game—just another way to have fun in Las Vegas. The same tagline appears at the end: “There’s a soldier in all of us.”
It’s telling, however, just who Activision has left out of “all of us” in the intervening years.
In Black Ops’s initial trailer, we see players of a range of different ethnicities, body sizes, occupations, and ages (something The Border House noted at the time of its release). For the many issues with the advertisement, it was refreshing to see a videogame publisher acknowledge that it is not just white, adolescent men who play their games.
By the time we get to Ghosts’ trailer, this inclusiveness has gone out the window. Four dudes, three of whom are white, dominate the trailer. There is a brief encounter with a single woman player (a nod to the fact that you can finally play as a woman in multiplayer for the first time in the series’ history, something Activision and Infinity Ward are embarassingly proud of), but she is reduced to the butt-end of a pickup line before the four male protagonists and their dog continue on their merry way. Sadly, this is a pretty accurate depiction of how women who wish to play multiplayer games are often treated.
It’s not surprising that a new Call of Duty game will be advertised almost exclusively to men, but in a time where it is widely known that just as many women play videogames as men, it is still disappointing to see Activision so explicitly narrow their concern in just who is important to them. Videogames are indeed for all of us, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the behaviour of any of the mainstream publishers.