Call of Duty has become a household name for people who own any of the three next generation consoles, as well as PC gamers. I personally have logged in over 18 days of playing time on Modern Warfare 2 for the Xbox 360 and already more than 15 hours on Activision Blizzard’s newest release Call of Duty: Black Ops; both of which are obscenely ridiculous numbers. Just as mind boggling as my inability to put down the controller, are the numbers that both titles raked in during opening day. According to Entertainment Weekly, “Within 24 hours of release, Call of Duty: Black Ops reached $360 million in sales in North America and the U.K. That’s a monstrous record — beating out Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s $310 million for the biggest one-day sales record in videogame history”. The Frankfurt School’s image of popular culture such as Call of Duty is a somewhat negative view, procuring that it’s simply meant for capitalism and consumerism, as well as to control the masses. We define this view of popular culture as the Culture Industry.
As a big fan of the Call of Duty franchise, having played every title, I think that the consumer and capitalist aspect can easily be seen from Activision Blizzard. The Call of Duty franchise has been known for releasing map packs typically priced at the equivalence of $15 USD for a measly 4 maps, in the case of Modern Warfare 2, some of the maps were even featured in previous games. This has caused quite an uproar from the gaming community and has other companies like Electronic Arts and their newly released Medal of Honor as well as Bungie’s Halo releasing downloadable content that must be paid for just weeks after release. According to many gaming websites the Call of Duty franchise has sold over 20 million copies of the map packs showing that consumers are willing to pay even though it seems like a consent among gamers that they are overpriced. I know that I personally have bought map packs for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: World at War, and Modern Warfare 2 all of which were released well after the release date, but don’t seem to pack much content for 1/4th of the price of the whole game per map pack (there have typically been 2 of them). With games like EA’s Medal of Honor they are releasing downloadable content for free if you bought the Limited Edition version of the game; however they have now released even more downloadable content just three weeks after the game was released at $10 USD (regardless if you purchased the limited edition) which many feel is because the game didn’t sell well. Halo, which was released little more than a month ago, also has downloadable content coming out soon which begs me to ask are these companies just trying to milk consumers such as myself for money?
Sturken and Cartwright say the culture industry produces a view where “the fact that class oppression and domination are unfair and not a natural aspect of everyday life—are distorted by a mass ideology that generates myths about the good life under capitalism” (166). What makes this so interesting is the way in which Activision Blizzard presents Call of Duty. In the video above Black Ops presents itself as going across class boundaries, the multitude of different ages, races, genders, and people with differing occupations from traditionally lower class jobs to business men and women are all shown in the video and enjoying themselves playing Call of Duty. This is the culture industry’s goal, to distort class oppression and to get the general population into a state where they are more prone to being controlled.
Another main aspect of the culture industry is that “members of the dominant class that own, control, or have their interests represented in the [media]… are able to control the content generated by these media forms” (166). This can be most easily seen in the newest of the Call of Duty games Black Ops. The setting is the Cold War and in the very first minutes of the game your goal is to try and kill Fidel Castro. One of the game modes that have made Treyarch’s versions of Call of Duty so successful first premiered in World at War is Nazi Zombies, where your goal is to essentially survive endless waves of Zombies whose political affiliation is with the Nazis. Black Ops takes this to the next level as you can see in the video above where you play as John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Fidel Castro, or Robert McNamara. Throughout the game the people the United States have fought in wars against are portrayed as they often have been, negatively. In almost every shooter that is based in current times the opposing forces are either Russian, or a terrorist organization from the Middle East. This is just another example of how the dominant class, in this case Activision Blizzard is able to get across how they view the Western world’s opposing forces. To some extent this has an impact on our society in perpetuating stereotypes especially of modern day terrorists, which always seem to be Russian or Middle Eastern.
Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture by Marita Sturken and Lisa Cartwright.