'Black Ops' mars holiday season

Posted: Monday, November 29, 2010

Two Sunday afternoons ago, my 2-year-old daughter and I were treated to a commercial for Activision's new video game "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

This ad - which depicts NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and comedian Jimmy Kimmel toting firearms and blowing up stuff alongside "regular" people like you and me - has aired regularly ever since, often during hours when children are watching TV.

Even though these celebrities are finally drawing some criticism for their appearance, the wild success of the game itself ($650 million in only five days) means it will likely continue to do so.

I'll preface my own reaction by saying my father was killed in Vietnam when I was 3 weeks old, before we ever had a chance to meet, so I probably wasn't the best audience.

Let me also add that I used to play a lot of video games back before I had two small kids to chase after. Plenty of those were war games, and I never had a problem separating the action on my computer or console from the real thing that nearly destroyed my family 40 years ago.

But there's something about watching hotel concierges and short-order cooks giddily firing machine guns and rocket launchers with Bryant and Kimmel that makes me sick to my stomach. And even more upsetting is the iconic tag line for "Call of Duty": "There's a soldier in all of us."

In a time of multiple wars, when men, women and children all over the world are dying or being maimed for real, there is definitely NOT a soldier in all of us. Especially here in America, where only a few of us are being asked to fight for our country.

And to define "soldier" as having a good ol' time running around a blown-out battle zone is beyond offensive.

I can only speculate how my father would have felt if millions of Americans back home were excitedly playing a simulated version of the same conflict that would eventually claim his life.

But as someone who's experienced the cost of war, I feel strongly that Activision should reconsider this ad campaign, if not pull it from the air during the holiday season. Not a single frame leads me to believe that the company truly considered the consequences of the virtual wars it is selling.

If it had, Activision might have thought twice about selecting "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones for the soundtrack. The producers of the ad obviously didn't listen to the lyrics: "War, children, it's just a shot away ... It's just a shot away."

• John Hulme is an author and filmmaker from Highland Park, N.J. His documentary about the life and death of his father - "Unknown Soldier: Searching for a Father" - aired on HBO's "America Undercover." He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.



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