Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare + VICE — Superpower For Hire

Promotion and contamination between real military scenarios and the game’s futuristic world.

Image for post
Image for post

This document describes in brief Superpower For Hire: Rise of the Private Military, promotional video of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Sledgehammer Games, 2014). The research considers the product and its materials by studying the creative choices, the informative properties, the modalities of visual representation and promotion.

Image for post
Image for post

1. Short analysis

Introductory note: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Sledgehammer Games, 2014) is set in a futuristic world (between 2054 and 2061) where the multinational company Atlas Corporation has become the planet’s leading military power, coming into conflict with democratic governments up until starting a devastating war.

1.1. Power for hire
During Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s complex promotional campaign, the Call of Duty and VICE documentary entitled Superpower For Hire[1] developed through three main projects, built with the function of introducing the game’s core topics by outlining its primary generative condition (the unstoppable rise of a private military corporation), geopolitical situation (instability, international terrorism) and related technological environment (tactical arsenal and advanced weaponry), establishing a link between the futuristic vision of the 2054–2061 world and current events happening in 2014.

Let’s briefly summarise the promotional context in chronological order:

1. Preview — The short version (1:17) anticipates the VICE documentary, starting to introduce the main topic: where PMCs (private military corporations) come from and how they operate, among security services and international military operations.
  • Preview
    22nd July 2014
    Combining excerpts from interviews, training scenes and dangerous situations, the preview outlines the PMCs’ operating methods and draws attention to which juridical and moral issues are raised by their activity.

“These private companies are out for hire: they are private armies.” — Jan Schakowsky[2]

“I left the Army because the money wasn’t good enough for what I was getting paid to do. […] Why would I do 5 years in Iraq and earn $120 grand, when I can do 2 years in Iraq and earn $400 grand? […] In my era, anybody who is any good in the Army isn’t in the Army anymore.” — Phillip Mills[3]

2. Complementarity — A revised version of Superpower For Hire (3:41) explores the various international stages where some PMCs operate, stating the crucial role of a specific PMC in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.
  • Documentary
    24th July 2014
    The extended version of Superpower for Hire: Rise of the Private Military investigates the birth, operational functions, institutional relations and legal disputes of the PMCs, which are also involved in recent armed conflicts with illegal implications. Assuming potential risks associated with the conduct of an uncontrolled military, the documentary ends with the invitation to visit the Call of Duty official website.
  • People interviewed:
    0. Jedd Thomas (VICE reporter)
    1. Tony Schiena PMC contractor, owner of Mosaic Security
    2. Pablo Fidanza international entrepreneur
    3. P. W. Singer writer and security systems expert
    4. Erik Prince PMC contractor, founder of Blackwater (now Academi)
    5. Phillip Mills PMC contractor
    6. Simon Mann PMC contractor, founder of Executive Outcomes
    7. Mick Cowan PMC sniper trainer and contractor
    8. Aaron Nixon PMC sniper spotter and contractor (associate of Mick Cowan)
    9
    . Robert Young Pelton journalist and armed conflicts expert
    10. Jan Schakowsky U.S. congressman (representative-Illinois)
    11. David Sanger chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times
  • Visited locations:
    1. Caracas (Barrio Tres Equis; with Tony Schiena and Pablo Fidanza)
    2. Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates; with Erik Prince)
    3. Czech Republic (Anti Terror Academy training camp;
    with Phillip Mills)
    4. Ireland (private training camp; with Mick Cowan and Aaron Nixon)

Narrative structure (selection of primary elements):
1. Introductory thematic phrase (information on the presence of contractors in Iraq)
2. Sweep of Barrio Tres Equis (Caracas) with Tony Schiena
3. Pickup of Pablo Fidanza and his armed escort at the airport (Caracas)
4. Interview with P. W. Singer
5. Abu Dhabi: interview with Erik Prince
6. Czech Republic:
Anti Terror Academy training camp
7. Czech Republic: interview with Phillip Mills
8. Interview with Simon Mann
9. Ireland: interview and training with Mick Cowan and Aaron Nixon
10. Interview with Robert Young Pelton
11. Interview with Jan Schakowsky
12. Interview with David Sanger
13. Closing thematic phrase (assumptions about an uncontrolled PMC; CoD website)

Image for post
Image for post

“We were mischaracterised as ‘out of control mercenaries’ and the fact is we were American veterans serving America again and getting paid on a competitively bid contract. Full stop.” — Erik Prince[4]

“These guys are fighting for money, they’re not fighting for the state, they’re not fighting out of sense of duty or patriotism. When it gets serious is if you get a PMC that starts to get excessively muscular.” — Simon Mann[5]

“One big concern for private military contractors is a question of allegiance. When they become political instruments to help prop up a government, that’s when you begin to ask the question: ‘Does this corporation have a foreign policy of its own?’ […] Who exactly are they working for?” — David Sanger[6]

3. Extended chronicle — The full version of Superpower For Hire (14:16) presents the issues and actual risks connected with the rise of private militaries as founding narrative elements of Call of Duty: AW.
  • Complementary version
    1st May 2014[7]
    In a short, alternative and complementary version, Call of Duty+VICE — Superpower For Hire continues to describe the process of military privatisation by combining statements from businessmen, mercenaries, book authors and political figures, suggesting several juridical and moral issues connected with the private militaries’ reprehensible conduct.
    This documentary was released three days before Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s global release, originally scheduled for the 4th of May.[8]
  • Key notions
    1. Introductory thematic phrase: “In the next Call of Duty the world’s most powerful military is not a country. It’s a corporation”
    2. PMCs are loyal to no country and available to the highest bidder.
    3. As at 13th March 2013, PMCs represented 62% of the occupation forces in Afghanistan.
    4. In the 2001–2012 period, the U.S. government spent more than 3,3 trillion dollars in security contracts with private companies.
    5. The third largest company in the world is the PMC G4S.
    6. PMCs recruit the best soldiers, purchase advanced technology and dispose of enormous financial resources, continuing to drastically increase their offensive power.
Image for post
Image for post

“It amazes me how many people there are out there who are willing to get involved in this kind of things. I can make a dozen phone calls, and within a month we’ll have a thousand guys.” — Simon Mann[9]

2. Conclusions

2.1. Thematic amplification
Conceived with the function of briefly investigating the issues related to the area of private militaries, the Superpower For Hire documentary introduces the background and some fundamental information on CoD: AW’s fictional world, presenting the gaming experience as a space and instrument for creative interpretation and futuristic simulation.
The presence of people, events, locations and diversified settings (with references to Venezuela, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan and Equatorial Guinea) fosters a semantic expansion of contents which increases the level of immersive possibilities connected with the knowledge of the intellectual property, with the result of amplifying its narrative potential by establishing multiple relations between current reality and the futuristic scenario.

Image for post
Image for post

The set of promotional activities has the function of:

  • Sharing sources of narrative and creative inspiration, pointing out the realistic origin of the fictional world depicted in CoD: AW;
  • Constituting a transmedia extension by expanding the indirect gaming background with the possibility of exploring and looking into new independent contents on various media channels, encouraging the user to imagine a hypothetical chronology of events considering the 2014–2054 period;
  • Revealing a key narrative element in CoD: AW, presenting Atlas Corporation as the world’s leading military power;
  • Attracting a diversified audience through VICE’s notoriety, including both users interested in current issues or TV entertainment and affiliated gamers;
  • Bringing together, to a variable extent, stylistic aspects of visual communication, cinema and promotion, seeking greater media coverage by testing innovative inter-sectoral synergies;
  • Potentially, increasing the perceived feeling of commercial affiliation towards Activision, showing the company’s sensitivity towards promoting high-profile historical, scientific, informative, political and social initiatives[10];
War to come — The short Call of Duty Black Ops II documentary (Treyarch, 2012) briefly describes technology developments in the military area, pointing out issues and dangers presented by weapons, future conflicts and the associated risk of techno-cyberterrorism.
National militia — The growing phenomenon of people’s militia in the U.S. shows the emergence of various paramilitary organisations based on nationalistic and political principles. Loyal to the Constitution, returning soldiers, veterans and ordinary citizens meet regularly for information, tactical training and war simulation sessions, with the aim of getting ready for terrorist attacks, civil war or tyranny. See [https://goo.gl/5mKFGf] [https://goo.gl/G1V2n2]

2.2. Sectoral presence
Private militaries and militia are a relevant narrative entity in many entertainment products, contributing with a key role to building complex scenarios featuring time intervals, geographical diversification and multiple narrative lines. Proposing a basic and partial comparison, it is possible to outline some informative elements of other intellectual properties and to detect potential visual and narrative similarities between them, considering how the specific PMC entity is included and dealt with in the fictional world, and how it influences the plot.

Image for post
Image for post
Private military power — In a world ravaged by war and international terrorism, Atlas makes profit by carrying out military operations and security services, even entirely taking over national armed forces. As founder and president of a massive PMC, Jonathan Irons disposes of almost unlimited executive and financial power. After the death of his son Will, who died heroically fighting in Seoul with the Marines in 2054, Irons offers the mutilated veteran Jack Mitchell career prospects in Atlas, promising training, advanced weaponry and an exclusive prosthesis. Hades’, leader of KVA, unrelenting terrorist threat leads Atlas to a period of unprecedented growth, fuelling a controversial process of political and military affirmation that soon causes conflict with nations and institutions.[https://goo.gl/5dFjEa]

“We are a superpower for hire. […] Because politicians don’t know how to solve problems. But I do […]”

“Ideas don’t determine who’s right. Power determines who’s right. And I have the power. So, I’m right.” — Jonathan Irons[11]

MNU (Multi-National United): District 9 (N. Blomkamp, 2009) — The second largest weapons manufacturer in the world, with headquarters in Johannesburg, Multi-National United is responsible for the surveillance and management of District 9, a quarantine zone where an alien population has been isolated. The containment camp, in which burglaries, aggressions, drug dealing, contraband and prostitution take place, hosts plots of land and shacks owned by MNU where the alien creatures are repressed, forced to live among garbage and threatened by raids, evictions, arrests and even killings. MNU’s huge resources include administrative and scientific staff, police forces and private military contractors equipped with armoured vehicles and aircrafts. See [https://goo.gl/s8PyS7] [https://goo.gl/ocvMU8] and [https://goo.gl/ZTSWyj]
RDA (Resources Development Administration): Avatar (J. Cameron, 2009) — Private company capable of interplanetary transport, RDA disposes of scientific staff and mercenaries to ensure security over the course of Pandora’s space colonisation, with the primary aim of building mining sites for extracting precious materials and developing energy resources. In order to ensure the defense of all colonised areas and of future plants whose construction is planned in Na’vi (the alien indigenous population) territory, RDA’s military division is composed of infantry units equipped with advanced weaponry, augmented reality sensors and special robotic armoured exoskeletons, assisted by an imposing air force that includes helicopters, aircrafts and bomber aircrafts. See [https://goo.gl/jokv1P]
Image for post
Image for post
Last Man Battalion: Tom Clancy’s The Division (Massive/Ubisoft, 2016) — During the devastating flu pandemic triggered in New York by infected banknotes, some Wall Street financial corporations hire the Last Man Battalion (LMB) PMC to protect their properties and valuable resources. But when the medical and social situation degenerates into complete crisis, the company, led by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Bliss, decides to mutiny, starting a radical authoritarian drift. Barricaded inside the occupied United Nations building, LMB forces fight in various areas of New York with the aim of recapturing the city and establishing military rule. See [https://goo.gl/3YXRaS]
Shoreline: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, 2016) — Shoreline, a PMC, collaborates with a particular customer and operates in various geographical locations with the purpose of discovering an ancient secret city and retrieving its treasure before Nathan Drake, the protagonist adventurer. [https://goo.gl/eaWALh]
Image for post
Image for post
Alpha-Omega: War for the Planet of the Apes (M. Reeves, 2017) — Led by Colonel McCullough, the Alpha-Omega (AO) irregular militia brings together deserters from the U.S. Army, mercenaries and voluntary soldiers dedicated to slaughtering the genetically modified apes responsible for the lethal pandemic that has begun in San Francisco and has then spread globally causing millions of casualties. Settled in a quarantine station converted into a fortified army camp, Alpha-Omega imprisons and tortures the apes forcing them to hard labour or recruiting them as fighting slaves. McCullough’s brutal ideological fanaticism contemplates the systematic murder of all infected subjects, including fellow soldiers, with the purpose of saving humanity from extinction. See [https://goo.gl/GseFW9] [https://goo.gl/LQhhJf]

Notes list

The hyperlinks are abbreviated by Google Url Shortener.

[1] [We are a super-power for hire. […]] Jonathan Irons in Atlas (2).

[2] [These private companies are out for hire; they are private armies.]
Interview with Jan Schakowsky.

[3] [So I left the Army because the money wasn’t good enough for what I was getting paid to do. Why would I do 5 years in Iraq in the Army and earn $120 grand, when I can do 2 years in Iraq and earn $400 grand. Certainly in my era, anybody who is any good in the Army isn’t in the Army any more.] Interview with Phillip Mills.

[4] [We were mischaracterized as “out of control mercenaries” and the fact is we were American Veterans serving America again and getting paid on a competitively bid contract. Full stop.] Interview with Erik Prince.

[5] [These guys are fighting for money, they’re not fighting for the state, they’re not fighting out of sense of duty or patriotism. When it gets serious is when you get a PMC that starts to get excessively muscular.]
Interview with Simon Mann.

[6] [One big concern for Private Military Contractors is a question of allegiance. When they become political instruments. […] Does this corporation have a foreign policy of its own? […] That’s when you begin to ask the question: […] Who exactly are they working for?] Interview with David Sanger.

[7] The official Call of Duty website reveals, in an unedited section, a distorted image and a three-day countdown. The domain includes three hidden white dots, varying their position at each new page reload: every dot contains a hyperlink to another website, dedicated to the issue of PMCs. The hyperlinks concern Business Insider, The New York Times and Wikipedia. Note: the www.callofduty.com/anewera section has been deactivated. Check the original distorted image [https://goo.gl/VZ7wOf]

[8] The simultaneous publication of A New Era Arrives May 4th ends with Call of Duty’s global publishing date. But, on the same day, the first Call of Duty: AW release video (officially scheduled for the 4th of May) is published in advance, much to everyone’s surprise: the unexpected leak of classified information forced Activision to intervene, in order to maintain temporal control of the promotional campaign. See [http://goo.gl/ueN3bi]

[9] [It amazes me how many people there are out there who are willing to get involved in these kind of things. I can make a dozen of phone calls and within a month we’ll have a thousand guys.] Interview with Simon Mann.

[10] With an investment amounting to more than $25 million and 43000 jobs created, Activision Blizzard promotes since 2009 Call of Duty: Endowment, the charity dedicated to supporting and training American veterans in a return-to-work process. Since 2017, the initiative has been extended to the United Kingdom. See [https://goo.gl/nPUko1]

[11] [We are a super-power for hire. […] Because politicians don’t know how to solve problems. But I do.] Jonathan Irons in Atlas (2) and Collapse (11).
[Ideas don’t determine who’s right. Power determines who’s right. And I have the power. So I’m right.] See [https://goo.gl/5dFjEa]

Study method and sources
This document is the result of a compilation process created with scientific and accessibility requirements. Special care has therefore been devoted to coherently structuring the texts and analysis sections, to selecting functional visual devices, and to providing verified information by correctly citing sources of documentation, with the final objective of sharing useful material for the purposes of study, criticism and information.

References to all the sources consulted have been inserted using numbers in square brackets [] and reported in the references at the conclusion, with the relative explanatory notes.

Legal notice
The iconographic material, the trademarks (registered or unregistered) and all the information reported as being in any case protected belong to the respective owners. The internal use of protected material responds exclusively to a scientific and cultural intent.

Contacts
Humenhoid is a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling, with focus on cinema, tv series, and video games.

For information, communications or proposals for collaboration write to
Enrico Granzotto | e@humenhoid.com | Humenhoid.com | Instagram

Follow Humenhoid on Instagram

Humenhoid’s projects include:

  • Project Prometheus
    A comprehensive case study on information management and narrative design in the Alien (R. Scott, 1979) and Prometheus (R. Scott, 2012) interconnected franchises; (120 pp, available upon request).

Written by

I’m a creative research unit specialized in immersive entertainment and transmedia storytelling with focus on cinema, tv series, and videogames | humenhoid.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store