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.
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 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:
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
“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
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)
“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
“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
“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
- Complementary version
1st May 2014
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.
- 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.
“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
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.
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;
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.
“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
The hyperlinks are abbreviated by Google Url Shortener.
 [We are a super-power for hire. […]] Jonathan Irons in Atlas (2).
 [These private companies are out for hire; they are private armies.]
Interview with Jan Schakowsky.
 [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.
 [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.
 [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.
 [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.
 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]
 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]
 [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.
 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]
 [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.
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.
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