Video Games and the Construction of Reality

03 May

The "official" trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was just released and it is an amazing piece of advertising. Take a look:

In #K12Media and again at The Association for Media Literacy's 21st Century Literacies conference, we looked at The Hunger Games and the social media marketing/advertising of that film (you can see a short promo about the campaign here). The above trailer (and I'm certain there will be more to come in the months before the game is released) is another great example of a social media campaign that already is creating a good bit of buzz.

According to Fast Company, this "documentary" is the second tier of the advertising/marketing campaign. It began with a more stealthy/viral approach. "FPSRussia" (who, according to Adweek, has the 16th most followed YouTube channel) posted a video in which he demonstrates a futuristic weapon named "Charlene" (a "prototype quadrotor with machine gun"). Near the end (around the 4:45 mark), after blowing up dummies, a gas can and a car ("Charlene" too), he mentions that this future weapon might appear in the new Call of Duty. Both of these campaigns begin with the fans, and moreover, have that personal touch. The companies reach out to their existing base of fans and generate buzz. Why might this be an effective approach? Why might the game's marketers have wanted to use a live action video to promote a computer animated game? Time could be spent on this video as well, examining the appeal of the character, the position of the audience and the construction of the video itself. Note that, according to the Adweek article, this isn't the first time that this YouTube personality has been part of an advertising campaign (he has previously advertised another game and a film).

As we move to the "documentary" itself, we notice that we do not see much of the game. The focus seems to be on creating (much in the same way as The Hunger Games campaign) a space, an online/virtual world for existing and future fans. The marketing strives to create an immersive experience. The Hunger Games and Call of Duty both feature a dystopian future, with a hero who attempts to save the world, though Call of Duty's future dystopia isn't as temporally distant. In order to create a sense of immediacy, the marketers work toward verisimilitude (great time to introduce that concept), using the documentary style to lend credibility to the idea that the events of the game might just be possible in the very near future. 

How does the documentary accomplish this goal (or does it at all)? Here are some questions to get you started:

What are some of the codes and conventions of the documentary genre? Which ones are used in this promo? How effectively do these codes and conventions convince you that this marketing video is a real documentary? Might they convince most people? Why?

Who is Oliver North? Why might this controversial figure have been selected for this cautionary role? How does North lend credibility to the game's premises?

Who is P.W. Singer? Why might he have been consulted for the game? What is his role in the promo?

What stereotypes are used in the representation of countries in the video?

What do you think are the purposes of using the news reports? Do you think they are real?

How is fear used in the promo?

How is fear built up and how does it escalate? How might this fear contribute to the excitement of future game play?

How are idea of "us vs them" and "good vs evil" constructed? With whom is the audience meant to identify? Who is othered?

Who is represented in the promo? Who is excluded?

These questions and others can be arranged according to the media triangle. Teachers and students should ask questions relating to all three sides: text, audience and production.

Another way to approach the promo is to do a deep viewing and examine the aesthetic of the piece. This is a really good way to begin the discussion as it focuses on an analysis of the "text" side of the triangle and involves close reading. Have students split off into pairs, with each pair focusing on one of the following elements (you will likely need to view the promo several times to catch everything and students can present to each other after in a class discussion format):

Colour: What colours are used? How does colour add to the effectiveness of the video?

Camera angles/shots: How are camera angles used in the piece? How is subject-camera distance used? When?

Editing: Look at cuts and editing work. How quickly does the promo jump between shots? Does it vary? When? Why?

Sound: What sounds do you hear? How are sounds used?

Lighting: How is lighting/darkness/shadow used?

When I do this activity, I have the pairs of students watch it twice, taking notes each time. Then each pair can present their findings. The class discussion can then be rich and detailed with a firm grounding in the text itself.

Extension activity: Where will the campaign go from here? Students could work collaboratively to come up with ideas for the rest of the promotion and predict how they would complete the advertising campaign for the November launch. Students should investigate the production side of the tiangle and ensure that they have an understanding of the company, budget/profits and more. Classroom discussions could follow as other promotions are revealed, students could see how accurate their predictions were, and evaluate whether the campaign is effective.

Additional references, videos, articles, images and more can be found on my Pinterest board here.

How would you use this media text in your classroom? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments below.