by Jason Huff
Call to Duty examines the thin, if not invisible line, that exists between real war footage and first-person shooter (FPS) video games. This piece appropriates two trailers; one from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and the second from the "Army Strong" ad campaign. There has been a rise in the past 10 years of popularity in war simulation games that put you in the place of the shooter in near-real life or historically accurate roles. This is evidenced by the sales of the Call of Duty series of games ranking in the top 5 best selling games of all time. Their newest title, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 "grossed an astonishing $550m in the first five days of its release, and has since exceeded the $1 billion mark, which makes it the biggest-selling video game in all of entertainment history" (source 1). This title far out sells and performs the Army's own simulator America's Army. There has been a paralleled rise in the number of Army ads in theaters that use the vocabulary of a cinematic trailer to deliver their message. In 2006 an ad company, McCann International, was contracted for $200 million dollars to create a new slogan for the army and they came up with "Army Strong" (source 2). All of these quantitative and qualitative examples mark a crescendoing moment where reality begins to blur with simulation. Both the trailer for the game and the trailer-like ad for the Army create a custom lens for their offered experience and world. In mixing the two, the question of authorship arises. As you see both clips and the two become more and more indistinguishable how do you know which is trying to recruit you to commit to military service and which is trying to get you to buy a game. Examining the idiom of "buying-in" to something embodies this schism between reality and non-reality, non-game and game.
This examination is important to me because I see the trajectory of this line moving towards a position where there is no distinguishable difference between an advertisement for a video game that simulates real war scenarios and one that tries to recruit you to corporally participate in real war scenarios. The similarities between content and meaning when the two trailers are blended together are uncanny. There is also an important irony that exists in the contrasted violence represented in the video game and the opposite of the army trailer. This idea is skewed for my argument but, if violence is an extremely effective marketing tool then why wouldn't the Army ads include this? The contradiction lies in the fact that real service in the Army is more dangerous and violent than the simulated service to the world of Modern Warfare 2. The title is a play on the prefix for the title of the game but also the name of an Army recruiting/marketing initiative (http://www.army.mil/calltoduty/).
My process for creating this piece started out as an exploration of portraying the renaissance master piece "The Raft of Medusa" and trying to recontextualize it with masked video clips from modern culture. I ended up on you tube surfing endless videos of balseros, the name of people who immigrate illegally via home constructed rafts. The best documentation on balseros, or at least the best that responded to my idea of the Raft of Medusa existed as a set in the film 90 Millas. The set was strikingly similar to the painting and numerous other stills from the film produced an almost identical image of the Raft of Medusa as a kind of ready made. My search lead me to videos about the us military via the Cuban trade embargo and missle crises.