Activision, Documentaries Are Not Ads: An Open Letter

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Activision, Documentaries Are Not Ads: An Open Letter

Critical Intel systematically dismantles the recent Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare advertisement, showing how it masquerades as a documentary while presenting gross distortions of the truth.

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I can see a lot of work was put in writing this open letter.

Great job presenting a more subtle and nuance picture of the situation. As someone who recently had to do some research about PMC's for one of my class, I can confirm that the situation is indeed very complex and a lot of preconceptions (such as the absurdly high salary of the average employee who, incidentally, aren't ALL special forces, SEALS and S.A.S.) about theses entities are flat-out false.

Well written, informative and critical. If I'm lurking on this website regularly, it's because of pieces like that.

Keep up the good work, please.

I think that might just be the best thing I ever read on this site. Shocking, and leaving a rather bad taste in my mouth, but very interesting. I'm glad you called this to my attention. I must say, the idea of games companies producing documentaries on the subjects of their games is intriguing, I imagine Wargaming and Gaijin could produce some great ones about WWII and post-war armoured/aerial/naval warfare.

Hmm... there might be something to this idea. A really good something as well.

This is a very good and well-considered article. Quite possibly the best piece I've seen on this site in the last five years.

Sorry I don't have anything more substantive to add than that -- although I can say, from what I've read since 9/11, your final point about there being no need to sensationalize the troubling rise of PMCs is spot on.

I'm not sure I've said it before, but Critical Intel is the best column on The Escapist. The research is impeccable, and it's rarely less than fascinating. You're doing great work.

Speaking as a UK resident, the whole thing about G4S having a private army of 600,000 people is especially laughable. The London Olympics are only the most prominent example of them screwing up lately, and they've failed to deliver on what they were hired for over and over again in the last couple of years. Even really small-scale stuff has proved beyond their capabilities alarmingly often. If the disorganisation they've demonstrated in the last few years is anything to go by, I don't think we need to worry about them "taking over".

I do find the idea of PMCs pretty alarming, though. I sort of understand the necessity on a theoretical level, but I don't like the idea of one person having access to large-scale military capability. If you're the sort of person who wants to be in charge of a private army, you probably shouldn't be allowed to be in charge of a private army.

Excellent critique! The idea of misleading documentaries being used as advertisement is troubling to say the least, especially considering that the great majority of "legitimate" documentaries range from 'okay' to 'absolute trash' already. Out of the hundreds of documentaries about World War II (including battles, generals, etc. etc.), the number of 'decent' to 'good' ones is extremely small.

That vid needed a cameo from Giorgio A. Tsoukalos to lend it real credibility.

"The keyword here is private employer, meaning the owners are individuals and the stock isn't offered publically."

I don't agree with this definition, generally when people say private employer they mean anyone employed not by a government.

Volkswagen and McDonalds are both publically traded companies as is G4S itself and yet when talking about there employees they are referred to as private employers.

Thank you for writing this Robert, as always this is a very well researched and articulated column. I can only agree with Anachronism on the whole G4S thing, they are almost seen as a joke here in the UK and are a benchmark for bad performance.

Excellent, excellent article.

But can we examine, for a moment, the entire premise of a PMC 'taking over'? What would be the point of them doing that? It's not exactly a profitable enterprise to seize hold of a large country if your only motivation is money.

Really great read. Glad to know about all of this. I hope Activision gets the message (I'm sure they won't, but a man can dream). It's sad because back in the day they seemed to care, at least somewhat, about research in CoD. Now they just don't seem to have any idea what they're doing. Great to read a sensible take down of their crap.

Good article, the division between paid ad and actual journalism is rapidly disappearing, with even more progressive places like Huffington Post routinely printing Corporate-PR-written, paid ads without labeling them as such.

For more examples, see everything written by Devin Connors on this very site...

I applaud you sir, if not for the fantastic breakdown and dedication to journalistic integrity, then simply to that hilarious but cold sign off.

Keep up the good work!

Kumagawa Misogi:
"The keyword here is private employer, meaning the owners are individuals and the stock isn't offered publically."

I don't agree with this definition, generally when people say private employer they mean anyone employed not by a government.

Volkswagen and McDonalds are both publically traded companies as is G4S itself and yet when talking about there employees they are referred to as private employers.

It's a context-sensitive term. Since the surrounding context was ambiguous (or outright wrong), the documentary should have clarified it meant private sector to avoid the confusion with private company in the first place.

Falseprophet:

Kumagawa Misogi:
"The keyword here is private employer, meaning the owners are individuals and the stock isn't offered publically."

I don't agree with this definition, generally when people say private employer they mean anyone employed not by a government.

Volkswagen and McDonalds are both publically traded companies as is G4S itself and yet when talking about there employees they are referred to as private employers.

It's a context-sensitive term. Since the surrounding context was ambiguous (or outright wrong), the documentary should have clarified it meant private sector to avoid the confusion with private company in the first place.

The documentary is using the common form it's this article that's twisting it.

Great article. While I've indeed heard troublesome news about PMC's that "documentary" ticked me off as well with the first few lines: "Wars aren't fought for politics or cultural differences anymore", shuure...

Jupiter065:
Good article, the division between paid ad and actual journalism is rapidly disappearing, with even more progressive places like Huffington Post routinely printing Corporate-PR-written, paid ads without labeling them as such.

For more examples, see everything written by Devin Connors on this very site...

Care to back that accusation up with anything other than meaningless bile?

Excellent article, and a right good burn on Activision, again. I take a warped twisted glee from when you rip into the latest Call of Duty for doing something especially stupid. Between EA and Activision, IDK who's more inept and greedy.

Informed, helpful and unbiased. You are a credit to your trade.

The old guy who reads our gas meter is employed by G4S. They also just have general drivers and many other non-security employees including massive amounts of admin. That's just one example.

Activison seemingly thinks the truth it whatever it can buy with its PR. I think this is beyond dishonest. If you are going to pretend something is 'journalism' then it has to be up to those rigorous standards. Having the legitimacy and fact-based weight of a term like 'Documentary' or 'journalism' and then using it to distort facts and mislead people just to sell a product is unethical, disgusting and indefensible. It's a misappropriation of fact for a pretty petty end.

If this is the standard of journalism Vice holds it's self to then their credentials should be removed. It's like calling astrology science. You can't just sell fiction as indisputable fact and expect people not to be appalled by it.

I didn't know about this up until now. I also missed the Black Ops documentary...Or "documentary."

This came off as a heartfelt piece, and I think it benefited for that. I don't always read Critical Intel, but I'm glad I read this one.

Lots of people take the piss out of "games journalism", and you can see why when most games journalists fall into two categories:
1) Free advertisers for publishers who just copy and paste whatever was in the latest press releases, and
2) People who treat gaming websites as their personal blogs for their political opinions, like that plonker on Polygon today.

You, however, are a credit to your trade. Keep up the good work!

Wow, so I guess CoD is expanding into Private Military Contractors as the big bad now and made a misleading documentary to back it up? Now that's just getting silly!

I'm not educated on the matter or anything but it seems to me that in order for something like this to actually work you'd need a society where people are more loyal to their corporate employer than they are to their country, neighbour, and fellow man, or in other words pure corporate Feudalism. It could work for a dystopian future setting, but while corporate influence is worrisome today we aren't anywhere near that level yet.

I've seen plenty of "journalism" pieces which are basically adverts. Worse when they are just adpress put out by a company and happily published without consideration.

But that graph... *shudder* what was up with the bottom of that graph? Are the bottom parts just hidden, or are the bars not starting at the same horizontal line?

Kumagawa Misogi:

The documentary is using the common form it's this article that's twisting it.

If they're using the common form then the entire graph and calling GS4 the third largest private company are both lies. In case you didn't get the point, Robert Rath was trying to find a definition of Private Company that squared with what the ad-umentary was claiming (please don't give the advertisement the undeserved title of documentary). That he still was unable to do so speaks volumes of how misleading the advertisement was.

I actually know a guy who worked for a variety security contractors, including security work in the Middle East and some local stuff. He said that his job was mainly just to stand around and guard equipment when he was over seas, but according to him, the salary was worth it. But apparently his most lucrative (and interesting) jobs were guarding rich people and their kids here in the states. According to him, he even did a stint guarding the Gates kids awhile back.

Darkprophet232:

Kumagawa Misogi:

The documentary is using the common form it's this article that's twisting it.

If they're using the common form then the entire graph and calling GS4 the third largest private company are both lies. In case you didn't get the point, Robert Rath was trying to find a definition of Private Company that squared with what the ad-umentary was claiming (please don't give the advertisement the undeserved title of documentary). That he still was unable to do so speaks volumes of how misleading the advertisement was.

All the companies in the graph are public limited companies. The advert calls GS4 the 3rd largest private employer in the world as in non-government.

As employees of McDonalds franchises are not paid by McDonalds they are not McDonalds employees and without including the franchises they have according to the global 500 linked in the article 440,000.

The article uses the Global 500 list linked in the article to call it 7th largest employer yet 3 of the 6 companies are state owned by China so really GS4 is the 4th largest non government owned employer in the world and mistaking Sinopec as a government owned company is easily overlooked as most large Chinese company's are state owned.

Scrumpmonkey:

If this is the standard of journalism Vice holds it's self to then their credentials should be removed. It's like calling astrology science. You can't just sell fiction as indisputable fact and expect people not to be appalled by it.

it's sad really, Vice used to be about the underbelly news that you wouldn't see on Fox or CNN, like going into a tribal region in Pakistan that was the worlds largest open air gun market where you could test fire any weapon from any roof top, or getting access into North Korea to get some real footage of how Pyongyang really looks.

Or the fact they were the only guests in the entire hotel.

They've done a good number of great articles like the Vodka Wars between Russia and Poland. I really hope this isn't the new standard.

No one should be able to keep the title of "Journalist" with so many mistakes and flat out lies.

I can safely say that Critical Intel is the best thing on The Escapist. I love a lot of other content here, but the level of thought, passion, and information in these columns is astounding.

It really is too bad that Activision would so little effort into this since there are such great examples of advertising through documentaries. The Extra Credits Rome series you mentioned is superb and I wish more publishers would do it properly like that.

Kudos to you for the excellently researched column. The rise of 'native advertising' has raised a lot of concerns which you've covered quite succinctly in this piece.

What really threw me in the is "Trailer" thing, is how or why there was footage from panasonic showing off the prototype for their mech suit thingy in there...

What relevance did this possibly have to anything? Are Panasonic a PMC now? It really was just to try and say "OMG LOOK AT THIS< THE PMC'S HAVE ROBOTS NOW THAT WILL FUCK YOU UP"

Yeah, the mech suit that can currently lift a 60kg bag while standing stationary lol.

Damn good article though. Thanks again RR!

Greg Tito:

Jupiter065:
Good article, the division between paid ad and actual journalism is rapidly disappearing, with even more progressive places like Huffington Post routinely printing Corporate-PR-written, paid ads without labeling them as such.

For more examples, see everything written by Devin Connors on this very site...

Care to back that accusation up with anything other than meaningless bile?

Nothing more than knowing when I'm being sold something.
I mean, I may be wrong, but if you're not getting paid for his overly glowing, hype filled reviews of things that don't exists yet (but soon will so pre-order now!), then you should be.

I think Mr. Path does not understand that Advertisements and Documentaries are on a continuum, not a discrete scale. There is no clear distinction between documentaries and advertisements.
Also, on an unrelated note: journalistic integrity is a myth not unlike chivalry. Depending on time and geography, journalists have followed a vastly different "code of ethics".

Giest4life:
I think Mr. Path does not understand that Advertisements and Documentaries are on a continuum, not a discrete scale. There is no clear distinction between documentaries and advertisements.
Also, on an unrelated note: journalistic integrity is a myth not unlike chivalry. Depending on time and geography, journalists have followed a vastly different "code of ethics".

Yeeeah, I see what ur saying but, in the past I think there used to be a hard line between ads and documentaries or even news. Both are meant to inform but one is more about selling a product. The influences of tabloid journalism have poisoned the true purpose of news and docs. To report and let the public do what they will with that info.

you know how people can be anywhere from confused to disgusted at fictional movies and games for mishandling allusions to sensitive real world events and issues? (I thought with PMC focus that CoD would finally move out of the murky 'representational' waters of kill all these brown people in the name of justice, into safer, self-aware waters, where its just the powerful vs. the powerful. But oh well fictions of little issue right)

my point is..Its worse when people holding the banner of being a journalistic source sews false information (whether they meant to or not). Thats why you'll hear news anchors apologizing at times for stuff they misreport, when corrections come into the mailbox.

We've got some volatile minds out there, and we've seen what concentrated propaganda can do to us in the perfect social storms.

So the stuff that's usually raising hairs on these forums such as folks making sexually polarizing fictional games, or paint us as unrepentant murderous tyrant of hundreds who believes they're a savior or even more deceptive gameplay systems. thats hardly much to get ones feathers ruffled about. It comes with the disclaimer of fiction. The educational impact on younger players is very little.

NOW...

Give viewers the WRONG idea, about REAL people, REAL places, and REAL disasters though, and don't encourage things like objectivity, ambivalence, research that's where I gotta draw the line. A mistake the news today is constantly making in our pundit Op-Ed driven world.

We say truth is subjective, but that's just our brains processing what we see. Doesn't change the facts, and their impact upon us. We could all do a little bit more to sow 'facts' and unbiased truth whereever we see confusion is all.

Have a good one homie.

Wow. This article would actually be good enough to convince me to hire the author, if I were in an influential position in Activision.

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