Critical Intel

Old Business: Three Stories Critical Intel Missed in 2014


Critical Intel tries to tackle the current issues in gaming, but unfortunately it can’t cover everything. Some stories fall through the cracks because of a breaking news event, because they won’t fill a whole column, or because I’m in the Himalayas without any internet access.

Here’s a roundup of three stories CI missed in 2014, from the Thai military junta banning a game, to the Jurassic World trailer, to an embarrassingly bad think tank presentation by the director of the Black Ops series.

Former Call of Duty: Black Ops Head Delivers Controversial Think Tank Lecture

Dave Anthony, former director of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Black Ops II raised eyebrows late this year with a presentation to the Atlantic Council. In his inaugural presentation as a fellow, entitled “The Future of unknown Conflict,” he laid out the frightening possibilities of future warfare, including enemies hacking drones and attacks on soft targets. Most controversially, he suggested that the government “brainwash” the public by selling them policies the way game publishers sell features.

The speech was not received well in the press, to put it mildly.

But I don’t think the Atlantic Council was happy with it either, a fact that the press didn’t pick up on. In fact, Anthony’s speech began with the words, “Barry made a pretty compelling case for why I’m here today, but I can see looking at some of the faces it’s like, ‘Really? It’s a video game guy?'”

It’s the first in a long line of jokes that fall absolutely flat.

The first problem was that Anthony didn’t say anything particularly new. Atlantic Council fellows tend to be people with vast experience in government. Their list of fellows includes Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice. These people have a deep, thoughtful grasp on policy (not to mention security clearances) that Anthony lacks. His example scenarios are either extrapolations of what’s already happened – like Iran hijacking a drone – or “What if it happened here?” scenarios, like imagining the Mumbai attacks instead hit Las Vegas casinos. While these may seem radical and imaginative to E3 audiences, he’s not pitching these ideas to gamers, but defense analysts and policymakers who’ve been discussing these possibilities for years. These aren’t new ideas, and some are decades old. Security firm Stratfor claims the Mumbai attacks themselves were based on the New York City landmark bomb plot, where a radical homegrown group with links to al-Qaeda planned to attack city landmarks, hotels, federal buildings and tunnels – until the FBI foiled them in 1993. So what Anthony did was essentially stand behind the podium, claim he was a valuable outside-the-box creative, then tell people things they’d known for years.

Worse still, the accompanying video presentation was crass. One portion contained an edited mash up between 3,000 Miles to Graceland and actual footage from the Mumbai terror attacks. The Elvis song “A Little Less Conversation,” played over video of terrorists gunning down civilians. The segment ended with a gratuitous shot of bloody victims with the caption “Not ‘IF.’ But WHERE and WHEN.”

It was unnecessary, insensitive, and reinforced every stereotype about gaming’s casual attitude toward violence.

Anthony’s talk wasn’t completely terrible, but the parts that were useful weren’t novel, and the parts that were novel were also awful. His idea of using creative talent to brainstorm solutions has been around since at least the Second World War. On the other hand, his idea to use armed soldiers as plainclothes “school marshals” (like air marshals) would be impossible to implement, since deploying federal military personnel in schools would likely violate the Posse Comitatus Act (you could do it with DHS personnel, but good luck convincing people it’s necessary). His idea to sell unpopular policies to the public via hard-sell advertising sounds disturbingly like propaganda. That his suggested “brainwashing” – his words, not mine – caused a media furor only proves how bad a communicator he is, and why his advice on this point shouldn’t be followed. Then again, he’s hardly the first to suggest the government adopt techniques from advertising agencies.

My guess is a lot of lecture attendees were frowning at each other and tapping their watches.

So if you’re worried the Atlantic Council – and subsequently the U.S. government – will take Anthony’s suggestions seriously, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.

Tropico 5 Banned in Thailand

Tropico 5 screenshot

Backed in August, Thailand’s ministry of culture banned Tropico 5, disallowing its distribution on the charge that it was a threat to national security. While the government didn’t give any reasons for this statement, it’s likely that the game – which allows players to run a military dictatorship or suffer a coup if the military isn’t kept happy – made the government uncomfortable. The Thai military staged its own coup two months before the game released, declaring martial law, enacting a curfew and detaining opposition figures. The move came after six months of protests over then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who opponents claimed was a puppet of her brother, the deposed former PM and media mogul Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin currently lives in exile in Dubai.

CI didn’t cover this event because Thai politics are difficult to understand even for seasoned journalists and political analysts. The various factions, alliances, rivalries and hierarchies are bad enough, but add local press that are happy to print conspiracy theories as fact, and you have a situation that’s both chaotic and opaque. This, for example, is Thailand’s 19th coup in the past 82 years, and no one really knows why the military hasn’t held new elections like they usually do. One popular (but unsubstantiated) theory is that they’re locking down the country due to a looming succession crisis.

Thailand’s massively popular monarch, the 82 year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is both the world’s longest-serving head of state (68 years) and its richest monarch ($30 billion). Though Thailand’s laws criminalize speaking against the royal family, the Thais affection for their ruler is genuine and amounts almost to religious devotion. Under his reign the country has been economically ascendant, and he’s seen as having worked hard for the people. He’s such a mainstay that when the government changes, it simply shifts around him – he’s survived 10 coups during his reign. But his son and heir doesn’t enjoy his father’s popular support. Seeing the prince as a corrupt playboy, some Thais prefer his sister for the throne – leading to fears that the king’s death may spark a civil war. Given this environment, the theory goes, the military has stepped in to secure the government before the king passes away, so they can assure the country transitions peacefully.

But it might’ve been more than Tropico 5‘s subject matter that made censors cringe. Opponents of the military junta have also proved savvy at using western entertainment products to convey subversive messages. Recently one opposition group bought out a screening of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I and distributed the tickets free to passersby. Theaters pulled the film, and making the three-fingered gesture in public is now grounds for arrest. Perhaps the military worried that the game might prove a tool of the opposition, or thought its theme of reshaping a country might give people ideas about remaking Thai society. With all these elements in the mix, it’s not surprising that government censors considered Tropico 5 a little too subversive for the current environment.

The Jurassic World Trailer

Jurassic World

I know opinion’s split, but I love the direction Jurassic World seems to be heading. Where others saw too much CGI, I saw a movie with a clear mission – and the smartest and most subversive concept since the first film came out over twenty years ago.

What made Jurassic Park work was that everything in it boiled down to a simple premise: Human beings can’t control nature. Subsequent installments didn’t have that clarity, and fell apart as a result. But I see a similar pattern emerging in the Jurassic World trailer. Here, it isn’t the genetic tinkering that’s sinister, but the prospect of turning nature into entertainment. Employees argue about creating a new dinosaur to increase park attendance. A Mososaur feeds on an endangered Great White in front of a giggling crowd filming it with smartphones. There’s a Disneyland-style tram, balloons, and Main Street decked with taco restaurants. Jurassic World‘s target seems to be Sea World and similar animal parks, who make profits imprisoning intelligent creatures and making them do tricks – even after one of them kills a trainer, or multiple trainers. Indeed, this post-Blackfish sensibility extends to the film’s website that advertises “Dino Food” dispensers and petting stations, lampooning parks’ new business model where guests pay a premium for interacting with the animals. (And holy Chaos Theory, Doctor Henry Wu is back!)

It’s all so beautifully Jurassic Park. One of the things I always loved about InGen was how their evil deeds are so banal. They don’t want to make a bio-weapon like Weyland-Yutani. They’re not out to rule the world. They just want to get rich off wonder. If Jurassic World riffs off our culture’s obsession with dolphin shows, or parks trying to lure guests with unique hybrids like Wolphins or Ligers, it’ll land right on target.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher based in Hong Kong. His articles have appeared in The Escapist and Slate. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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