Gaming goliaths reap online near-riots:
Popular video game franchise Call of Duty rattled the cyberwaves last week upon live tweeting a fake terrorist attack in Singapore for the sake of publicity. Crafted to promote the series’ upcoming next installment “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3,” which debuts November 6, the stunt stirred up reactions across the board.
“Current Events Aggregate,” the news site pseudonym @CallofDuty momentarily assumed, began breaking “news” of the event just a bit after noon. Notifying its 2.88 million followers of an “unconfirmed” explosion on Singapore’s Marina, the string of 20 tweets over two and a half hours went into further detail about the scene.
With emergency teams supposedly dispatched to the location, the handle announced roadblocks and a no-fly order implemented for the 30-mile quarantine zone. Complete with photos (which turned out to be screenshots from the upcoming game) and “official statements” from Singapore authorities, citizens were advised to stay indoors as riots and gunfire ensued—a state of emergency had been officially announced and martial law declared.
The real news came thereafter. Only at the tweet stream’s very end did Call of Duty plainly note it was all for promotional purposes.
And as to be expected, public backlash soon spurred.
Audiences around the world have largely deemed the stunt distasteful and offensive. Main criticism sprouts from their exploiting Twitter’s real-time advantage to present a fictional though completely realistic news event to millions for the sake of shallow attention.
While many in the gaming as well as public relations communities see the promotion as reckless and irresponsible use of social media, some online proponents say it was an obviously fake, creative tactic.
Imaginative or not, there’s no doubting the many ethical issues raised.
Besides the glaring on-principle problems with falsely alarming fans with a deceitful news report, capitalizing on legitimate fears of terrorism to simply sell a video game might be the greater concern. Some have chastised Activision, the game’s publisher, for not showing more sensitivity toward terrorist acts, especially as an American company.
But if only this was the first misfire—one could say cultivating controversy falls right in line with Call of Duty’s checkered design past.
Among the most notorious was Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russia” mission, which gave the player an option to join Russian terrorists and kill civilians in an airport. Other contested storylines include a scene from Modern Warfare 3 depicting the death of a small child with family in a bombing explosion and the assassination of Fidel Castro in the original Black Ops edition.
In addition to Cuban authorities accusing the game of glorifying real attempts to kill their leader, The Red Cross has called out Call of Duty (among other battle game brethren) and its players to be punished for virtually committing “war crimes.”
Scuffle said, the series has preserved its place among the top-selling video game franchises. Call of Duty has sold more than 175 million copies as a whole since debuting in 2003. The 2012 launch of Black Ops 2 sold 8 million copies its opening day alone, which at the time made it the fastest selling computer game in history. It went on to gross $1 billion within the first 15 days of sales.
Public attention was captured in the end, though perhaps not in the way quite desired. While persuasion often remains at the heart of any public relations campaign, this was that to a fault, accompanied by a seemingly non-assessed array of potential fallout.
Not only can the tweets still be found on Call of Duty’s page, but both game representatives and Singapore officials have yet to comment on the stunt.
With an utter PR fail in the forefront, let’s hope the future holds a more meaningful call of (responsible) duty.
(Twitter screenshots via @CallofDuty)