The Hideous Marketing of 'Modern Warfare 3'

The game's commercial trivializes and sanitizes war to an extreme, setting a new low

There is a television advertisement for a video game called Modern Warfare 3 that is so base and strident that it's hard to believe that it's not deliberately offensive. It begins with two Hollywood buffoons in (for whatever reason) MultiCam taking heavy fire during an apparent New York City terrorist attack. The men calmly walk into a hailstorm of bullets, and return fire with rifles, pistols, and submachine guns. Most disturbing is that the depicted maelstrom seems designed to carefully hover in the uncanny zone. Clearly it's not Black Hawk Down, but neither is it Starship Troopers. On some level—perhaps it's the intensity of the actors—the commercial wants its action to be taken seriously.

Veterans aren't in the "professionally aggrieved" business, and I don't doubt that some significant percentage of men and women in uniform own a copy of Modern Warfare 3. Because the game crossed the billion dollar sales mark in only 16 days, clearly its marketing strategy is working. But none of that makes it okay, or mitigates its tastelessness. The advertisement trivializes combat and sanitizes war. If this were September 10, 2001, maybe it wouldn't be quite so bad. Those who are too young to remember Vietnam might indulge in combat fantasies of resting heart rates while rocket-propelled grenades whiz by, and of flinty glares while emptying a magazine into the enemy. But after ten years of constant war, of thousands of amputees and flag-draped coffins, of hundreds of grief-stricken communities, did nobody involved in this commercial raise a hand and say, "You know, this is probably a little crass. Maybe we could just show footage from the game."

This is not an argument against so-called shooter video games or depictions of war in popular culture. However, as Afghanistan intensifies and we assess the mental and physical damage to veterans of Iraq, is now really the time to sell the country on how much fun the whole enterprise is? (Here I point to the giddy howls of one supposed soldier in the commercial as he fires a grenade launcher at some off-screen combatant. War is great, see? It's like a gritty Disneyland.)

Earlier this month, Sergeant Timothy Gilboe, a soldier with 4th Brigade Combat Team of 10th Mountain Division, received a Silver Star for heroism in combat. While on a patrol in Afghanistan, his platoon was attacked by insurgents. A squad leader was killed, and an assistant machine gunner's rucksack (filled with ammunition) was hit and caught fire. As Sgt. Gilboe worked to smother the flames, insurgents charged the men.

Keep the stupidity of the Modern Warfare 3 commercial in mind as you consider what Timothy Gilboe did next. He didn't have time to pick up his weapon as an insurgent set upon him. According to the Army News Service:

Gilboe reached out and grabbed the barrel of the enemy's AK-47 and pulled it toward his chest, which was covered by an armor plate. He said the last thing that ran through his mind before the enemy pulled the trigger was "This is gonna hurt a lot."
Gilboe was knocked to the ground, wounded by shrapnel and trauma. He got up and fought and beat down the insurgent in hand-to-hand combat until a comrade could shoot the enemy dead. And Gilboe wasn't finished. He then directed a security perimeter, provided first aid to the wounded, and helped in the medical evacuation—all before he allowed anyone to treat his injuries.

Here's how the Modern Warfare 3 commercial ends. Two smug, A-list clowns strut toward the camera, rifles hanging over their shoulders, explosions consuming the city of New York, and then the words: "THERE'S A SOLDIER IN ALL OF US."

No, there's not.