Activision’s CEO Thinks Call Of Duty Deserves Hurt Locker-Level Respect

Activision’s CEO Thinks Call Of Duty Deserves Hurt Locker-Level Respect

Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg had some sharp words when asked about the criticism that Call Of Duty games get for their supposed glorification of violence and military aggression.

“There’s a sense that games are more exploitive in a way that The Hurt Locker — which also was designed as form of entertainment — isn’t.” Hirshberg’s opinion is that “video games are fictitious popular culture.” “I think they are an art form,” he continued. “And I think that ‘too soon’ criteria is not applied to things like Green Zone. Or United 93. There will be a time when we look back and find it quaint that video games were so controversial. I think the active ingredient to changing that attitude is time.”

Hirshberg elaborated, “The producers didn’t create The Hurt Locker as a public service; they did it to tell a story that they thought needed to be told. It was a piece of entertainment that they sold tickets to and sell DVDs with. And, yet, that’s not viewed as exploiting current events. It’s viewed as somehow artistically interpreting and commenting on current events. The creative process of making that movie and making our games is very similar, but they’re received differently.”

I had a chance to talk to Hirshberg before I started at Kotaku, for a feature I co-wrote with Lev Grossman on the year’s biggest war games for the Oct. 31 issue of Time Magazine.

2011 marks the third consecutive year that Activision will have a record-breaking COD release. Will the future efforts of Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer, and whomever makes the next COD games help move the public’s perception of video games into a more respected place? “I don’t know if there is a way for us to accelerate that process through content,” the CEO says. “There’s a way to accelerate it through continued success, through continued engagement and commitment to quality by making great games that people want to play. The more people that play I think the more mainstream and accepted games will become.”


With Black Hawk Down or The Hurt Locker, you can walk away from a movie and be entertained. But you can also walk away from that movie and take away the larger points about American military engagement: Should we have been there? Did we have the right intel? How did the troops act when they were on the ground? These are questions a Call of Duty game can answer, too, right? If Hirshberg’s assertion is that games deserve equal standing with movies, why diverge from reality to create a cartoonish conflict against Makarov’s Russians? Why not actually go and pit them against the Taliban or al-Qaeda?

“The narrative of Call of Duty has been much more good guys and bad guys, and brotherhood and the journey and the battle,” Hirshberg says. “And I don’t think that’s an indictment. It’s a choice, one that’s maybe a little less literary and a little more action-oriented in terms of its foundation. I don’t think that means the narrative structure of Call of Duty is lacking, though. I can name a hundred other movies that are not like Black Hawk Down, but you don’t leave questioning about the heroism and the bravery and the action and the sort of extreme experience of battle.”

Would it hurt the commercial standing of a Call of Duty game if Activision pushed the envelope of social commentary? They’ve had the #1 franchise in the world for the last three years, with a user base of more than seven million daily players. They’re the 800-pound gorilla. One can assume that those passionate fans will follow Activision wherever they next take Call of Duty next. So, what’s stopping them from using that unique and exalted position to deliver more pointed commentary about war? Couldn’t they make a documentary video game, something like what the cancelled Six Days in Fallujah wanted to be?

“We’ve told the stories that the developers want to tell,” said Hirshberg. “I don’t think we’ve made choices based on avoiding or aiming for commentary. The story and the characters have unfolded with great intent from our developers. Black Ops is an example where the guys who were really doing the secret stuff during the Cold War intersected with reality a little. Like there was the scene with Castro. There was the scene with President Kennedy. There were moments where it felt like that could have maybe really happened. But, then in the next scene, you’re doing something that couldn’t have really happened. So I see that was an example of a new angle on a military adventure story.”

These last few years, Activision’s gleefully trumpeted how their best-selling FPS franchise isn’t just the top game of the year, but the top entertainment launch of the year. But to me, there’s still one last foundational cultural gap that the world’s biggest games publisher has yet to bridge.


  • Wasn’t Hurt Locker illegally downloaded more times then the amount of people that went and saw the movie in theaters and created the largest copyright infringment lawsuit?

    • Hurt Locker was in court about being a stolen idea. I wondering if he won and if Activision is asking for the same level as respect as Hurt Locker….It’s it’s stolen then Call of Duty is stolen too. Funny when you think about it becuase CoD basically is now stolen.

  • Oh man this is too much! I’m really not trying to troll here, but you cant compare those movies with Call of Duty. I cant help but think the point of Hurt Locker was missed here. It’s gonna take more than just ‘time’ to change the attitudes mentioned, it needs a game that is as sensitive to the consequences of war as these films are. Thats just laughable.

    • Yeah, look, I love the Modern Warfare games but I watched Hurt Locker for the first time two days ago and the two simply shouldn’t be compared. At the end of the day Modern Warfare 3 is a game, and while I think it should be appreciated for what it is rather than criticised as exploitative or whatever, Hurt Locker is in a different field in terms of it’s storytelling.

    • I laughed as well. Hurt Locker was a genuinely good movie that dealt with serious consequences of war. CoD is the videogame equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. Mass-marketed media aimed at the lowest common denominator and dudebros to make a lot of money.

      I also love the occasional attempts at CoD to stay ‘serious’, like the No Russian sequence, that just reeked of false sentiment, manipulation and engineered controversy to stay relevant.

      • Complications of war? Touched based on it quite lightly really. It’s basically about some douche who thinks he is king shit and breaks all the rules. Load of bollocks really, no sense of realism in that.

        Was an okay film though, quite overrated and IMO didn’t deserve Best Picture at the Oscars.

        Problem is people go to the movies to be entertained. Would’ve been an even more boring film if the ‘hero’ actually behaved like real marines do in the war. It’s all to sell tickets, which it didn’t do and be an ‘art’ film to win awards, which it accomplished. Nothing else – unfortunately they tried, but failed.

    • The association is laughable but the point behind it is valid.

      Switch hurt locker with green zone and CoD with Six Days in Fallujah and you have a point. Why can you make an action oriented film set in a current war but not a game. One is a critique of the conflict, the other is disrespectful and exploitative.

      I could see it in a story driven single player campaign but really the moment you switch to a multiplayer focus you really do start to glorify th econflict. Kill streaks, kdr, leaderboards, etc..

      • So don’t give killstreak rewards, change up multiplayer, make it different. Multiplayer doesnt always HAVE to be deathmatch, people are stuck in a rut making things that way.

        The ultimate hypocrisy is that Six Days in Fallujah was seen as insulting yet Full Spectrum Warrior 1 and 2 were praised? Please.

  • Call of duty campaign should in no way be compared to Hurt Locker or Black Hawk down. If you were going to compared it to a movie, then Rambo (not the first but the 2nd and 3rd) will be a start, because call of duty is structured like a action movie at its core, there is a bad guy who has done terrible things, you are the unstoppable badass sent to take him down with big explosions and set pieces, and call of duty shouldn’t be anything but that.

    But if I could say something about call of duty single player that needs major improvement is the pacing, its downright terrible, at sicking levels. Call of duty had pacing but the last 3 cods just totally lost the ball on that part, there is no juxtaposition, nothing to compared one gun fight from the other in terms of there purpose. I haven’t played the MW3 yet, but I can only picture it being like Black ops and MW2 in terms of these problems.

  • This is fucking hilarious.
    The CoD games are stale and banal. They need to stop making them for 3 or 4 years and come back with something original.

  • I don’t think Hurt Locker deserves the level of respect Hurt Locker gets, and I friggin’ love Hurt Locker.

    I’ll be honest, I really enjoyed Price and Soaps journey. MW1 got its hooks so deep into me I bled SAS until about half way through MW2, you know, that bit where Price comes back with little to no explanation other then pointless fan-service then proceeded to growl something meaningful and detonate a warhead over the eastern seaboard of America.

    The story for MW3 was a little more coherent, but I simply watched it all through youtube clips. Had they continued the trend of edge of your seat, yet believeable enough operations like MW1, then it’d be a different song all together.

    But they didnt, and here we are.

    BF3 is totes better the Cawadooty Modern snorefare, PC master race, etc etc, Plunkett is a fanboi.

  • I agree with his points, but Call of Duty is a bad example. He has a point though, Six Days in Fallujah was banned before it even got off the ground, but movies are allowed to have close to reality subject matter.
    Right now games are seen as entertainment, and I don’t think a game that would be like a real life war would be very fun to play. I guess it would be possible to make a tactical shooter, but is it really realistic to have a game where it’s possible for one man to kill hundreds of Taliban?

  • Call of Duty = The Expendables and/or The A-Team, so until they change their formula to something more serious, then they can’t.

    If their next game had a story that focused on a small team of operatives and their task of infiltrating a foreign country to take out a dictator, where for the entire length of the game you kill no more than 10 people, then I think they would be taken more serious, but I don’t think that’s what their fanbase are after.

    • Films are as exiting and diverse as ever. You need to cast a wider net and not only consume movies that are
      1. In english
      2. Readly available in commercial cinema.

    • Maybe you should stop watching Michael Bay movies and Jack and Jill, because there’s plenty of amazing cinema coming both from the indie scene, and abroad. Even the occasional Hollywood movie can surprise with great writing, characterisation and heart. The same can be said for videogames (but they’re certainly rarer). CoD? Fuck no.

  • What are they putting in the Activision water fountains?
    It’s one thing to SAY that COD8 deserves as much respect as Hurt Locker, but it’s another to believe it, and I think Eric believes it.

  • “There’s a sense that games are more exploitive in a way that The Hurt Locker — which also was designed as form of entertainment — isn’t.”

    Ahahahah alright dude.

    I think Something Awful put it better than I ever could, regarding the manipulative engineered sequences like No Russian, that are meant to keep the game in headlines and be taken seriously.

    “Manufactured controversy at its most obvious. Melodrama at its cheapest and least effective

    This series thrives on pandering and treating the audience as brain dead assholes that are mostly interested in playing the exact same multiplayer game that has slid out of Activision’s ass for the past four years “

  • Lol, comparing CoD to Hurt Locker is like flipping it over and comparing Transformers 3 to Braid.

    One was made to make shit loads of money, the other was made because the people involved had something to say. It’s the fundamental difference between and “entertainment product” and Art.

  • It saddens me so much that the most popular gaming franchise is Call of Duty.

    And this isn’t a matter of opinion, look at the quality of CoD, look at it and compare it to some franchies like The Elder Scrolls or Battlefield 3 which put so, so much more work into their games and it is so blaringly obvious for somebody who has been playing games for as long as I.

    Call of Duty is quite literally just different maps, a few different/retextured guns every new game along with a mode like zombies/spec ops. That’s all it is.. It must cost them such a small amount of money to make and they make so much profit, why? Because it’s a good franchise? No, because people love to love shit that is loved by everyone else.. and so the circle of bad video games continues to turn

    • Your powerless anger about this amuses me. Don’t worry, Call of Duty is popular but you’ll get over it. I wish Justin Bieber was less popular. But I don’t troll articles about him.

  • Ha ha, dream on. Hurt Locker wasn’t that good anyway. I found Generation Kill much more enjoyable and thought provoking.

    • Agreed, but different mediums. Otherwise, we can also extrapolate and say The Wire is the best crime drama ever made and surpasses The Godfather and Goodfellas.

  • Films and games are artforms, but not all films and games are art. I think that there is a lot of room to debate the boundaries of art, and what does or does not fall within those parametres, but you’d seriously need Phoenix Wright batting for you to convince most people that COD is art.

  • The CEO of Activision can go and eat a big bag of dicks.

    You want to make a game that’s equal parts thrilling and a haunting portrayal of PTSD and adrenaline addiction in acitve soldiers, then make one.

    Don’t pass of CoD as anything other than a lowest common demoninator Michel bay hand job of an action franchise.

      • I’m sorry, you are right, I will try and refrain from sandwiching sensible dialogue between angry dick jokes in the future.

        Some combination of the word Activision and CEO defaults my normally mature brain to thoughs of anger and penises.

  • “They’ve had the #1 franchise in the world for the last three years, with a user base of more than seven million daily players. They’re the 800-pound gorilla. One can assume that those passionate fans will follow Activision wherever they next take Call of Duty next.”

    This is the problem right here. MW3 sold 7 million copies on day one but only 2-3 million of those copies were purchased by these “passionate fans”, the rebeing these fans being the causal gamer crowd. If Activision decides to try and make a what Danger Close/EA did with Medal of Honour (bad example I know) and tell an actual coherent story they’d probably lose that 4 million or so fans that fit into the casual gamer slot because more time would have been devoted to the SP story and taken away from the MP. So long as Call of Duty remains as it is it will be as massively popular as it is.

  • If Call of Duty is an example of ‘art’ in the medium of games, then Justin Bieber is a Composer of the highest caliber.

  • My main reaction in reading this article is that Jeremy Renner is a much better looking man than whoever that is from CoD.

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