There's a new entry in the massively popular Call of Duty video game franchise coming later this year: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Judging by the first trailer, which was released this morning, it appears to be about, ah, the challenges of nation-building.
Also: shooting things. Lots and lots of shooting things.
And apparently the game's single-player story stars House of Cards' leading man Kevin Spacey, or a digital version of him anyway. Today's trailer is built around a delightfully menacing, scenery-chewing Spacey monologue about how setting up a democracy in a foreign country is actually really hard because of various cultural complications…which of course leads him to argue that what's really needed is a strong authoritarian leader.
It's a little silly, a little provocative, and a lot of fun, in part because it appears to focus more on story and character than the last few franchise entries, which have grown increasingly stale even as the series has remained among the most popular and successful in the video game market. (Although sales of last year's installment, Ghosts, were down somewhat and generally considered disappointing.)
Watch the complete trailer below:
I've played all of the Call of Duty games since 2007's Modern Warfare, and what's always struck me about the series, as well as other military shooters, is the way they are reflexively pro-war, or, at the very least, pro-combat. It's built into the essence and structure of the gameplay: As a player, you're there to fight, and your only real choices are about how to go about the process of shooting and stabbing and blowing stuff up. Playing the games basically requires you to embrace their (virtual, fake) wars, and the blustery combat ethos of the game world.
There's a kind of exuberant militarism to the series—Modern Warfare 2 interspersed quotes from Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld into the gameplay—that isn't so much political as it is adamantly cynical. The games aren't really trying to make an ideological point; they're trying to provoke people while enthusiastically embracing the various trappings and excesses of their playable-action-movie premises. Judging by the new trailer, the next Call of Duty looks like more of the same.
Be sure to check out Reason's new Video Game Nation issue, which looks at many of the interesting and unexpected ways that games are changing our politics and culture.