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Call of Duty campaign turns dark for Black Ops II

72andSunny and Activision ditch the laughs for a more paranoid motif.

You know Call of Duty, right? That war-based blockbuster, bajillion-selling video game that uses fun and satire to sell the everyman on the adrenaline rush of combat? Plenty of people haven’t liked this approach, but plenty of others have simply voted with their wallets to make the franchise one of the most lucrative in gaming industry history.

Still, there has always been a tightrope walk required when advertising about war-themed video games. As Tim Nudd at AdFreak notes, “If your game or ad isn’t enough like real war, then you’re trivializing or sanitizing combat…. If it’s too much like real war, you’re being insensitive to soldiers and their families.”

Over the last couple of years, Activision has gone the tongue-in-cheek route, using people like Jonah Hill and Jimmy Kimmel to playfully suggest, “There’s a soldier in all of us.” For the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops II, however, there’s not a n00b in sight. It goes for more of a Scare-The-Living-Bejeezus-Out-of-You vibe. The two-minute “documentary,” created by ad agency 72andSunny (which is owned by MDC) features controversial military vet Ollie North and author P.W. Singer talking about the cornucopia of ways advanced technology could be used to hasten our grisly demise.

“There’s going to come a time when this technology is going to catch up with us,” North says to the camera. “I have a nightmare scenario that a hacker breaks into our system that controls satellites, UAVs, even the launch of missiles. Consider what it would be like to have friendly fire from U.S. weapons overhead.… I don’t worry about a guy that wants to hijack a plane. I worry about the guy that wants to hijack all the planes.” And then the tagline, “The future is black.” Yipes.

The second spot, created by Los Angeles agency The Ant Farm, is more conventional and features a past Black Ops character essentially echoing North’s fears. The campaign will surely generate as much talk as the funny approach, and likely as much debate. These ads will either make you want to hide under the bed or run to the TV and fire up the Xbox.