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Innovation Blog

Call of Duty: Black Ops – Join the Queue

 by Shlomo Maital






 Long lines of videogame fans stood in line in wintry weather in London and other British cities, to be among the first to buy  Call of Duty: Black Ops,  the successor to  Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,  which went on sale at midnight yesterday (Nov. 8). Many of those in the queue got there 12 hours earlier.   In the game, special forces commandos engage in bloody battle in Russia, Vietnam and elsewhere.

   Modern Warfare 2 had sales last year that exceeded one billion dollars and was the biggest-selling and fastest-selling videogame in history.  Black Ops will probably exceed that record.

   The midnight stand-in-a-long-queue marketing ploy was perfected by the publishers of the Harry Potter books.  It generates huge buzz and creates vast amounts of free advertising, as the queues are covered on news broadcasts all over the world. The queues say to other potential buyers:  If you want to be cool, you better join the herd, you’re already late.  It is a way to generate what Malcolm Gladwell called a “tipping point”, a critical mass of buyers who create near-hysteria mainly by word of mouth, or word of Internet.

    Like all videogames of its genre, Black Ops is exceptionally bloody and violent.  Defenders say the violence is entirely virtual and may replace actual violence. Psychologists and others say videogames and TV and movie violence insure us to violence and actually encourage it by making it everyday and banal.  

    Whatever the case, I find it regrettable that this powerful technology is not being harnessed in order to educate, rather than just entertain.  There are, of course, educational videogames.  But the true talent in this area, the true innovators,  lie where the billion-dollar markets are, and those are in violent war games.  I just wish that once, just once, one of these brilliant innovators would tackle, for instance, a videogame that taught calculus or thermodynamics or medieval history or philosophy or physics.   

     We could have just a touch of violence.  How about a young Einstein confronting the renowned mathematician and physicist Henri Poincaré, who rejected his theories, and gently, purposely, stepping on his toe?  How about Napoleon surrendering to the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo, and asking him whether the British barbarians actually put water in their wine, as was rumored?  Wellington responds, by serving Napoleon, his prisoner,  an Emerald Riesling white wine with his roast chicken dinner – unbearable torture.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
November 2010