The government should be more proactive in how it markets unpopular ideas to the public, following in the footsteps of video game marketing, which "essentially brainwashes people into liking" something before it is released, former Call of Duty game director Dave Anthony told a gathering at The Atlantic Council think tank this week.
Anthony, who was the director of Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2 before leaving Treyarch in December, was recently asked to become a fellow at the think tank. This was his inaugural speech, a talk about discerning the future of warfare by using unorthodox and innovative perspectives and approaches. (You can see the full speech in the video below.)
Here's the description of the talk on the Atlantic Council website:
As challenging as global events are already proving, these problems could still get even harder. Power is diffusing from states to nonstate actors. Geopolitically, the locus of power is shifting from the West to the East and South. Accelerating this diffusion is the continuous spread of disruptive technologies that not only change daily life, but also could transform the conduct of war. But these are just the things we know. After spending years creating scenarios of current and future warfare based upon the trends we see today — and some we miss — Mr. Anthony will use his unique skillset to lay out a vision of the threats for which we must prepare, even if we do not see them coming. His remarks and subsequent conversation will focus on how the US government, along with allies and partners, can leverage the skillset of visionary thinkers to gain an edge in military planning as well as on the battlefield. He also will provide solutions to how global powers might mitigate the issues they face.
In his hourlong talk and a subsequent discussion with August Cole, director of The Art of Future War, Anthony explained how creative professionals use techniques that can be powerfully applied to the way government officials make decisions and plan for war and disaster.
"Artists, creative people, think outside the box and need to be a little bit crazy," he said. "As artists our job is basically to blow apart traditional thinking."
That fits well, he said, with the future of conflict and how the enemy has changed. Traditional warfare won't be the future of conflict; instead, he said, it will more likely be driven by singular enemies and terrorist cells attacking soft targets on U.S. soil.
"One individual with technology, technology in the wrong hands, can cause massive destabilization in a country," he said. "All of this technology is moving very, very quickly. There needs to be another way of thinking about these problems."
Anthony used several examples to stress the unusual ways a group like ISIS might attack the U.S., such as arming U.S. citizens who are part of the group and then having them carry out simultaneous attacks on the major casinos in Las Vegas, or attacking a school and beheading children, something he says happened in Iraq this year.
The key, he said, is to get the conversation started, and not just with the typical people involved.
When it came time to write the story for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, a story set in the near future, Anthony said Treyarch pulled in a mix of people to come up with ideas.
"We had Oliver North, [screenwriter] David Goyer, a SEAL Team Six member, futurist Peter Singer," he said. "They were all from different backgrounds and had different perspectives. When you get these people debating something and giving feedback, then feedback is seen as an opportunity.
"Imagine a concept like a school marshal."
"I've seen magic come out of those meetings and I wish I could see that in Washington."
Anthony floated one "really controversial idea" that he said could perhaps open a discussion about how to prepare for future attacks.
"In terms of the way the military machine is used, I'm going to use this as a really controversial idea that could be at least starting a discussion point for how things could potentially change," he said. "We have a vast military infrastructure in this country, and we have a problem where we may have areas in this country like schools which may well become soft targets for terrorists, let alone terrorists, even nutcases, who want to wander inside a school and cause as much devastation as they can.
"I'd look at the soldiers we have right now and I would look at what they are doing on a day-to-day basis and look at the needs we have for the internal security for this country, which is a different national security threat than we used to have."
Anthony used the analogy of an air marshal, a plainclothes officer with a concealed weapon that is secretly on a plane in case anything happens.
"I can tell you I feel better by the fact they are on almost every flight," he said. "Imagine a concept like a school marshal. These guys are U.S. soldiers, who are in plain clothes, whose job and part of their responsibility is to protect schools. They're not walking around in camo with a machine gun strapped around their shoulder, but they are armed and capable of dealing with threats as they happen."
Creating a school marshal program would also serve to reduce the risk of shrinking the U.S. military because so many soldiers aren't being used in combat, he said.
"I think something like this could help solve that problem," he said. "Where troops are being used to mitigate security in our country in an unconventional way."
Doing something like this would likely be an unpopular move, something Anthony says the government isn't very good at dealing with.
He said that the government should follow in the footsteps of video game publishers, and market their ideas before they become a reality.
"When we have a new product that has elements we're not sure how people will respond to, we market it," he said. "We market it as much as we can, so that whether people like it or not, we essentially brainwash them into liking it before it actually comes out. When you have decided to make these changes, you have a marketing campaign to introduce them before it is forced upon you.
"We essentially brainwash them into liking it."
"I'd like to see the government doing this too, because the government is becoming more and more unpopular and I have a lot of sympathy for it. It is an enormously tough job they have. I would like to see more effort into how we communicate with the people and educate the people into what we are doing and why."
The government, Anthony later said, is a badly run corporation that can't go bust, in some ways similar to a major publisher like Activision.
"I look at the U.S. military and government, ironically, as having some of the very same problems as what the Call of Duty franchise has," he said. "We are both on top of our game. We are both the best in the world at what we do. We both have enemies who are trying to take us down at any possible opportunity. But the difference is, we know how to react to that."