Josh Tucker, writing for The Outline: Retired Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North was a Marine platoon commander in Vietnam, a U.S. Senate candidate, and eventually, a National Rifle Association president. At the National Security Council under Ronald Reagan, he helped manage a number of violent imperial operations, including the U.S. invasion of Grenada. Due to televised hearings in the Summer of 1987 where he gave horrifying testimony about the things that he and the United States government had allegedly done, he is probably best known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Alternatively, you might instead recognize North as a minor character from Call of Duty: Black Ops II. In the game, he makes an appearance, service ribbons and all, to talk a retired Alex Mason — the game’s protagonist — into joining a covert mission in Angola. The cameo was accompanied by North’s role as an advisor and pitchman for the 2012 title. It was very bizarre, and, according to the developers, not at all political.
In an interview with Treyarch head Mark Lamia, Kotaku‘s Stephen Totilo asked if the studio had expected the controversy around using North as a consultant. “We’re not trying to make a political statement with our game,” Lamia responded. “We’re trying to make a piece of art and entertainment.” This answer would be farcical under any circumstances, but to be clear, Black Ops II was already a jingoistic first-person shooter in a series full of dubious storylines and straight-up propaganda. Its writer and director, Dave Anthony, would later go on to a fellowship at D.C.’s Atlantic Council, advising on “The Future of Unknown Conflict.” Regardless, Lamia felt comfortable insisting on record that there was nothing political about getting the Iran-Contra fall guy to shill for its game. In the time since, this brazen corporate line has become the standard for blockbuster games, including the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. “Are games political?” continues to be exhaustingly rehashed, because game companies continue to sell an apolitical delusion.