Steven Grundman was sitting on his couch, watching his son play the video game “Call of Duty: Black Ops II” when he was struck by an idea that, he thinks, might just change how policy experts approach the future of war.
Grundman, a George Lund fellow for emerging defense challenges at the Atlantic Council, saw the game’s attention to detail and realistic depiction of war in the year 2025 as realistic enough to be a plausible answer to the question of what war might look like one day.
“It occurred to me that the perspective of artists on this question is compelling and insightful and it’s also different,” Grundman said. “One feature that struck me was the combination of both familiar technologies and novel ones.”
Now, almost half a year later, Grundman is launching a new project for the Atlantic Council that will mine video games, narrative fiction and other interactive media for insights into the future of war. He has also brought on the writer and director of “Call of Duty: Black Ops” as a nonresident fellow. Grundman said that, after watching his son play the game, he realized that art and entertainment might have a place in a field overridden with “linear thinkers.”
“I didn’t want to satisfy myself with an approach everyone was doing,” he said, referring to Washington’s medley of think tanks. “It’s a crowded field of ideas.”
The idea behind the Atlantic Council’s year-long endeavor, to be called “The Art of Future Warfare,” is to disrupt that thinking. It will be launched at an Oct. 1 event with Dave Anthony, the writer and director of “Call of Duty: Black Ops.”
The game, which is part of the “Call of Duty” franchise, has been released in two installments, one of which takes place during the Cold War and the other of which is set in a fictional Cold War between the United States and China in the 2020s. The Black Ops iterations of “Call of Duty” are some one of the most successful entertainment ventures in history, with the first Black Ops earning almost $2 billion in sales.
Anthony, who is originally from England, said he first heard from Grundman in April, shortly after Grundman encountered his son playing the video game.
“We have a perception of Washington that someone wouldn’t be forward-thinking enough to contact creative people to predict… future conflicts and the nature of what these conflict will be,” Anthony said. “The fact that they contacted a video game director to help them with that was flabbergasting.”
Anthony believes that artists and other creative types have the ability to approach policy issues in an entirely different manner — a manner, Anthony hopes, that will change how Washington looks at threats to national security and future wars.
“Our job is to blow apart structure and come up with creative ideas,” Anthony said. “We come at it from an entirely different perspective.”
Anthony worked with Brookings Institution fellow Peter Singer, Marine Col. Oliver North and the screenplay writer of Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Trilogy,” David Goyer on “Call of Duty Black Ops: II.” He said he sees himself almost as a culmination of the three disciplines that Singer, North and Goyer represent.
“You come at [these issues] with a team of people,” Anthony said. “That’s how we were so successful with ‘Call of Duty’ and I think that it can really translate into how D.C. thinks about these things.”
One of Anthony’s focuses at the Oct. 1 event will be on potential terrorist plots within the United States. He plans to bring in a number of videos, directed by himself, that depict a series of strikes on the Las Vegas strip that resemble the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
“The way I think I about is that the next attack as already happened it’s just happened in a different form,” Anthony explained, referring not to just real terror attacks, but those found on television and in movies. “My focus is on what we can do, and what we are not thinking about in terms of how we can be proactive about preparing for these things, or even preventing them from happening.”