Destiny’s “Law of the Jungle” Ad is Stupid


“Pretentious” is a word thrown around an awful lot these days. Usually it seems to find itself attached to movies with lofty philosophical ambitions, like Tree of Life, or The Seventh Seal.

On a more day-to-day basis, a lot of criticism that aims to deal with more than the surface-level qualities of a given work will get slapped with the label, too. Presumably, this phenomenon will demonstrate itself in the comments shortly.

I prefer to use the term, not to describe a work that’s really attempting to dig into an issue, but to describe something that PRETENDS to significance that it absolutely does not have. Its “importance” is an affectation as opposed to an earnest intent.

So now you know what I mean when I say the “Law of the Jungle” ad for Destiny is pretentious as hell.

Let’s start with the obvious question. What is this ad actually selling the game with? I mean, I know that the name recognition carries a lot of weight here, but beyond that? According to the narration, the “Law of the Jungle” has something to do with it. Rudyard Kipling. Nice! I dig me some Kipling. Here’s the out-of-context quote:

“The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”

Now let’s watch the video.


…Okay, where exactly is the Law of the Jungle exemplified in here? Other than in the voiceover, I mean. Because all that actually happens in this video is some people shoot at things.

If the advertisement is meant to give some idea of the game’s content, that’s almost literally all that can be gained. “People shoot at things.”

More specifically, people in masks shoot at each other. In the opening, we’re treated to a slow close-up of a character in a mask. Is he a robot? A human? An alien? Doesn’t matter. Good guy? Bad guy? Morally grey drifter? Who cares? “Pay attention,” a voiceover orders. “This is the part of the story that’s really important.”


“But you don’t have to take my word for it. Except you totally do.”

In the first segment, the main character (“Mask,” for short) looks down over a group of (presumably) bad things. Robots? Aliens? Who cares. The point is… well, the point is the Law of the Jungle, obviously. Because that’s what the voiceover says.

Suddenly, guns! Mask and his companions (“Mask” and “Mask,” respectively) are surrounded by the Things, and have to fight them. Shots are fired.

I suppose that the Law of the Jungle comes in with the idea that Destiny is going to revolve around team/co-op gameplay, and the video displays that by having three masked people instead of just one. But it’s not like the ad goes to any effort to have them, you know, act like a team.

There’s a second scenario in the back half of the video to underline this idea.


This world’s brown, because variety.

On this arena, things are different. Oh wait, no they aren’t. We’re still treated to nonsensical images of Mask, Mask, and Mask as they stand in one position and shoot Things. Except their victory makes even less sense here, because the Things have shields and guns and superior numbers. Why aren’t the Masks getting shot, again? Seriously, this is bad aim on a scale that Stormtroopers and Bond villains can only dream of.

A clip of exploding pistol rounds later, and the threat is neutralized. There’s no dodging, no fire taken, no cover found, just a totally arrhythmic firing range scene.  Is this supposed to be badass? Tense? Cool? Funny? I have no idea. Probably not funny.

And to close out this totally-not-crappy advertisement for the most hyped game of the year, we have… an even bigger Thing.* It cuts out before we see what happens, but I bet a hundred bucks that the guys in masks shoot at it.


Look, I get that video games make the vast majority of their money by featuring faceless (or at least personality-less) avatars running around shooting things. I’ve shot plenty of things myself, and enjoyed quite a bit of it.

The issue I’m really taking with this advertisement (aside from the boneheaded action choreography) is the tone. This is a video that literally opens by claiming that “this is the part of the story that’s really important.”

Problem is, there isn’t even a friggin’ story in this video. Nor does anything we’re seeing seem “important.” There’s no stakes, no character, no plot, nothing. There aren’t even any discernible battle tactics, group dynamics, or worldbuilding attempts.

It’s not that dumb things can’t be tonally serious. It’s fine for video games to apply the grim ‘n’ gritty veneer, even if the veneer is covering something that’s essentially nothing but a digital firework show. Shoot-em-up games are largely escapist endeavors, and I get that some people prefer their escapism to come with a bit of threat.

Unfortunately, I get the sense that some gamers (or at least game developers) have mistaken that serious veneer for actual serious content.

I’m reminded of that horrible God of War ad. You know, the one that tried to act like that series was about anything other than a series of cartoonish fights punctuated by immature sex fantasies and macho screaming.**



This lack of self-awareness seems to be plaguing the video game industry hard right now. It’s caught in an awkward growth spurt, where gaming narratives are trying to stretch out and compete with the big boys of books and movies while simultaneously meeting the rather base needs of shooting things.

This might just be me, but it seems the narrative restrictions placed on games by the need to constantly shoot things has resulted in a lot of seriousness being wasted on incredibly shallow narratives. Furthermore, it seems that these sorts of trite attempts to be “serious” are acceptable substitutes for story integrity and thematic intent. “Just back it with a Rudyard Kipling quote,” the designers seem to say, as if that’s enough. (I’m sure Kipling would be thrilled that this is his legacy in 2013.)

I’m probably walking on thin ice with this subject. The media crapstorm that hit upon the most recent round of “are video games art?” proved that the community can get extremely defensive about the seriousness of gaming narratives.


For the record, I think video games absolutely can be works of art. Shadow of the Colossus proved that, as did Journey and a couple of other titles here and there. The interactivity that video games allows is unique, and when harnessed correctly it can lead to some fascinating stuff.

But maybe it’s telling that the question keeps being asked. Maybe it’s telling that in this Destiny ad, “the part of the story that’s really important” is an incoherent sequence of anonymous protagonists*** shooting anonymous bad guys using inane battle tactics.

Or maybe this one ad just sucked. In which case I think gamers would do themselves a favor by demanding something a little more refined next time. Because if they don’t, then they’ll assume this one was good enough.

And hopefully the actual game will be a million times better.



*Which… how exactly did that sneak up on these guys?

**Coming from somebody who enjoyed his time spent with the third one, by the way.

***Are they even protagonists, though? There is absolutely nothing given to us. These guys mightn’t even be related to the game’s main narrative, the way this ad uses them. Which would be fine if they in any way indicated tone, plot, world, etc etc…


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  1. Dude, you have waaaaaaaayyyyy too much time on your freakin’ hands. Dissecting the literary validity of video game ads? You need to get outside and see the real world for a little while.

  2. “This lack of self-awareness seems to be plaguing the video game industry hard right now. It’s caught in an awkward growth spurt, where gaming narratives are trying to stretch out and compete with the big boys of books and movies while simultaneously meeting the rather base needs of shooting things.”

    Really? How can you write something like that and work for a site like this? Of course there are plenty of games that lack good story but i think there are lots that have great story’s. Some of the best story telling is being done now in gaming. This is also coming from Bungie, who created the Halo universe. Oh and the trailer is a teaser. Your not supposed to get a ton of info. It only gives you a tease and sets the tone.

  3. This ad doesnt make much sense but it will later. Ive been reading and watching inteviews with bungie about this. Part of this game is about the “traveler” which is a giant orb that arrived at earth and hovers over earths last remaining city. The city has appointed protectors to protect the city from the invading aliens. If you look at the beginning of the ad when the guy is reading to his son, look out the window behind him. You will see the orb over the city. Hes telling the son about how the city is being kept safe from the enemy by the protectors “Guardians”. The 3 heroes that it shows is showing “some” of the different classes you can be. So far we know of classes Titan, Warlock, and Hunter.. These are the 3 from the trailer. This game looks to be a mix of Skyrim and Halo with heavy attention to Co-op gameplay. its an MMO but not with everybody in the game together at the same time. You play through the campaign but it matches you with a few other people to play with. Not hundreds like Wow.

  4. Totally on the same page with you here. At first, I thought that maybe I just missed some important contextual visual in the trailer that would have given it some thematic or narrative coherence, but after watching it again, there’s nothing to find. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a badly edited teaser for a longer E3 trailer that will hopefully make more sense. I mean, do you really hire Giancarlo Esposito for three lines of Kipling?

    I think, somewhere in the video games as art debate, we misframed the question in a deeply harmful way. Instead of asking, “Can video games be art?” we started asking, “Are video games art?” In the heat of controversy, this distinction may seem like a case of semantics, but I think we subtly damaged our own perception of video games. The problem is this: one cannot classify a medium as “art.” Is film art? One look at the latest vapid blockbuster or mediocre fan film will tell you no. Can films be art, however? I think we’d all agree on that, and if not, I will personally mail you copies of The Godfather, Casablanca, and Citizen Kane (Disclaimer: I totally will (Disclaimer 2: I totally will not)).

    By arguing for the medium as art instead of individual works, we implicitly give artistic credibility to every piece that comes out of the medium, forgetting that a work must prove itself in order to be considered artistic. As a result, Destiny’s Law of the Jungle trailer gets an automatic artistic pass, despite its unbalanced tone and lack of thematic coherence. What’s the result of this? Our grounds for arguing our case in the debate gets weakened, our personal criteria for what is art gets lowered in order to prove our case, and people continue to cite games like Duke Nukem as some sort of all-encompassing fatal piece of evidence against the video games as art camp.

    We’d be doing ourselves a lot of favors if we started arguing for games like Shadow of the Colossus or Portal individually instead of fighting for the medium as a whole.

    Great post, David. I think you identified a large part of the problem.

  5. I dont really agree. it is clearly about 3 people VS the world, showing the strength of the three is in the group and the strength of the group is in each of the three..poorly done? sure but i still got the message was that with the three fighting side by side they can take on anyone/thing/group and win because they believe/know/everything else that exists in the group mentality. maybe i extrapolated too much, and sure it could have been done way better but i got the message

  6. @Kong1965
    Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake in this game. Talented, hardworking artists and craftsmen were hired to produce this advertisement. Storytelling and marketing are things just about every one of us runs into just about every day. Video games are more popular than ever. This ad, and its effectiveness or lack thereof, IS the real world, or at least part of it.

    Some of your stuff is going to be addressed in a (hopefully) forthcoming piece from me. But the responsibility of this ad to “set the tone” is something I specifically addressed. What is the tone? Is it supposed to be realistic? Mythical? Cool? Tense? There’s no specificity to what’s going on here, so I don’t see how it accomplishes much of anything.

    There were a couple of kickass Halo live-action trailers I remember that did a far better job at setting tonal expectations. So did the teasers for 300, Pacific Rim, Batman Begins, and any number of other movies I could name. This one is just bad, aside from the name recognition (which I also pointed out, albeit offhand).

  7. “The strength of the pack is the wolf”
    Dude kicks ass on all kinds of baddies.

    “The strength of the wolf is the pack”
    Huge baddie pops up and dude is joined by allies.


    Imma wait and see how the game turns out before I decide if this is the best possible advertisement. Some would say any ad that stimulates discussion has done its job, so I’m going to say that the author doth protest too much. Admit it: You LOOOOOOVED IIIIIIT! David and Defiance sittin’ in a tree….

  8. I just hate the way those enviroments look. Orange planet and grey planet. Come on! Use some more of the color palette. Give me breath taking enviroments not run of the mill crap I have seen countless times over.
    More Far Cry Blood Dragon, less Gears of Duty please.

    Music was great though.

  9. A very well written critique. The point of the teaser is to tease, of course, but there needs to be a hint of the story in there for me, not just a hint of the action, visuals and cool voice-over work. It is supposed to pique interest on its own merits, not rest on the laurels of Halo and elicit a kind of ho-hum, “that seems pretty tired but it’s Bungie so I’ll check it out in a few months” reaction.

    The game might be awesome. Let’s hope so. So far, the advertising/teasing has been only mildly intriguing, at best.

  10. @David R
    Ummmmm if you think millions of gamers are going to spend any amount of time investing interest in a game based on the relevancy of Rudyard Kipling (or any other literary figure) then you are clearly not living in reality. Gamers care about gameplay, visuals, and the opinions of other gamers. Not the intellectual worth of their ad campaigns. Most of them have been burned enough times to invest 0% of their purchasing power based on advertising. Plenty of games have had spectacular ad campaigns, only to turn out to be giant turds when installed and played. Given the cost of finding out, expert opinions mean a great deal more than any BS ad.

  11. Exactly why shouldn’t games try to compete with movies and literature, I found some of the things you said here infuriating, especially with some of the more popular movies and books these days being the likes of fifty shades of grey, the fast and the furious, twilight, not exactly high art is it, why shouldn’t video games try and be something more.

    I think you kind of shot your self in the foot with this article, for a website that specializes in movies TV shows and video games to write an article like this is kind of a joke.

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