Activision removes Tiananmen Square video from Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War trailer

(Image credit: Activision)

Last week, Activision confirmed the upcoming Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War with a video built around a real-world interview with defector Yuri Bezmenov, in which he described a four-stage Soviet strategy dedicated to ending American dominance in the world: Demoralization, destabilization, crisis, and normalization. Clips of real-world historical events—the Vietnam War, riots in the US, that sort of thing—played throughout.

Earlier this week, that video was quietly deleted and replaced with one of roughly half the length. Activision gave no indication as to why the first trailer was removed, or even that it had happened, but according to South China Morning Post, it's because the original video contained a brief clip of footage from the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, an event that's heavily censored in China. The video was first replaced with one that had the clip blacked out, but at some point later the whole thing was replaced.

The original video is still available on YouTube from channels including IGN and Gamespot, and comparing them, you can see that much of Bezmenov's interview, including his breakdown of the four-point strategy, has also been cut. The trailer still begins with a warning that the US is "in a state of war" and a "slow process we call 'active measures'," but then moves straight into a warning about "a violent change of power, structure, and economy" that threatens the US. References to demoralization, destabilization, and crisis are gone, as is any mention of Perseus, the codename of a still-unknown Soviet spy who allegedly infiltrated the Manhattan Project.

The original trailer

According to a Hong Kong Daily report, the footage was first called out by Chinese internet users who accused Activision of "exporting ideology" and bringing "politics into videogames." China may be particularly sensitive to Tiananmen references now, the site added, because the current political and economic situation in China resembles that of 1989, ahead of the pro-democracy protests. 

Despite the brevity of the clip, its removal could prove a headache for Activision: Blizzard, which is owned by Activision, took considerable heat last year for banning Hearthstone grandmaster Chung 'Blitzchung' Ng Wai, after he called for Hong Kong's freedom from China during a post-match interview. 

There's also no mistaking the irony of active censorship in a promo trailer for a game whose tagline is, literally, "Know your history."

The new video

Call of Duty: Black Ops - Cold War is set to be fully revealed on August 26, but a leak that sprung today said it will be a direct sequel to the first game (we're not sure how that's going to work, since Black Ops 2 was also a direct sequel), with "iconic characters" Woods, Mason, and Hudson on the trail of the shadowy Perseus. 

I've reached out to Activision for comment, and will update if I receive a reply.

Thanks, Kotaku.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.