Let me tell you a story. The year is 1999. Buffy is still on TV, people are scared of Y2K, and the World Trade Center still stands tall. A game called Silent Hill has just been released.
Silent Hill is a horror game.
Now, I have never played Silent Hill, nor any of the games in the franchise, but I have the utmost respect for the series. Silent Hill, from what I understand, would likely be on my list of games that are art. It's very symbolic, it's very cerebral, and it's very very scary. Which is why I haven't played it.
I don't like horror games very much. They just aren't my thing. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Left 4 Dead... Heck, I got a copy of Penumbra: Overture in the Humble Indie Bundle ages ago and I've never installed it on my computer. I loved Ravenholm in Half-Life 2, but that's about as scary as I care for my games to be.
But I respect Silent Hill, and games like it. Horror games had existed before the franchise, but Silent Hill defined the horror genre. It knew when to be gory, it knew when to refrain. It understood that the unseen is far more frightening than what we can see. The enemies that were in it were all highly symbolic of the main characters inner psyche and emotion. (Again, from what I understand) The games were tense, emotional, and scary.
Which is why many Survival Horror games made since it have tried to copy it. Enter Dead Space.
Now, I don't hate Dead Space. Like I said, I've never played Dead Space. But, speaking as an outsider, here's what I understand the plot to be:
You're on a ship afloat in space. The power is failing, it's dark, it's tense, and it's-OHMYGODWHATISTHATTHINGITSEATINGMYHEADGETITOFFGETITOFFGETITOFFOHTHEPAINOHITBURNSITHASACIDBLOODOHGODWHYWHATISTHISABOMINATIONOHGODTHEPAINIWANTTODIE
...Yeah. Also, puking. So there's that.
Like I said, I don't hate Dead Space, I haven't played Dead Space, I've heard it's a good game, and honestly I believe it. It looks like a good game. It got good reviews, it sold well, and it's getting a sequel. I've watched some trailers for the second game, specifically the E3 footage. It looked intense, gory, and as I said, I have no plans to play it.
And then EA decided Dead Space 2 needed just a little more publicity before launch. And of course, they decided to do it in the worst way possible. (Link contains a video with graphic violence. Beeeewaaaare.)
"Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2"
They took 300 middle aged mothers in "the heart of conservative America" and sat them down, completely unaware of what they were to see, and showed them the goriest, most disgusting scenes from the game.
The idea was simple, get the disapproval of mothers. As their new tagline says, "Dead Space 2: It's everything you love in a game, and your mom's going to hate it."
It's a brilliant marketing strategy really. The disapproval of mothers is, to many, a good indicator that something is in fact cool. And I have no doubt that my mom would cringe at many scenes in games I play, T rated, or M rated.
But here's the thing. I hate this ad campaign. I hate it. You see, there are a few reasons why I hate this ad campaign, and have lost any interest I may have had in this game before now.
1. It Makes Games Lose Creditability
You knew this was one of the reasons before you started reading this post. Don't even lie.
Let me explain something. Every time some stupid ad company pulls something like this, the whole games industry, AN ENTIRE MEDIUM, lose creditability as an art form.
Many of you probably heard about Schwarzenegger Vs. The Games Industry this past fall. In short, a bill was brought in front of the Supreme Court which was essentially saying that all violent video games were equivalent to porn, and should not be sold to children. If passed, it would show frightening precedent, and the bill itself was possibly one of the most frightening threats to our freedom to artistic expression which has ever faced the country. Do you know what games were used by the (complete scumbags) supporters of the bill? Postal, for one.
Postal is not a game which I have any sort of respect for. Postal is a game which revolves around violence and only violence. You can do all sorts of unspeakable acts in it, and YES, it's a horrible game. It is not art, and anyone who even CLAIMS that it is should seek mental help.
Let me give examples of games and game series which would be very easy to ban if the bill were passed, which were not mentioned.
All of these games are, in their own right, art. In fact, if you want to see examples of how games can be art, any of those games are very good places to start. I could write full articles on the artistic merits of any one of these games, and those were just names I came up with off the top of my head.
All of these games could be banned from sale to minors, essentially making them on the same level as porn, and would likely be ejected from most major retailers, because Postal was made.
Every time a stunt like this is pulled, every time someone makes a game that is gory it needs to be able to take flak for being bloody. But when someone pulls a stunt like this, when someone TRIES to convince mothers that their games is "demonic" it's nothing but attempts to set the genre back. Because, sadly, for every Portal, Half-Life, or Fallout, there's a Postal.
Of course, for every "Citizen Kane", there hundreds of "Meet Dave"'s. But movies are already an accepted art form, and until games reach that status, where they no longer need defenders and white knights, stunts like this only set the medium back.
2. It Tries To Sell An M Rated Game To Teenagers
I am a teenager. I have played M rated games. Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, Half-Life 2, all of these are M rated games, and are GREAT! So am I a hypocrite for saying that these should not be marketed towards teenagers? Absolutely not.
You see, the difference is between marketing them towards teenagers, and teenagers playing them.
Guys, I know this sounds cheesy, but the system works. The ESRB, while far from perfect, deserves some credit. IN GENERAL, it is a good indicator of the CONTENT of a game. And while I could write a whole article (and probably will at some point) about the absurd double standard between games and movies, M rated games are, generally speaking, worthy of their rating.
Now, that's not to say not all teenagers should be able to play any M rated titles. It depends on the person, plain and simple. But, those who do play M rated titles, LIKE ME, should absolutely have the permission of their parents first, and honestly, should know the content within the game and their own maturity level.
This campaign is quite clearly trying to sell teenagers an M rated game with disapproval of mothers. It's dumb. I hate it.
3. IT'S JUST STUPID!
Seriously. When did showing that a group of people DISLIKE your product become good marketing? I just... It boggles the mind. How dumb do you have to be to come up with this? I mean, I fully think this ad campaign will sell copies of the game, and because of that I suppose it's a success, but seriously. Can companies in general please stop talking about how other people hate their stuff, but YOU, if you're a COOL KID, will definitely love it? And how if you don't love it, you must be a POSER? And a LOSER?
Seriously. I hate this ad campaign. It's stupid, it's irritating, it's childish, it poorly reflects upon the industry and medium at large, and it absolutely should not be repeated.