Thursday, October 27, 2011

Commercial Success: Positioning Games in Pop-Culture

My latest PopMatters article is now live - Commercial Success: Positioning Games in Pop Culture

This piece is just an exploration of how three commercials that have caught my attention and the attention of some other Moving Pixels writers position games within popular culture at large. But for this addendum, I want to talk a bit about gamer icons.

I have mixed reactions to watching Harrison Ford play Uncharted 3. One one hand, I find him genuinely charming, every bit representative of the swashbucklers he has played on the big screen. On the other hand, he is clearly getting old. I almost feel bad for the guy. Did Sony really need to trot out an aging icon to convince Japanese consumers to buy Uncharted 3? Couldn't they have connected video games to film culture differently?

This raises an interesting question. Setting aside the oft cited dilemma regarding game designer auteurs, who might we turn to for game icons and ambassadors? At first I thought of other actors. Ryan Gosling is an upcoming action star; maybe he could bring some credibility to the Driver series. Sure there are some actors out there who genuinely enjoy video games and the culture that surrounds them. If it were Nathan Fillion on the couch playing Uncharted, would he better convey the relationship between storytelling in film and storytelling in games? Maybe actors will always come off as artificial, never quite reflecting the unique place games hold in popular culture.

I then moved on to other creative minds. What if a famous director appeared in a commercial instead, conveying to the audience an appreciation for design. Spielberg knows about world building, maybe he could convey the awe of inhabiting a rich interactive environment with credibility. Someone could tell Christopher Nolan to talk to non-gamers about the value of games.

Ah, that brings up an even better games ambassador: Batman. Specifically, the transmedia icon occupies popular culture through a variety of media. Rather than scaring non-gamers off with that bar room full of frightening player avatars worshiping some guy named Michael, Sony could use Batman as a bridge between consumers of all forms of media. Nolan's Dark Knight, the animated version of the bat, and Rocksteady's bulky hero, could all say "I'm batman" and speak the truth. Check out this commercial for Arkham City Walmart put out. The game appears predominantly in the background, secondary to a comedic bit about the caped icon himself. In this approach, games are positioned as one piece of a larger pop culture diet, offering one aspect of a story that has transcended its original medium. He might not be an appropriate ambassador for all games, but I could be comfortable with Batman as my icon of choice. Yet the positioning of games in pop culture is far from over.

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