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So Tired of Being Cool: The Mold of Game Marketing
posted by: Aaron Stanton
date posted: 11:14 AM Fri Dec 9th, 2005
last revision: 03:29 PM Fri Dec 9th, 2005

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Click to read.Somewhere along the line, someone made me cool. I think it was Microsoft. It might have been Sony. EA probably had a hand in it.

The thing is, I\'m not cool; it\'s like a disguise that\'s been shoved onto the game industry by marketers eager to show off images of Paris Hilton, who presumably would never participate in anything uncool, buying her Xbox 360. Someone wants games to shed the nerdy image of yesteryear and adopt a popular, MTV appearance.

Lot\'s of money has gone into convincing the general population that gaming is cool; the problem is that I\'m tired of being cool. Or at least pretending to be.

Even when you\'re not cool, there\'s a new pressure to pull off the image; the game industry no longer looks like you and me, but instead J Allard and the people you see in the PSP commercials. Suddenly you find yourself using vocabulary that you would never have used before, just showing up spontaneously in your writing. Because we\'re down like that, yo.

I know I\'m not the only one to feel this pressure, because I can see it in the writing of gaming magazines, both print and online; too often you\'ll find articles written as if the author believes connecting to the reader involves using all the right slang terms.

It shows up in other places as well. Half the gaming podcasts online seem to be hosted by DJs that are terrified to admit they\'re nerds. Shallow with style, and a fairly hip soundtrack.

As video games have moved into the mainstream, members of the gaming media have taken on the habit of pretending we\'re the type of people that get invited to the popular parties. We\'ve become metro-gamers: first we admit to playing games, then we try to convince you we\'re capable of dating a celebrity.

But it\'s all fake. A dirty lie. I\'m a nerd. Pretty much the entire staff of GamesFirst.com, all 25 of us, well, we\'re all nerds (sorry, folks). Not only do we play games more than is probably healthy, but then we actually spend hours writing about them, making us compound nerds.

Last time I checked, reading and writing were still pretty much on the out with MTV.

The fact is, any competent gaming website is run by nerds, too. It\'s a prerequisite for being in the industry, unless you\'re appearing before a camera, in which case you probably auditioned for the job. There\'s a reason headshots don\'t come with writing samples, and most of us don\'t even have a voice for radio.

You can blame the game companies for it. Sega and Sony ramped up the advertising bravado, creating edgy campaigns such as Sega\'s infamous maniacal \"SEGA!\" series of commercials for Genesis and beyond. Sony followed suit with their infamous \"UR0e\" ads for PlayStation, which were accompanied by the voiceover \"You are not ready.\" Sega switched it up with the Dreamcast and their \"It\'s alive. It\'s thinking,\" ads, which featured fractured imagery similar to the \"You are not ready\" advertisements.

When Sony decided to go after Nintendo, the obnoxious bandicoot came to the forefront: Sony lampooned the console mascot in such a way as to undermine the power of previously unstoppable characters like Mario and Sonic. A guy in a Crash Bandicoot suit would taunt Nintendo corporate headquarters and other competitors\' locations, using a bullhorn to amplify clever jibes. Looking back on the ads, they\'re eerily reminiscent of certain portions of the Tom Green Show, Jackass, and Michael Moore, which is an amalgamation of personality that is often applied to gamers: obnoxious weirdos who don\'t mind reading thick manuals or screens full of narrative.

But as the years have progressed, obnoxious weirdos are not enough. And as games have evolved, there\'s not much reading involved anymore: tutorials and voiceovers have made it largely unnecessary to think too hard about most games.

Microsoft\'s early Xbox Live commercials are partly responsible for the fact that you can\'t play a game online anymore without getting called a name of some sort by a 13-year-old. These people didn\'t just spontaneously appear after the service went online, we recruited them via trash-talking actors. But let\'s face it, Microsoft is like an entire conglomerate of nerds all trying to buy their way into hipdom through flashy ads and nice clothing. They also made the mistake of equating rude with cool, and stopped just short of recruiting John Romero to scream \"suck it down\" or some other LAN-bash obscenity.

Recent ad campaigns for the Xbox 360 and PSP have been better than in the past, combining elements of counter-culture with some visual presentation that really stands out. Sony\'s Nut, Carpet, and Cheese commercials advertising the media features of the PSP are not only bizarre, they\'re worth watching just for the \"WTF?\" alone. For its part, Microsoft is has done well with their Xbox 360 commercials. It\'s interesting to note that the longer, online version of the water balloon fight commercial has audio that\'s absent from the TV spot; online, the sound effects are supplemented by the sound of gunfire. With that included, the entire scene becomes much more creepy, showing kids and adults fighting back and forth in what immediately comes across as a Ghost Recon 3 war zone.

Too hot for TV, perhaps.

Regardless, at the same time that Microsoft has introduced these rather interesting advertising spots, they\'re responsible for images of Paris Hilton exiting Ground Zero with a 360 in hand. Hell, they\'re responsible for Ground Zero itself, complete with an exclusive nature that kept \"regular\" people at bay, short of a contest or two.

Let\'s face it: the gaming community has no right to pretend to exclude anyone. Nerds shouldn\'t exclude. That\'s not really the community we\'re built around. Plus, it just comes across as fake; most of the people at Ground Zero probably qualify as nerds to the average MTV-inspired assessment. I\'m pretty sure that J Allard, even though he\'s got a nifty stylized name, is a nerd. And God help Microsoft if he\'s not, because I\'m also pretty sure that you\'re a nerd, too. It\'s ironic that the nerdiest people in the world are putting the most effort into being cool.

But I\'m still a nerd, and I\'m tired of feeling like that\'s somehow changed just because the game industry has decided to target a certain demographic.

We might be able to hire good-looking and hip people to act as our front, but underneath our industry\'s crafted skin it\'s not that different from the days when nerds huddled around Apple IIs; we\'re still the same nerdy kids at heart that couldn\'t get dates back in high school.

We just have money now, so we can pretend better.

There was a comic over at Penny Arcade awhile back, this one here. In it, one of the characters is telling a high school student that, \"Outside these walls, we run shit.\" The comic refers to being a nerd, outcasts.

And it\'s true; when was the last time you found the high-school bully able to afford a private party like Ground Zero?

Penny Arcade is unique amongst game related sites in that it is entirely personality driven. Penny Arcade fans love Gabe and Tycho, and they do it, in my opinion, because Penny Arcade\'s ever-funny team has never crumbled under the pressure of this odd brand of commercialized counter-culture gaming.

And I\'m tired of it. I\'m tired of writing articles worried I might not strike the right cord, resonate with the right people, in order to avoid mass disillusionment.

So I confess, and farewell to any doubt: I\'m nerd through and through.

This is not any shallow, poser nerdness, either. My nerdness stretches beyond my looks and inability to attract members of the opposite sex; I have friends that play Magic: The Gathering, and I\'m currently involved in a game of chess via e-mail. After meeting Vin Diesel and Michael Ironside, I still think meeting Sami Jarvi, the guy who wrote the dialog for Max Payne, takes the cake. If I get invited to some launch party it\'s only because I\'m a nerd, with nerdy writing attributes, not because I\'m a part of the hip crowd.

Never mistake the two.

If I show up at the door of some industry party with an invitation in hand, you can bet money that the advertising company has arranged for some superbly hip celebrity to help counter-balance my lack of grace and social ability. At least lack of grace and social ability from their perspective; I hardly ever use Internet slang while talking on Xbox Live. I\'m the nerd that always ends the match with, \"Good game,\" as opposed to some exclamation of ownage. Possibly because I\'m always the one being pwnded.

After millions of marketing dollars have been thrown in the gamer\'s direction in an attempt to dress us up for the mainstream, it\'s sort of nice to realize I\'m still out of place whenever people who are \"really\" cool show up at parties or on MTV.

The launch of the Xbox 360 brought about a fresh wave of false cool, a new influx of marketing dollars, another round of podcasts more interested in presentation than substance.

Sometimes I need to re-affirm my nerdness; I can feel it being bought out from under me.

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