The 5 Most Offensive Attempts at Video Game Marketing
There are two forces struggling to define the public perception of video games. First we have the gamers. These are often reasonable adults who are tired of being portrayed as frothy-mouthed would-be sex offenders with the collective attention span of an alcoholic gnat. And then we have the video game advertisers, who are all too eager to reinforce these stereotypes.
After all, from their end, the true value of a promotional campaign is in how much they can get the press talking about it. And how do you get the press to talk about it? Why, by triggering the outrage and/or ridicule of all of the non-gamers of the world. Thanks, guys!
Dead Island Entices Gamers With a Headless, Busty Torso
You may remember 2011's Dead Island for its harrowing trailer (which featured a family being torn apart by a zombie attack in agonizing slow motion) or for the mediocre, glitch-ridden game that had nothing to do with the awesome promo.
In any case, gaming label Deep Silver decided to get the hell off of the high road for the campaign for the game's 2013 sequel, Dead Island: Riptide. They decided to market the collector's edition of the game with a "grotesque take on an iconic Roman marble torso sculpture," which you can see below. Can't you see the art history oozing out of it?
If Michelangelo had lived another 20 years, this was what he'd be going for.
Here's the thing that Deep Silver (and many other gaming companies, as we'll see in a moment) don't get: Sex and violence are not like peanut butter and jelly. They are not two great tastes that taste great together. Hacking up zombies -- it's dandy. Boobs, ditto. But attaching a pair of pert breasts to a decapitated zombie torso? That's a crime against both sex and violence. Although to be fair, for a slaughtered torso, it's surprisingly, almost disturbingly modest (please note that the young lady's Union Jack two-piece has been left completely intact by the zombie attack). Because a zombie bite deep enough to expose bone didn't snap them, the strings on that bikini must be titanium wire.
It could have been a little worse.
So yes, this, uh, object is a "striking conversation piece," in that if you see this in someone's home, the best course of action is to distract them with conversation and then strike them on the damn head with it. Remember, bloody torsos are like cockroaches: If you see one, there are probably a lot more hidden out of sight. In the end, Deep Silver responded to complaints with a par-for-the-course, half-assed non-apology.
Juiced Promotes Magical Molestation
Juiced was a forgettable racing title for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox that came out in 2005. In fact, the only reason anybody remembers it is because of its not-safe-for-work ad, which featured two dude-bros sexually assaulting a woman with enchanted video game controllers.
The scene begins with two guys hanging out in a car. They are enjoying the everyday pleasure of playing Juiced on their car's dashboard and dancing to rap music in a manner normally reserved for vivacious grandmothers in erectile dysfunction ads. Anyway, one of the players looks out the window and notices that, by adjusting the paint job on his in-game car, he's somehow changing the clothing of a redhead standing outside. Unfazed by their newfound paranormal powers, our scumbag protagonists immediately use them to telekinetically motorboat the nearest bystander.
"We've never met a human. This is what they like, yes?"
It's tough to decide which is more awful: the poor woman's gasps of dismay as she's fondled by dark magic, or the guys' expressions of childlike wonder, as if groping a stranger via Xbox is like finding a puppy under the tree on Christmas morning.
Eventually the players strip the woman down to her thong and slap the Juiced logo on her keister. To reiterate, here are two men literally treating a woman as a customizable object and branding her ass like a cow. Was the Juiced ad team drinking hair gel when they dreamed this up? This spot never aired (because who would air it?), but we wouldn't be surprised if it's been recycled as an early draft of the upcoming Entourage movie.
Shortening her skirt is the last "safe for work" thing you'll see in the video.
Resident Evil Relies on Breast-Feeding and Chicken Guts
When you think of Capcom's series of Resident Evil survival horror games, you naturally think of a naked mother -- generous of bosom and buttocks -- providing sustenance to her newborn child. Indeed, this French TV ad for 2005's Resident Evil 4 is a terrific example of the soothing, low-key breast-feeding gameplay that's made Resident Evil a hit worldwide.
"Press 'X' twice to bite!"
Note the elegant camerawork as the camera pans across the mother's shoulders, the naturalistic and unashamed depiction of the suckling child, and the natural beauty of ZUT ALORS MES AMIS HALF THE PEOPLE WATCHING THIS CHOKED ON THEIR CROQUE-MONSIEURS.
That's actually how most breast-feedings end, though. Kudos on the realism.
And for 2009's Resident Evil 5, Capcom's marketing wizards ditched the breast-feeding angle and appealed to English gamers with a London scavenger hunt for appendages. Players competed for a vacation to Africa by collecting body parts, each of which was worth a certain number of points: two points for limbs, five points for heads, and three points for (bikini-less) torsos. To make the props more realistic, they were smeared in chicken liver.
This promo backfired when, at the end of the event, Capcom realized that they couldn't account for all of the limbs they'd hidden. The company released a statement requesting that honest Londoners carefully dispose of any offal-drenched plastic elbows they stumbled upon. To make matters even weirder, this wasn't the only severed-limb gaming promo in London that month. A week later, Sega scattered bloody arms clutching copies of the Wii brawler MadWorld across the city.
"This is how consumers make decisions regarding how to allocate their entertainment budget."
Sega, Fine Purveyors of Man-on-Seafood Sex
After unleashing Sonic the Hedgehog like a plague of locusts across every system under the sun, the marketing geniuses at Sega made a play for the lucrative demographic of people who enjoy pounding cloaca.
Maybe we should explain. In 2000, Sega released the quirky Dreamcast pet simulator Seaman in North America. The game itself was a niche product -- it starred an ornery manphibian who interacted with the player through a microphone. The titular Seaman would pass his time slinging insults at you, but you could toss the barbs right back. Look, if you want the Next Big Thing, you have to experiment. Who was to say that this surly fish/human hybrid wasn't going to be the next Mario?
The problem, of course, is trying to sell such a bizarre and awful-sounding game to audiences. You can sort of picture the cast of Mad Men sitting around a conference room, batting around ideas. "So it's called Seaman, can we do some kind of semen pun? No? OK, well, the title character is some kind of man-fish creature that clearly is the product of a human mating with a fish ... is there some way we can make a subtle play on that?"
Then everybody kind of thinks and taps their pencils for a minute before Don Draper says, "I've got it. Picture a man, on a soiled mattress, banging a giant beached carp. We just see his feet and her fin, clearly in the moment after the man has ejaculated into the fish."
"Someone write this down: Stop having meetings while smoking pot laced with Viagra and LSD."
Silent, awed looks from around the room. A single tear runs down the cheek of a Sega executive. Slowly, he begins clapping.
Sega Advertises Sonic the Hedgehog With Big Ol' Hairy Balls
The above shouldn't imply that Sega was somehow new to the "gamers can't resist dick references" theory of game promotion. Back in the 1990s, for instance, Sega was clearly eager to portray their new portable gaming device as a cool gadget for adults. And if that meant associating their product with masturbation and drunken hooliganism, so be it! And so we wound up with the following ads, which ran in British adult humor magazines.
First we have a deranged naked man rubbing his genitals on a Game Gear:
"We're talking about masturbation."
Another ad brags that Sega products will leave players "shooting all over the place":
"Did we mention we're talking about jacking off? Because we totally are. Please jack off with our products."
A third spot openly acknowledges players' proclivities for binge drinking and bladder infections:
"After you're finished drunkenly pissing in the snow, you should fuck it. Sega."
And finally, an ad compares Sega's flagship character to a crudely drawn cartoon scrotum. That's basically like Nintendo openly analogizing Mario's mustache to the mons pubis of a 1970s porn star.
"Sonic the Hedgehog: As Good as a Pair of Hairy Nuts Hanging Out of a Speedo at the Beach."
Fletcher Wortmann is the author of Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. You can read more from his strange and frightening brain at Psychology Today and his website.
For more boneheaded PR moves, check out 5 Corporate Promotions That Ended in (Predictable) Disaster. Or learn about 5 Reasons It's Still Not Cool to Admit You're a Gamer.