This morning I saw this video, and it made an impression on me:
If you know me, you know I had to tweet something about it:
This might be the most compelling case you’ll ever see for wasting your life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdWkKKSckNk Well done, Sony.
I mean what I said. The video is compelling — it stirs something in me (albeit briefly) as a domesticated American man who often struggles with a desire for validation. And Sony deserves a, “Well done,” because the advertisement clearly accomplishes the goals of the advertiser (and any advertiser for that matter): the ad assigns meaning to a product. In other words, the ad does not say, “You will have a lot of fun with your PS3.” The ad says, “You will be a hero with your PS3.” The ad intentionally confuses recreation with bravery, and offers a relatively cheap ($249!) path to significance.
Please note that this is not a judgment about the morality of playing video games or a formula for how often you should play video games. This is about the messaging and strategy at play here. Sony just happens to be our case study, and that brings us back to products and meaning.
Do you remember that late-90s Apple campaign that abandoned features in favor of meaning? It was a simple imperative: Think different. What’s the offer implicit in that statement? It’s not what you can do with a Mac; it’s what you can be with a Mac. In some ways, this message is similar to Apple’s 1984 campaign, except that it paints you as the revolutionary woman with the hammer, not the Mac itself.
It’s not difficult to spot this same pattern at work throughout the advertising industry. Diets and exercise equipment aren’t about health and personal responsibility, they’re about making you happy and sexy. Vacations aren’t about fun and rest, they’re about self-discovery and marital bliss. Clothes aren’t about warmth or utility, they’re about power and self-actualization.
And that’s how we arrive at such a time in which video games aren’t fun, they’re proving grounds for digital heroes. Video games aren’t distractions, they’re investments in our personal legacies.
As the description of the PS3 video says, “When they tell your story, what will they say?” Here’s hoping the fictional characters in an imagined saloon tell of your willingness to respawn no matter how intense the firefight. Here’s hoping they remember your ingenuity when the path to the Mayan treasure seemed blocked. Here’s hoping they remember your sacrifice and valor when you charged into the oncoming horde of sexy teen werewolf zombies.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my coworkers started a game of Call of Duty 2 without me, and I need to hop in. (Call sign: Honey Badger or Shot McKillin) Just remember, when the game is over I’ll be the same domesticated American man who often struggles with a desire for validation, not a hero. Playing Call of Duty won’t mean I’ve actually answered the call of duty. Playing Medal of Honor won’t actually earn me any medals of honor. Playing Uncharted won’t actually mean I’ve ventured into uncharted territory. All those achievements I may earn … not actual achievements.
As long as we all understand that, I think we’re okay. It’s when we give into the seductive idea of transformation through transaction that we have a problem.