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The Game Effect Editorial

Deep Silver Proves That Violent Games Are Marketed To Adolescents

Patronizing ad campaigns may actually just be aiming a bit too low

By Daniel Jones on 1/17/2013
Earlier this week, developer Deep Silver revealed the Dead Island: Riptide Special Edition in the UK and the internet immediately became a scorching hot ball of outrage, as the internet is often wont to do. This time the outrage seems mostly justified, however. The Riptide Special Edition features all the special edition-y stuff you'd expect; including art prints, a figurine and the object of controversy -- a mutilated female bust with rather large breasts and a tiny bikini.

Marketing campaigns are notoriously crass and special editions are often just marketing campaigns in product form, so I wasn't all that surprised by this. Rather, it was sadly unsurprising and just another disappointing example of exactly where this industry is at right now. However, at a time when video games are the subject of finger pointing and scrutiny from all corners of moral standard bearers, things like this don't help engender the medium to those naysayers.

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I sat down last week and had a very intense discussion with my parents about violence in video games. I argued that violent games are not marketed to young kids and that the target audience for these games is 18 to 35 year old males. I spouted off studies and statistics I'd heard over and over. I tried to explain that the people who grew up playing Mario and Zelda are still playing games, but their tastes have just evolved. I tried to explain that the industry is just adapting to keep up with its audience's changing tastes and violent games are a product of that. My Dad wasn't buying it.

"These companies don't have an agenda. They aren't trying to sell games to young kids." I tried to tell him.

"Are you sure? I'm not so convinced that they're not." As he said this, I just laughed, feeling awkwardly flummoxed and -- as my Dad has an uncanny knack for doing -- he stopped me dead in my tracks. He didn't elaborate, but then again, he didn't need to. At first I was shocked that he could really believe this, but the more I've thought about it, the more I can understand exactly why he would.

Too often, I feel like the game industry is patronizing me by releasing dumb advertisements and products like the Riptide Special Boobs Edition. The outrage over this proves that I'm not the only one. But what if they're not patronizing us? Surely, a more mature product, aimed at a more mature audience would demand a more mature advertisement right? How about a more mature product aimed at an immature audience? That's a different story.

Dead Island is an explicitly immature game. That's not to say it's not any good, it's just immature. Like Duke Nukem or Family Guy, it's a product that appeals to the teenager inside us all. That's the PR line anyway. But they know -- as we know -- that it's also a product that appeals to teenagers. Period. So how do you really grab the attention of those teenagers? Put some bloody boobs on a box and say it's "mature". It's patronizing to me, a responsible adult male who doesn't need fake plastic boobs to catch my eye. It's not patronizing to your average male teenager.

These kind of subversive tactics permeate video game marketing in ways that we may have never stopped to consider. For example, if you're marketing a complex, Revolutionary War historical epic like Assassin's Creed III to adult males, would you really use the hip hop song "I'm Coming Home" by Diddy ft. Skylar Grey? That commercial always rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why exactly that song felt so out of place.

And we can't forget Dead Space 2's fantastically awful "Your Mom Will Hate Dead Space 2" campaign. There are so many things wrong with this ad, it's hard to even know where to begin. First of all, how many older men care that much if their Mom hates the video game they're playing? We're used to it for god's sake. But teenagers aren't. To them, something their Mom hates is something they're sure to love. And that, my friends, is marketing. Brilliant marketing, in fact.

I do believe that many of my favorite titles aren't interested in the 12 to 17 year old age group. I don't think anyone would argue that BioshockSpec Ops: The Line or Dishonored -- with their intellectually challenging content -- are intended or marketed for a younger audience. And I don't think that 'M' rated games are advertised in kid's magazines, family TV channels or even kid-centric websites, but I'm not so naive as to think that savvy companies haven't found loopholes and more sneaky ways to capture the eyes of that audience.

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The Dead Island: Riptide Special Edition is proof positive that the video game industry is either treating us all like teenagers, or it's actually trying to subversively cater to teenagers and adolescents. So often, we cry foul when game marketing or the actual products themselves are patronizing us. Maybe, just maybe, we should at least entertain the possibility -- as upsetting as it may be -- that people like my Dad are right. Maybe some of the people who market and sell video games actually do have a hidden agenda.
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quantifier on January 17, 2013
What I find strange is that, when it seems to be common knowledge that the majority of gamers aren't in their teens, the companies still try to market this way. Is it that younger games are more impressionable? More apt to make rash purchases and spend money? To me, it makes the case that game advertisements are just treating us like we're still teens.
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indiejones on January 17, 2013
I think they know that there is still an audience there. And they want to reach that audience. 
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