Games in Non-Game Television Advertisements

Posted: November 15, 2009 by Broadpaw in Games and the Media
Tags: , ,

In thinking about games’ representation in mainstream media (see “And on a lighter note . . .”, Oct 6), I am uncertain about two ads that I have recently seen:

The first is for the History Channel’s presentation of World War II in HD — the ads have been playing for a while, and frequently the week of Nov. 2nd and 9th. The ad opens with a game interface — what looks like a first-person shooter with digital target sights and visible tracers — overlaying real WWII footage. Quite an interesting look if one can get over the disturbing nature of it (when the digital shells hit the submarine, it’s a real, filmed explosion). The words appear, then, “This was no game.” Of course not. But the marketers chose explicitly to make it look that way and then advertise WWII in HD for the first time — a ludic, if not game-like, enticement. The second advertisement is for the Air Force, depicting typical fantasy/scifi-like environments and then making the claim that it’s not science fiction (but real battle, a real profession).

Not only is there yet another videogaming-violence link in mainstream media, but one used specifically, it seems to me, to garner interest (or curiosity) in a WWII documentary or actual Air Force service.

At a conference this past weekend, I was asked after my presentation whether or not I have studied games’ representation in non-gaming spaces (television and film, specifically); I haven’t. Well, the time, it seems, has come (the walrus said) . . .


  1. twitchdoctor says:

    I played around with your post for a bit simply because the title and comments link wasn’t showing up, and it wasn’t listing under your name. I asked for help on the WP forums, someone visited and now it all seems to be working. Very strange.

    Anyway, another example that is kind of in the same zone, is the ad for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, where the guy crashes his SUV through the garage door. Its comic, and its more about the other great cultural stereotype (games as distraction), but either way it involves destruction!

    This is connected with a piece I’m finishing up now. I’ve been wondering a lot about whether it is so clear cut that television and film are non-gaming spaces. The ludologists like Frasca, Aarseth, etc., have certainly made the case that these are very different from games. However, there’s a curious kind of formalism at work here where the definition seems to focus really narrowly on the actual media form and how the participant responds only in the act of experiencing that particular form. And because that formalism plays to a deep desire in many art and literature professors (beneath their postmodern facades they are formalists in their secret hearts) few have challenged it.

    But it doesn’t leave much space for anything like Jenkins theory that we’ve entered a new space of “transmedia” storytelling, where narratives and forms of engagement are spread across multiple media.

    Virilio’s classic “War and Cinema” established the tight linkage between the two, but we could perhaps couple with that a connection that is even older: war and games. Is it really any wonder then that we start to see that fusion happening on television?

    • Broadpaw says:

      Appreciate your helping in fixing the initial post’s error . . . whatever it was.

      About transmedia experiences — I have found them to be, well, “artificial,” as problematic as that term is, a term I am using here to mean “forced.” Jenkin uses the term “transmedia promotion,” which, I think, more accurate, at least for now. We see increasing effort from major television networks to include their web content on television, with particular series/episodes (for instance, “Slow Burn” in conjunction with Heroes, the Sprint “interactive story”; Adult Swim’s posting of high scores achieved by web-game players and so forth). These are interesting, if ultimately “unsuccessful,” attempts of mixing media for the purposes of “interactive storytelling.” They promote, they perhaps entice fans to visit/digest various media outlets, but the story effects are, for the comparatively casual watcher (and “casual” here could include a rabid fan, but one who “merely” watches the show!) and for the time being, minimal.

      In fact, representation of transmedia storytelling is wholly more interesting in their fictional representations, when the transmedia experience is part of the storytelling itself (as a core element of the narrative): a rather complex manifestation was depicted in the David Fincher film, “The Game” (I seem to remember “real” life companies trying to emulate in simplistic ways the experiences of the Michael Douglas character, tying phone and ‘Net and mail together in a comparatively “authentic” or “material” experience, but concrete examples escape me at the moment). There have also been examples of performance in life of the everyday, akin to that depicted in the John Amiel film, “The Man Who Knew Too Little,” where Bill Murray performs in the “Theater of Life,” a troupe that doesn’t perform on a stage . . . of course, in the film, through miscommunication Murray’s character ends up in “real” situations rather than constructed ones).

      This leads me back to my conclusion in my original post — I’ll have to start looking at these “representations of representations” more carefully.

  2. twitchdoctor says:

    Yes, this is definitely an area that deserves a lot more attention. Obviously you have a rich field at the moment with three movies out dealing with the game-that-more-than-a-game idea. Something is in the water. Or the zeitgeist at least.

    I think Jenkins has something rather bigger in mind than the “promotional” element of transmedia. I was thinking of his short piece “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in the _First Person_ collection. He criticizes ludologists for assuming “that narratives must be self-contained rather than understanding games as serving some specific functions within a new transmedia storytelling environment” (121). This gets fleshed out in more detail in his _Convergence Culture_. But what I think he has in mind is the kind of thing that _Enter the Matrix_ was doing. It wasn’t great as a game (sucked royally, for the most part) but it included elements of the entire Matrix story that were linked to the second movie. More importantly, these were elements that didn’t appear at all in the movie and significantly developed a backstory as well as explaining the reason for the absence of the characters Niobe and Ghost from large parts of _The Matrix Reloaded_. Or the way in which franchise games like _Knights of the Old Republic_ are in fact expanding and developing the _Star Wars_ canon. Or the way in in which in MMORPGs in general players themselves use the game to develop their own stories for use both within and without the game.

    • Broadpaw says:

      The examples you offer illustrate much more complex examples than the advertisements on which I originally commented. Certainly, Jenkins indeed had a larger concept in mind than merely promotional material (although promotional material is what he refers to in Fans, Bloggers, and Games, which is the category of “transmedia” under which my initial examples fit more precisely). We can and should also consider online communities that are established specifically to extend (if not enhance) the media experience (fan materials that include fanfiction, mods, youtube-postings, etc.; material by the original authors/creators beyond the original medium — for instance, the celebrated Buffy the Vampire Slayer “8th Season” comics; in a lovely media “reversal,” novels inspired by games, such as the forthcoming novels based on the Elder Scrolls among many others). Since you mention Knights of the Old Republic, I’d certainly like to see a more “complete” version of the sequel’s (Sith Lords) story – thoroughly intriguing, but unfinished (especially when compared to the original game), what with leaving so many narrative threads far too open (I seem to remember postings/articles explaining that Obsidian was pressured/rushed to complete the game before it was ready . . . of course, now that I think about it, Knights, too, has a novel series). If yours and these examples don’t further support Jenkins’s criticism of ludologists, I don’t know what would. I find the promotional material particularly interesting, though, as they are specifically not extensions of narratives or expansions of fictive worlds — they are not even aimed at the same audiences, but rather contain “gaming elements” used for completely different, non-gaming purposes (to recruit for the armed forces, to entice viewers to watch a WWII documentary).

      Well, more on that, no doubt, later.

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