BITMAPS 70: Gamers Misunderstood by Marketers

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Every generation hits maturity around the times companies see profit in repackaging and reselling its own past back to itself. As seen by the trend in movies, I’d say the crop from the 80s has hit prime harvesting time. Despite being a denizen of the day-glo era, I find these attempts to be largely unsuccessful. I never watched Transformers, I only watched the X-Men cartoon, and my only experience with G.I. Joe came in the form of an ill-educated birthday present. The rubber band holding together the Duke action figure snapped within days, leading to some very gross misconceptions about human anatomy in the coming years.

 

 

GI Joe

What do you mean humans aren’t held together with an elastic band?

The major reason for my relative inoculation against such nostalgic marketing is that, well, while a sizeable chunk of my generation was reared by such comics and cartoons, I spent all my time throwing tantrums at my NES. Since movies work so well for most 80s properties resurrected under the glorious sheen of the oughts, they should work for video games as well, right? It doesn’t take any staggering amount of insight to know how that turned out.

 

No, to resell gamers their wasted youth in the collected basements and bedrooms of America, companies need to demonstrate their understanding of such pastimes. Translating the experience into a movie not only fundamentally changes the memory, but turns it into something foreign and distant. To reach gamers, you must do it with games — a premise that seems simple enough, but only a few companies are finally starting to understand. I’m learning that, when done right, I’m as susceptible to nostalgic marketing as anyone else.

Eighties

As much as it pains me to say, Mountain Dew is doing something very cool at 2009’s SXSW (South by Southwest, a music festival in Austin, TX) that demonstrates the proper approach to video game nostalgia marketing. They’ve recreated living rooms dedicated to various generations of gaming. My favorite is the 80s living room, complete with tacky sofa, rubiks cube, Lionel Ritchie poster, and rabbit-ear antennas. Just seeing the faux 1/3 of a room instantly transports me back to afternoons spent with friends sharing cheat codes, taking turns trying to pass hard levels, and promising that that one pit is a warp zone to the last level (it really is, I swear, just jump in it). There’s at least one person at Mountain Dew that understands the heritage of gaming, and I appreciate that.

 

MTDSXSW

Ahhh I could spend the whole day there.

 

Cool idea to be sure, but not as direct as most marketers would like. In that spirit, take the Japanese reality TV show GameCenter CX. The show is made up of several different segments, including interviews with current game designers, visits to local retro arcades, and catalogues of games from particular developers like Namco or Konami.

The most popular part of the show, however, is Arino’s Challenge — wherein Shinya Arino, a man that is not particularly skilled at video games, is challenged to play some of the most challenging games that exist. Perhaps it’s touching some horrible dark streak in my psyche, but I absolutely love seeing an adorable Japanese man punished mercilessly by Megaman 2 and Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. If this show would only come out in America, I would be at any store with cash in hand, and I think the same is true for most gamers that survived the NES era. As it stands, I must resort to means not quite so traditional.

Pay

The show has (naturally) spun off into its own video game. Retro Game Challenge is the first game of its kind – a complete nostalgic repackaging of gaming nostalgia intended for gamers delivered in video game form. The premise of the game is absolutely sublime – the player must play through a variety of fictional NES games with a younger Arino (the show’s host) in the 80s. The game slowly marches through the 80s, delivering sequels to older games and newer issues of GameFan magazine that reveal new cheat codes.

 

RGC

A game of people playing games. Brilliant.

I would plead with any readers to go buy the game, but in this case, the game speaks for itself. Either you are victim to this particular brand of nostalgia or you aren’t. The merits of the game itself can’t really sell it, because in reality it’s a collection of very simple NES-era games. The real value comes in the memories and nostalgia. Playing Robot Ninja Haggle Man 2 probably won’t stack up too well against Bioshock, but add in a bottom screen with two kids vegging out on a living room floor screaming “OH MAN!” every time you die, and suddenly the game offers something others can’t.

 

Hopefully these games and exhibitions signal a true understanding of gaming’s past and culture. It’s heartening to see such things expressed by means other than t-shirts sold in Hot Topic (often worn by kids who weren’t even alive in the 1980s). This might make me an ignorant pawn of the man, willing to spend money on my own memories. But hey, a least I’m requiring a little effort right?

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