Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

EA makes old ladies cry; makes fun of them for profit

Disclaimer: I have precisely zero opinion on any of the games mentioned here, because I haven’t played them. I shy away from realistic violence as a matter of taste, but I hear from the stronger-stomached that these are brilliant games. This is only a post about marketing!

Electronic Arts and Visceral Games have put together an advertising campaign specifically constructed to provoke outrage, and I guess I have fallen for it, because it is literally keeping me up at night, writing an angry blog post.

The premise is that they lured over 200 mothers, one by one, to a bogus focus-testing room, without any idea of what they were going to see. Once they had a lady sitting down in front of their secret cameras, they played a reel of brutal, gory, and disturbing scenes from Dead Space 2. Edit together all the most horrified, disgusted, and offended reactions, and there is your viral campaign.

The reception around the web so far has been pretty unanimously that it’s brilliant and hilarious. Innocent old ladies crying are comedy gold, I guess.

I keep trying to come up with rationalizations, reasons that it’s not as cruel as it seems. Maybe they are actors, or the organizers somehow made sure to recruit women who could take it. But no, these ladies are genuinely shocked. Maybe they all signed some document with fine print specifying that they might see something disturbing, so they should have known better. Even so, the whole production is still based on causing someone distress, and exhibiting it for profit.

How can a project designed to traumatize random strangers get enough people and resources without somebody along the line realizing, this is downright evil? I wonder, does someone think they deserve it, for being ultraconservative, Jack-Thompson-like prudes, or something?

What if one of them had a violent experience in her past that she’s still trying to get over? How many of those 200 women ended up with nightmares or other aftereffects? I’m right in this game’s target audience, but it makes me damn queasy and upset — of course some of them will be even more strongly affected.

It is fine that the game exists. People should have the freedom to make and to play games like Dead Space, Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, or some other kind of dead thing. And whatever someone else chooses to make, I must be able to maintain minimum contact with it in my life. (While it’s crucial that we are free to make whatever we choose, I wish we chose to make a wider variety of things.) Foisting it upon people unlikely to be able to handle it is cynical and sadistic.

Ultimately, the lesson seems to be that Electronic Arts thought it was cool to put their name on this. It’s a disgraceful idea as presented, whether it’s exactly as it seems or whether there was more to the story. EA is fine with people thinking it is real. They publish The Sims, PGA Tour Golf, Scrabble, Tetris, The Beatles Rock Band, and upwards of 1,000 other games. Now all those games come from a company that makes fun of old ladies crying for profit. Yeah, it’s a big company, publishing games from a lot of different developers, and you might think it’s not fair to judge the whole organization by what one small part of it does. Yet if they get all the benefits of being one huge, rich company, shouldn’t they also be held accountable as one huge, rich company?

Extra Credit: I focused on the direct offense so much, I didn’t even mention the implied offense. This campaign is called Your Mom Hates This — Those aren’t just some random ladies; they are supposed to represent your mother. EA is proud that their game is considered vile garbage not just by some backwards Puritan somewhere, but by your mom specifically. I don’t get some kind of perverse glee at the thought of my mother being brought to tears by something I did. I like my mom. And really, I’m sick of the casual way advertisers poke fun at their audience’s family, as if it’s taken for granted that my dad is a lazy idiot, my mom is a clueless prig, and my in-laws are domineering bores. (Usually the implication is not as explicit as it is here, but we are expected to identify with the dysfunctional families presented in commercials.) Maybe it’s because of how much exposure I’ve had to Japanese culture, where anything less than utter respect for a person’s family, especially a customer’s, is unthinkable. But EA is happy to explicitly associate their brand with the thought of tormenting not just someone’s mother, but one’s own mother.