The Broken Message of Nintendo's "Play As You Are" CampaignA column article by: Nick Boisson
We here at Comics Bulletin Games love video games quite a bit. We also have quite a bit to say about them, but are usually held to the restrictions of reviews, news and other various outlets. But, what if we were given a platform to discuss whatever we would like to about video games without the filter? A soapbox, if you will.
Welcome to Infinite Ammo, where we provide the weapon and the writer can load it with whatever they choose!
The Broken Message of Nintendo's "Play As You Are" Campaign
I have been a fan of Nintendo since before I could walk. One of the earliest toys my parents had bought for their first child was the Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, World Class Track Meet, the NES Zapper and the Power Pad. Granted, I was obviously much too young to enjoy it properly, but I have been playing video games since before I can remember. The earliest memory I can recall is being three-years-old and my father telling me that it was unfair to the digital ducks for me to walk up to the television screen at fire at them with my Zapper touching the glass. My response to him was probably the same of any insecure three-year-old: “But the dog keeps laughing at me when I miss!”
The truth is, without Nintendo and the NES, I would not be a gamer.
Now, I recently picked up a Nintendo 3DS, after months of debate over whether I should get that or Sony's PlayStation Vita. I decided on the 3DS because – whether I believed 3D gaming to probably not be the “way of the future” or that the Vita device just being a beautiful piece of technology in and of itself – Nintendo owns the portable gaming market. They just know what it is that people would like to put in their pocket and carry around with them. At least if that device in some way relates to video games, that is.
But there was something in the past few weeks that was making me question my decision to pick up my brand new Flame Red 3DS and that something was Nintendo's recent “Play As You Are” ad campaign. “Play As You Are” shows a series of celebrities – the ones that are currently up feature Diana Agron (of TV's Glee), Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas and Sarah Hyland (of TV's Modern Family) playing games on their 3DS and saying, “My name is ___________ and I am not a gamer. With my 3DS, I'm a something that is not the word gamer.”
Now, in recent years, I have come to dislike the word “gamer”. It has many undertones that mean something far different than “one who plays video games”. I know a great many people who play video games that refuse to call themselves gamers because they do not wish to be under the same light as the loud, misogynistic douchebags that call everyone a “faggot” on Xbox LIVE. This is something that I completely understand and, quite frankly, empathize with. The reason I still continue to call myself a gamer (I even did so a ways up in this very article) is because I have opted to make an attempt to change the meaning of the word to what it should refer to. Since there is no other term to refer to one who plays video games (unfortunately, “player” has been taken; thanks a lot, hip-hop!) and writing or saying one who plays video games is far too much to get out when referring to a select group of individuals, I really do not know what else to do. Plus, I'm always about fighting the already lost battles. Bring it on, windmills!
But, with that said, what message is Nintendo trying to send out with the “Play As You Are” campaign?
Nintendo has been attempting to bridge the gap between the non-gamers and gamers for the better part of a decade (see everything that was right and wrong with the Wii for more reference). It has both gotten them a lot of sold consoles with the Wii, but they received quite a case of whiplash when the software sales drastically declined for the motion-controlled Gamecube. The odd thing is that the Nintendo 3DS is a great console for them to do that. More and more developers are finding brilliant and unique ways to make games and other software for the DS consoles that can appeal to a much broader audience than the Sony counterpart systems – the PlayStation Portable and the relatively new PlayStation Vita. And, if nothing else, sales of all versions of the DS and the current two for the 3DS have proved that. But my feeling is that Nintendo has always been able to do that without talking down to their prospective consumer. And really, that is what this seems to be.
The Wii sold on the idea that they could get people of all generations and backgrounds to play video games. Never did they advertise the Wii or its software as anything but video games. And, at first, it worked for them. They sold Wiis to many a household across the globe. I'd bet that if you knock on ten doors in your neighborhood right now, at least one of them will have a Wii console (most likely collecting dust) beyond that door. I won't get into why I believe Nintendo failed with the Wii (different discussion for a different article), but managed to get both Microsoft and Sony to develop motion controllers for their respective game consoles and market to an audience they would not have dared to before. In that respect, the Wii was a grand success. But the trail-off from software sales put quite a fear into the Big N.
But with that, the DS and now 3DS have soldiered on. Which leads me to the question, why market your upcoming video games as anything but?
But what is probably my biggest concern is that I do not dislike the ads themselves. Frankly, it may be one of Nintendo's better campaigns. These ads were coming out around the time I was on the fence of getting a 3DS or a PS Vita. I believe that it was the software library that drew me to the 3DS, in the end, but I cannot definitively say that they did not have something to do with the decision. After all, each ad did stay in my mind long after they left my television screen. They both manage to show the diversity of the library while also a range of console features.
Then, something hit me when I did a search for these advertisements on Nintendo's YouTube page. The playlist to the ad campaign is titled, “For Girls Only – Nintendo 3DS Play As You Are Videos”. Holy crap! I had not even realized before conceiving of this piece that the campaign ads exclusively featured female celebrities and was a way to market toward a young female demographic. This moment of clarity has made me question these ads in a completely different light. At first, I thought to question why Nintendo felt the need to market to the fairer sex differently. I then realized that the naivete in such an inquiry was flawed to the point that I might as well have posted this article with merely a banner that read “LIBERAL GUILT” and spent my time better playing video games. What felt wrong about the ads wasn't that they were marketed exclusively to one gender but how they were being marketed.
In one set of ads, Nintendo has said, “Girls do not want to be specified as gamers”. And that statement worries me for two main reasons. First, that Nintendo went from talking down to a general prospective consumer to female prospective consumers. The second, what if Nintendo is, in some respects, correct in their assertion?
Allow me to focus on my second concern first. With the advent of social games, the rise of mobile platforms and the rhythm-based music peripheral games, many more people are not only playing video games, but they are doing so openly. This number includes members of both sexes. So maybe I was naïve in thinking this, but I was beginning to believe that more people, regardless of gender, were more open to saying that they like to play video games. I do, however, note that this does not mean women are becoming more accepted by the misogynist boys' club that is the gaming community. But I was beginning to feel that more women were comfortable in openly sharing that they do, in fact, play video games. I know that with games like the Rock Band series, I have never heard a member of the opposite sex say, “No, I don't really play video games”. Have I been too buried in the world of video games to notice that it has not changed at all?
As for Nintendo's message to young ladies with these ads, I feel that blatantly attempting disguising a video game as anything else is a step in the wrong direction. I hate to do this, but I may need to use the most quoted Shakespeare line in the history of quotable Shakespeare lines:
What's in a name? that which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet
Must we pretend that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is not a video game in order to get young women to play it? Quality of that game aside, I do not believe that calling a rose anything other than a rose will cause it to smell any different (or, in the case of New Super Mario Bros. 2, prick you in the finger any less times).
As a fan of Nintendo, and as someone who wants them to continue to succeed and thrive, I feel that this may be the wrong direction. Somewhere on their path, they may have made a wrong turn. And while this ad campaign may not hurt them fiscally, I know that – for the first time – I feel conflicted about whether Nintendo is doing the right thing for the industry in such an oddly polarizing time for it.
But, this isn't just for me to comment on, but for the community as a whole. What do you think about Nintendo's “Play As You Are” campaign? Am I overreacting? Am I under-reacting? Please, let me know in the comments section below. Think of this less as an opinion piece and more as broaching a topic of discussion. And come back next week for another one!
Pop culture geek, Nick Boisson, lives in front of his computer, where he is Section Editor of Comics Bulletin's video game appendage and shares his obsessive love of video games, comics, television and film with the Internet masses. In the physical realm, he works in Comic Guest Relations for Florida Supercon in Miami as well as a day-to-day job, which he refuses to identify to the public. We're thinking something in-between confidential informant and professional chum-scrubber.
He rants on about the things he loves (and hates) on Twitter as @nitroslick.