A Dark Reflection on Gamers?

With Halo 4 storming out as one of the most successful console releases in recent memory, raking in $220 million in its first day, one more question should be raised about the company that Microsoft keeps as its sponsors. Isn’t the image of gamers consuming junk food a little… stereotypical?

 

Again, to stress this, I have no problem with Halo 4.

On the other hand, Microsoft and its handling of Halo 4 is a rich and varied tapestry to pick apart with its many delicious layers of filth and arcane wealth. We all knew that the game would be one of the biggest releases this year – $220 million on its first day with a predicted $300 million by the end of its first week. That kind of money is incredible for a video game and only goes to show how successful the Halo brand is to gamers across the world, and the power and appeal of the brand to those invested inside its mythos. I will in the next week or two get around to playing Halo 4 as well. Not my cup of tea but it’s there waiting for me to give it a thorough going over, and I will. I certainly don’t hate it. I just have other concerns right now in terms of gaming, like getting a few titles finished off before the Wii-U comes and savages my spare time.

Heading back to the rich tapestry of failings however, the gift that just keeps on giving, one conclusion has come up time and time again. Now, despite my misgivings I have no qualms about Microsoft accepting sponsors for Halo 4. Hell, if people are willing to fork over millions for the opportunity to attach themselves to the Halo brand, then who am I to argue? What is of some valid concern is the company of which Microsoft is keeping when it comes to this kind of sponsorship – junk food suppliers, mostly. Fatty, unhealthy snacks and drinks and foodstuffs. And this brings with it a troubling question – whose bright idea was it to trade off of the old stereotypes in order to push Halo 4?

You see, we live in a very different world to the one I began my gaming days in. Back in the mid-80’s, playing videogames wasn’t really considered the reserve of the cool – quite the opposite, those of us who had grandparents/parents blessed with the savings to afford an early computer or games console and indulged in what these machines had to offer were seen as nerds, bedroom geeks. Fat, bloated lardballs that ate snacks, drank horrid fizzy drinks and generally made an absolute mess around us. It is a stereotype that the gaming world has been shaking off really quite well in the last sixteen years, when the PlayStation began to lay itself out as the reserve of the cool, the funky and the famous. No longer was gaming a nerdy pastime, it was the way to pass your time. Titles like Dance Dance Revolution began to demonstrate that there were many more markets available to the games console than the traditional gamer, offering a new and wider wealth of entertainment. Which you can argue has been superseded by the Wii and Kinect, with their motion controls and sales of fitness and dance titles. With others like Professor Layton and Gears of War, you’d have thought that the notion of the old-style gamer from the mid-80’s was a thing of the past, a relic of a bygone era that we have managed to shake off.

That’s the problem with the Halo 4 sponsors. The most prominent are junk food sponsors. The sort of companies that really one must ask whether we want them inside our gaming sphere any longer. What you choose to eat is your own choice, of course it is, but there is also an argument to be made against Microsoft that it really ought to know better. That this question was going to be raised at some point, because we are no longer really that afraid to voice our concerns as a market. Microsoft should have known that we were eventually going to call it out on its choice of company.

By attaching their most prominent franchise to the mercy of Pizza Hut, Mountain Dew and Doritos, all aggressively pushing their new-found links to the game of the moment, it’s easy to make the link that Halo 4 players are all like this. Of course they are not, to say they are would be facetious (I hate that word but it works in this context) and we’re all different. But as a species, we make connections so easily and it comes across as somewhat too convenient that the target market for Halo 4 is the ‘old gamer’. Seriously? So, as someone who might be an older gamer I am somehow supposed to like these foodstuffs? Seriously, just no.

Especially when it comes to Mountain Dew. Absolutely revolting stuff, truly. I did try one of their radioactive-coloured “Energy” variations here in the UK (now rebranded conveniently as “Gamer Fuel”) and I’m not joking, my insides literally went into spasm. It was like a colonic done with battery acid, flowing through my colon with the force and will of a herd of rampaging elephants, making sure that every single part of my digestive tract was assaulted and violated in waves and cramps the likes of which I had never thought possible. I couldn’t sit down for a few days after that, as everything expelled from the dark regions of my body burned like the fires of Mount Doom. Seriously, Gamer Fuel? This crap would NOT be my choice of drink for any marathon gaming session. Not unless it involved a Vita or 3DS, along with a weekend break inside my own bathroom. I’d rather drink Antifreeze than this horrid excuse of a drink. I can’t imagine what regular consumption does to your innards. I’d not be surprised if it WAS radioactive! It would certainly give some credence to the effect it had on my poor gullet.

Perhaps I am not the market. But it is telling that these brands are becoming synonymous with video games, Doritos and Mountain Dew in particular. Why would this be? One might imagine that since the gaming market has grown so much that they feel there is a larger, more open-minded audience out there to market themselves towards. On the other hand, there is also a convenient, ancient stereotype by which they can play from and regurgitate in much the same way I’d react to anything from Pizza Hut. It seems strange that it is these brands in particular moving more and more into the gaming market. As if we can’t escape the clawed hand of the junk food industry that wants to prey upon those whose hobby may denote they have less time for other things, like cooking themselves a decent meal. And making a cup of tea.

Seriously, this article might just be a ploy to use this South Park joke…

It should be noted that other brands such as Nike and Adidas are also entering the gaming sphere. Sports brands are of course entering due to the inexorable rise in fitness and lifestyle software for the Kinect and Wii, but they of course tend to not tie themselves too inextricably to the kind of software sphere Halo 4 floats around in. Likewise for luxury brands – motor vehicles and the like often have their own licensed software by which they rarely feel the need to step outside. Brands are, and will continue to be, an ever-present force inside the gaming industry and indeed, they will all have their part to play. But like advertising unhealthy products midst children’s television scheduling, there are situations where sponsors and brands can on the surface look dramatically unwelcome. With Halo 4, we have numerous brands on its bandwagon and they reflect the conceptual ideal that this sort of gamer has made a bad lifestyle choice. Or are making poor dietary decisions. This reflects poorly on the gamers and indeed, on the game itself, tied to an archetypal notion of the sort of person who would enjoy a multiple-hour stint in a first person adventure like Halo 4.

We all need to ask ourselves the valid question as to whether or not we are personally happy to be ‘represented’ by such notions and ideals. Because I am sure there must have been dozens of other promotion avenues available for Halo 4 – they do have some toy manufacturers sponsoring them but they have been brushed aside by the whiff of stale corn chips and flat caffeinated beverage. Clothing, collectables and more and yet here we are, with Microsoft allowing their otherwise fine game to be somehow pushed out there and promoted by brands that do nothing but reinforce an old, archaic stereotype that really we all know is no longer even relevant. Microsoft may be happy taking the money, but they may in future live to regret their desire for money whatever the cost. Or they may not.

After all, either Microsoft still see gamers in this light, or the brands do. The point here is that somewhere in there, we’re still being tied to this old ideology. This old stereotype. This old view of who gamers are. It feels like after all we’ve been through, that suddenly we’ve taken two steps back again. Most of us are now adults with children or younger relatives who will be eventually taking our place in this market. We mustn’t forget what we do now will shape the legacy they inherit, and I for one would be rather ashamed if we left them a world where more game-y gamer type games are tainted with the notion of unhealthy eating. They deserve better, do they not? And remember Halo 4 will still find its way into the hands of the younger tween audience. You’d have to be an idiot not to already know that.

It depends how you perceive it though. Yes, no doubt the money raised by Halo 4 will be used appropriately and to fund something special. But we need to remind them when it is unacceptable, who is unacceptable and why it is unacceptable.

Otherwise we may never shake this dark image off.

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