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The Video Game Commercial: A History

Video game commercials, for a long time, were a rare thing. Even in this day and age where video games are as popular, if not more popular, than many of the other forms of home entertainment, we get commercials only for the guaranteed blockbusters (thinking in terms of the movie world, box-office bombs still get their thirty seconds slots on TV). To me, every time I see a commercial selling a game, even if it's one I have no interest in, I'm brought back to my childhood. I remember the commercial for Final Fantasy VII, how it introduced the characters through imagery and set the premise for the game, while promising the audience that the only way to find the enjoyment of Final Fantasy was not through the movie theater, but through the Playstation. 

At the time, I was a kid, and I found it absolutely tantalizing. First, I felt it a great step for the future of gaming. Second, Final Fantasy was the series that I grew up on--hell, without it I would never have learned how to read--so seeing it in the commercials during Sunday football was amazing to me. Finally, it seemed to pinpoint a turning point in the gaming culture; Final Fantasy VII is arguably one of the most important titles of that time, and perhaps vidoe game history in general. The commercial for it, I feel, had as much weight in the video game advertising world as the game did in the gaming world.

Seeing this commercial again caused me to click on another link during my search for video game commercials, and I found this gem:

This went the route of comedy, and I find it strange that I didn't see it as a kid seeing as Final Fantasy VI is one of my all-time favorites. Watching it here, I feel disappointed. It highlights Mog, gives him a gruff accent, and has him blasting claymation figures to pieces. It doesn't represent the game at all. I understand that, at that time, video games were graphically terrible so showing gameplay wouldn't help the sale. At the same time, though, wouldn't you want your product advertised for what it is? Beer commercials are funny because the US knows what beer is. The US didn't know what video games were.

So of course, I looked deeper, and found this:

A few of the commercials are in Japanese, but there are a lot from the US. Of course, everyone remembers the famous "SEGA!!!" slogan, so seeing it here at the end of the Streets of Rage 2 commercial was great. But again, the commercial did nothing except make me laugh. Another one that did the same thing was the Street Fighter commercial where Blanka's hand reaches out and crushes a Mortal Combat case. Yes, again I chuckled but, again, it didn't mean anything. The featured gameplay in these commercials were limited, and nothing spoke of what the actual game was.

This video showed me something else. The US looked at video games as something funny, where the Japanese showed the product, meaning the gameplay. Video games have been apart of the Japanese culture long before they were in the US; maybe because of the way they approached gaming, as a serious form of entertainment and not some joke that a small portion of the population enjoys. Just seeing the two different version of the Nintendo Punch Out (US and Japanese are both featured in the video) shows this dramatically. Mike Tyson is the star of the US commercial, while the game is the star of the Japanese version.

Clearly, somewhere along the line, like around the time that Final Fantasy VII was coming out, we changed how we approached game commercials. That's why I feel that the culture of gaming changed at that time, due to the fact that the commercial for FFVII was serious, showed the product, and even shared a bit of what to expect.

Flash forward to modern era, and the actual inspiration for this blog:

Between the late 90s and the now, we must have learned that the video game culture is serious, as well as seriously lucrative. Therefore we're getting commercials that show a high level of drama. Sure, this commercial doesn't do much to show what to expect of Skyrim (hell, there isn't even a FUS RO DAH), but it provides us with a cliffhanger the likes of which can't be seen anywhere short of shows such as Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. No slapstick or laugh out loud moments. I wanted to know what was going to happen, and I wanted to be in that situation. That commercial, quite literally, sold the game for me. I had never played a single Elder Scrolls game before; in fact, I used to make fun of people who played them. Now, I have learned the error of my ways.

I'll close out with this video:

This is probably the most redundant, yet most important, commercial in video game history (I'd say the same may be true for the Skyrim commercial too). Mass Effect 3 was going to sell, regardless of this commercial. But what this commercial did for fans was give us the small gift of reminding us why we played Mass Effect to begin with. I'm sure a few people were swayed to the game because of this commercial. I just remember seeing it for the first time and feeling the goosebumps. I think I even remember the channel I was watching saying something to the likes of "Stay tuned for the world premiere preview of Mass Effect 3." It reminded me of the Final Fantasy VII commercial all over again. I'm fairly certain that future game makers will keep this in mind when advertising on TV. The Mass Effect 3 commercial made old fans and new care about the happenings within the Mass Effect universe. In essence, the Mass Effect 3 commercial sold the quality of the game, along with the game itself.

By watching the commercials of many video games throughout the years, you can see a clear progression in how we, as a country, once viewed games. At first, it was kind of a joke, a hobby for nerds, and often these commercials could only be seen during the late hours or, if the game was high profile, on Saturday mornings between the cartoons. Soon, though, the perception of video games changed, as evidenced in the FFVII commercial. And now, of course, we have commercials that not only sell the game, but gives us an emotional attachment and a promise of things to come. 

One last video. Not a commercial, but one of the most amazing trailers ever conceived:

 

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