The world of video games is no stranger to inconceivable, bizarre, and at times downright irresponsible marketing. Most recently, gamers were shocked by Electronic Arts' reprehensible "Sin to Win" promotion for Dante's Inferno.
Now, Namco has decided to unleash a series of odd and, quite frankly, dangerous "viral" advertisements for the upcoming game Tekken 6.
I have no illusions as to what Tekken 6 represents as a cultural artifact: It's a fighting game—a genre I quite enjoy. These games glorify violence, feature limited story lines to justify said violence, and appeal to a visceral brutality within all of us. Still, I love the Tekken games. Not only are they immensely satisfying to play, but I liken their methodical requirement of move mastery and fluid controls more to the learning of chess than any other similar fighting game, Namco-branded or other.
Yet the most recent ads for the game are… something else. These aren't merely appeals to the experiential brutality of a fighting game; they almost vindicate the way such violent impulses play out in the real world.
I'm not one to make a causal leap between video games and actions. In fact, I'm a fierce defender of the idea that it takes a violent and fundamentally irrational human being to make explicit connections between the real and the fictive.
But when game marketing fails to make distinctions between fictional fighting and real-life brutality, that's a different matter.
To be fair, while some of the other ads for Tekken 6 have been equally mindless appeals to violence, I'm keying in on one particular ad: a lengthy advertisement that has popped up on the PlayStation Network and features, among others, mixed-martial arts stars and heavyweight boxing legend Evander Holyfield.
This, in and of itself, is not offensive. What IS rather dangerous about the ad, however, is that it places just as much emphasis on those real-life fighters who, with brutal honesty, declare that their draw to fighting has to do with being a "bully" and the pleasures of destroying another human being as they do those who have seemingly honorable intentions (e.g., a trainer mentions that he engages in fighting sports to symbolically stand up for little kids who get picked on).
I have no problem with the fact that the ad captures a moment of human honesty. These are obviously what we would call immoral or perhaps amoral fighters, but they exist and the advertisement artfully captures their sentiment, however questionable. Human beings are naturally destructive, and it would be wrong to assume that all humans who engage in fighting sports do so for morally or philosophically substantive reasons.
Instead, I have a problem that this is an ad for a fighting game. Not only does the fact that this is a game trailer come off as something of a non-sequitor following a long period of interviews with fighters; the advertisement seems to suggest that any reason to appreciate the act of virtually pummeling another person—when seen as a reflection of real life—is valid.
Naturally, this train of thought carries extraordinary consequences, as Namco seems to be advertising, not only the simulation of violence, but the gut-level irrationality of destroying another person. If the brilliant satire Fight Club taught us anything, it's that underlying the irrational and nihilistic impulse to destroy is a rather hollow insecurity—the desire to decenter the self or "lose" the self rather than face the burden of responsibility to other human beings.
We love fighting, we love to wage war and fight. Those are innate impulses, and they are, I would argue, rather healthfully entertained by simulation and "letting loose" once in awhile. But part of being a sensible, thoughtful, and fully engaged human being is tempering our brutal impulses with a conscious understanding that our actions carry heft and meaning, such as the seemingly immoral desire to destroy for the sake of destruction. It's one thing to fight in a game or a disciplined sport; it's another to imbue those actions with a seemingly vindicated sense of nihilism. The ads seem to ask not "Why fight?", but rather "Why not fight?"
Again, there are several good reasons not to fight: for love, for construction rather than destruction, for the sake of being a well-rounded human engaged with his fellow humans, for the sake of discipline and fighting only when one must. Indeed, these same reasons are embodied by the plethora of characters found in most fighting games.
It's a shame Namco decided to put no reason on equal footing with the good.
Read more on the Game in Mind blog.