Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Next Political Battleground: Video Games

"Get over here!"

It’s no secret conservatives lag way behind liberals when it comes to almost all aspects of the entertainment industry. Fortunately they’re starting to come around to the idea that engaging that part of the culture is absolutely necessary to change the tide of politics, but when people think of entertainment as a battleground, usually they stick to movies and television while ignoring a very large elephant in the room: video games.

Video games are a huge part of the lives of the American youth and over the last couple decades have become a juggernaut industry.  Just a few months ago, Rockstar Games’ magnum opus Grand Theft Auto V grossed $1 billion in three days.

If that’s not reason enough for us to take the uncontested battleground of the gaming industry seriously, Microsoft gave us a new one at CPAC. As Brian Fung writes over at the Washington Post
Microsoft is trying to [ersuade[sic] politicians to take out targeted ads on Xbox Live, Skype, MSN and other company platforms as midterm elections begin heating up around the country. To plug the idea, Microsoft officials handed out promotional materials Thursday at CPAC, the annual conference for conservatives.

It's the latest move by tech companies to seize a piece of the lucrative political ad market. The ads, which would appear on the Xbox Live dashboard and other Microsoft products, combine Microsoft user IDs and other public data to build a profile of Xbox users. Campaigns can then blast ads to selected demographic categories, or to specific congressional districts. And if the campaign brings its own list of voter e-mail addresses, Microsoft can match the additional data with individual customer accounts for even more accurate voter targeting.

He also notes it’s not the first time Microsoft has made this play, having done some work with the Obama campaign in 2012. In fact their entire business strategy with regard to entertainment has shifted towards controlling advertising space, leading to considerable grousing by gamers not terribly thrilled to see their interfaces overtaken by ads of all stripes.

With the new Xbox One, Microsoft has put all their chips on being the go-to device for the entirety of your home entertainment, focusing on the capabilities of the console to handle TV, movies, and Internet streaming even over the games it was ostensibly created to play.  No doubt they know that once they can guarantee your eyes are on their box at all times, the advertisers will come running, and with a Kinect 2.0 attached to every one of those boxes quietly monitoring everyone in the room, they stand to have enormous ability to target ads, political or otherwise. (And report to the NSA, but that's a topic for another time.)  If it works, Sony, Nintendo, and the other players in the industry will almost certainly follow suit.

Even if Microsoft’s gambit fails, the gaming industry has long since started bleeding into other forms of entertainment. Though film adaptations of games have largely been complete flops, cinematic, story-driven games with full CGI cutscenes feel more like interactive movies, and many of them are arguably better stories than the stuff showing up in theaters today.  (I maintain the introductory sequence to Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic is better than all three Star Wars prequels combined.)

TV isn’t immune either. Last year SyFy Channel premiered a series called Defiance, which is actually a tie-in to the massively multiplayer game of the same name with plans to have player actions in the game affect how the show unfolds. Microsoft intends to break in here too by bringing its hallmark Halo franchise to your TV screens soon, helmed by none other than Steven Spielberg.  

You can even take in an evening at the symphony with an orchestra playing renditions of the prominent themes of the gaming world, though a cheaper date would be a night in with one of the scores of Youtube channels of young musicians playing or otherwise remixing their favorite video game tunes.

Beyond all that, gaming is an experience like no other.  Conditioning people to dislike certain political concepts takes multiple movies and television shows, but when that evil businessman betrays your character and kidnaps your character's girlfriend in a video game, that's personal, and it sticks with you.

Those of us on the Right side of the political spectrum cannot afford to ignore this critical part of our culture. Talk about healthcare premiums and mandates and a 20-something's eyes glaze over, but they understand what forced online DRM is and what having your loot stolen means.  I've got another post coming up to talk Obamacare this very way, so keep an eye out for it.

*h/t to Sarjex, for the graphic. Check out more of her work in her store.


  1. Agreed. The only reason I'm even aware of the name "William S Sessions" is because of the "Winners Don't Use Drugs" screen on a number of arcade game attract modes. Hell, could you imagine if Rush started taking out ads in the next Need For Speed game?

  2. As long as the ads don't become overbearing then I'm all for in game advertising regardless of what type it is. Development costs of games are skyrocketing and in game advertising seems like a good way to help finance game development. Now whether that translates into cheaper games is anyone's guess.


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