Video games as a medium are an incredibly interesting and nebulous entity. Their appeal is difficult to pinpoint but their popularity and omnipresence is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. Perhaps it is the pure unfiltered entertainment that satisfies many who devote so much time and passion into the medium. It could also be twitch satisfaction of work and reward: the gameplay loop or repetitive action to accomplish something and master it and the punishment that follows if one fails; it can be exhilarating if not addicting. However, an even more interesting notion to think about is the idea of how empathy is unnecessary in video games and the importance of player presence and engagement. Video games provide an experience that is not present in any other medium: the pure feeling of something happening to you in real time, and not to someone else. It is not necessary to tell you what is happening or how one should feel because it is happening to you and the way you feel is what is intended.
During the Super Bowl XLIV half time show in 2010, big name and hugely successful video game publisher EA (Electronic Arts) released a commercial for one of their upcoming video game releases titled Dante’s Inferno, based loosely on the famous literary epic poem by Dante Alighieri. This trailer was incredibly evocative and famously praised as being incredibly enticing and helped boost the popularity for the game through word-of-mouth enormously. The commercial utilized many elements such as music, succinct storytelling, and incredible imagery to exemplify the main tenets of video games as a medium which are the engagement and direct experience that video games can provide which in turn created an enticing and incredibly successful marketing campaign.
In the trailer for Dante’s Inferno, we see the main character (presumably the titular Dante) watch his beloved be taken away by some demonic creature and drag her into hell. The music playing in the background of the short commercial is “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. This song was perfectly utilized in this trailer because it exactly captures the emotions and motives behind the entire game and its campaign, creating a short, story driven narrative that gives the audience. Lyrically, the song synchronously matches the visuals of the game and gives a lot of weight. The lines “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” and “Only darkness everyday” really give the game and its narrative a sense of emotion and direness, especially when tied with the images of Beatrice being taken away (“when she’s gone”) and Dante subsequently jumping into hell going further into the darkness (“only darkness everyday”). The thematic imagery and art style is also another selling point and how the development team has used that to boost their marketing and advertising.
Hell is a very controversial and highly debatable topic. Ignoring the religious and moral debates, the imagery and graphic nature of hell alone can be off-putting. However, they used this wonderfully in their advertising. The intense and violent nature of hell is an intriguing and enticing notion for a video game player. Two incredibly important points in video game culture are the world one inhabits and what one is doing in said world. For a majority of video games, the gameplay loop centers around defeating enemies and obstacles. This trailer makes these two points very clear and presents them in a way that is intense and emotional. The setting is hell, a location and concept that is in and of itself imaginative and alien and terrifying and the demons that exist in hell serve as the opponents and obstacle. Not only do they oppose Dante (the player), they actively exist to stop him (you) and prevent you from succeeding. As a player and a gamer, this is enticing and interesting. The intrigue of what the developers could have crafted and placed within this world to defeat and fight are extremely exciting as an audience and future player.
Seeing Dante jump without hesitation into hell and fight off monsters and demons provides the audience (and by extension future players) the backdrop for the type of game they would be purchasing. The trailer makes it clear what the goal is, the motive, the obstacles, and even the main weapon that the player would be using throughout the game. This ties into the idea of player engagement and lack of necessity of empathy. These things typically are viewed from the point of something the audience will witness someone else experience and never experience for themselves. But with video games, the audience and the player understand that this is what is in store for them, as a consumer. These events, battles, and world will be something that they can inhabit and be a part of and it is that the trailer so perfectly displays. The grand and epic experience that Dante’s Inferno is advertised to provide.
Electronic Arts has created a great advertisement for their video game that perfectly encapsulates and packages the experience they promise to offer to players and the audience. Through excellent use of music, imagery, and narrative, they’ve appealed to video game players sense of engagement and intrigue for EA’s new product and successfully did so in a short and succinct time span. And then, as the cherry on top, they finish their commercial off with a slogan that is traditionally not seen in a positive light but in the context of the product becomes humorous and exciting:
Casamassina, Matt. “Dante’s Inferno Interview.” IGN, IGN, 3 Feb. 2010, http://www.ign.com/articles/2010/02/03/dantes-inferno-interview.
Kuchera, Ben. “Dante’s Infero interview: of marketing and Gods of War.” arsTECHNICA, arsTECHNICA, 9 Feb. 2010, https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2010/02/dantes-inferno-interview/.
Itzkoff, Dave. “Abandon All Poetry, but Enter Hell With An Attitude.” NYTimes, NYTimes, 29 Jan. 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/30/arts/television/30inferno.html.