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The Spirit of the Game

First take a look at this commercial. 


Among many other impressions, I think this commercial is an oddly exaggerated battle scenario featuring a bunch of ordinary people and celebrities alike shooting round after round of military grade weaponry in various directions. This much is obvious, and pretty creative. "There's a Soldier in All of Us" is the take away from the commercial, which I think is the weakest part. After all, many of the people depicted in the commercial don't behave like soldiers. Some check cell phones. Jimmy Kimmel flies back after firing an RPG round. And the final image shows a man walking toward the screen firing two pistols in opposite directions without looking at where he's firing. He then drops the guns like an over the top Hollywood action star. 

The stronger message likes in how the people do act in the commercial and the results of their actions. In a ridiculous sort of fire fight, bullets and explosions litter the commercial yet not a single person is hit. No blood. No pain. Most of the shots aren't directed against humans or even targets we can discern. Just sparks. The occasional ricochet. Smoke. And billowing flames. All while all the actors fire their seemingly non lethal weapons, their non-verbal language tells the rest of the story. Their excited, exasperated, playful, exhilarated, and overall unafraid expressions tell me that these people aren't at war; they're not in danger. Rather, they're just relishing in the spirit of play. 

The reason this subtler message is powerful is because of the kind of attitude that we, gamers, form when playing video games; especially violent video games. I don't play COD4, Halo, Street Fighter, Metroid Prime, Perfect Dark, etc. to act out violence. I play these violent games in the spirit of play exercising imagination and make believe. And I'm sure most other gamers are the same. FPS multiplayer is like a sport really. When I squeeze the trigger with an enemy Spartan in my sights, I'm not killing him. I'm forcing that player into a penalty box. I like shooting guns in games because launching projectiles is a neat way to reach out and interact with far away targets (simplifying space). Whether 2D or 3D, paintballs or plasma grenades, I love the rules and interactive systems of video games, violent or otherwise.

The Call of Duty: Black Ops commercial perfectly captures this spirit. 

Reader Comments (2)

Interesting critique. I think you hit the nail on the head, at least as far why the commercial "works" for you and probably many others -- certainly those within the target audience.

I had a completely different reaction. It seemed incredibly crass to me and I didn't enjoy it at all. Likewise, my time with the classic Counter-Strike -- the only multiplayer FPS I've ever played with any regularity -- didn't feel like a sport to me, even if that's the most apt comparison.

I enjoy being able to become emotionally invested in games, buying into their premise as I would a film. When I played Counter-Strike, it generally felt like a very real, intense life-and-death struggle to me. It was kill or be killed, served up fresh each round, and KD ratio posturing meant very little to me. I can't say it was an entirely pleasurable experience, but it was a compelling and evocative one, which, like film, is something I appreciate from games when they can give it to me.

As multiplayer FPS games become more sport-like and socially competitive, particularly through the party-like atmosphere of voice chat, I've lost almost all interest in them. Suspension of disbelief is no long attainable. Settling down in the dark to absorb The Seventh Seal and trying to screen it at a frat house blowout are not the same thing. I'm not saying these games have gone down the wrong path. What they are doing is a very worthy and effective way to connect people, which is what multiplayer gaming should be all about. It's just not a path I'm much interested in following. I miss my shared fever dreams.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterxot

@ xot

Nice response.

On a similar note, but the flip side... having my disbelief suspended isn't why I love games. But at the same time, I love being fully engaged emotionally, physically, and mentally. I never believe that the game is real (or forget it's just an artifice) but how I relate to the experiences, devote my time/attention, and interact with the system are all real.

Everything I brought to the table in competitive Smash Brothers was an extension of my life (however big the part that was extended).A match was a test of one players' will fighting another for survival.

So I can see where you're coming from. Allowing oneself to buy into the premise of a work of art (or anything really) gives one the powerful ability to relate and share experiences. Just like there are many ways to experience a sport (from the player's perspective to the fan's) the experiences stem from the work itself.

I hope you still can find some fever dreams in gaming yet?

November 14, 2010 | Registered CommenterRichard Terrell (KirbyKid)

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