Disney and PETA take opposing views on the "advert-game"

By Nathaniel Mott , written on October 10, 2012

From The News Desk

Protesters have had a long love affair with signs. They're cheap, they're portable, and they're hard to ignore when they're shoved directly in your face. This same concept works for advertising as well, which is why we still have billboards and street criers handing out brochures to yet another comedy club or restaurant.

The problem with signs is that they're uni-directional. It's hard to hold someone's attention when the only thing a sign can "say" is something like "We R 4 #Peace." Advertisers and picketers alike can only grab their potential audience's very divided attention, and often that isn't enough to get the point across. They need an extra dimension.

Which is where what I call "advert-games," or interactive commercials, come in. I wrote earlier this year about a company called Imovation that is turning videogames into interactive ads – like this 5-Hour Energy game – and that trend seems to be continuing. This week Disney released "Fix-It Felix Jr.", an advert-game that features characters from the upcoming "Wreck It Ralph" movie. Meanwhile, PETA released "Pokemon Black and Blue," a Pokemon parody game meant to show how "wrong" Pokemon is a day after the latest batch of games was released.

Rather than posting a carnivore-hating video or writing a lengthy article about the problems with Pokemon, PETA decided to create a fully-functional parody that pits these imaginary creatures against their imaginary owners in a fight to end imaginary abuse. I decided to play this game to see just how far PETA would take this premise.

Right off the bat, let me say that it's hard to tell who PETA is hoping to reach with this parody. It isn't appropriate for children – Pokemon's core audience – and it's too shallow and offensive for any parent to willingly sit down and figure out what kind of demon-games their children are playing. Pokemon is an established franchise, and most people probably decided whether it was appropriate a decade ago.

The game's "prizes" aren't particularly enticing either. Earned after beating the (supposedly) cruel "trainers" to a bloody pulp, these so-called "treasures" include a video about animal cruelty and a desktop wallpaper featuring the game's logo. "Black & Blue" is, perhaps purposefully, more ridiculous than the series it is based on.

Besides that the game is a shallow – though, surprisingly enough, functional – twist of a children's franchise. PETA managed to score plenty of headlines (and, probably, players affixed with the same morbid curiosity as myself) with the game, but its message ultimately falls flat on its face. The organization focused so much on ramming its political agenda – again, the protesting of imaginary animal abuse – that it either didn't realize or didn't care that its "game" sucks.

Compare this to Disney's approach. Its "Fix-It Felix Jr." game, which is free on the App Store, doesn't feel like a commercial. The company nailed the retro aesthetic that it was going for, and created a fun game that can stand on its own. I didn't once see a huge "Go see 'Wreck It Ralph!'" banner ad (there are a few ads on the title screen, but they're for other apps, not the movie). Instead of beating players over the head with its status as an advert-game, "Fix-It Felix Jr." is a game first and movie tie-in second.

And you know what? I'm even more excited for "Wreck It Ralph" than I was before. If Disney was willing to spend the time and money (or, at least, the money) to make a videogame tie-in without  bludgeoning players with pleas to go to a theater, how much time were they willing to invest in the movie itself?

Videogames can be an effective advertising tool, then, if – and this is a big "if" – they are treated as a game first and as an ad second. If you make it entertaining enough, people will interact with your game, and therefore your message, more than they would if they only agreed with the message. Children don't play Pokemon with the hopes of one day making real animals fight, and I wouldn't play "Fix It Felix Jr." just because I want to see "Wreck It Ralph".

A good game is a good game, whether it's prefixed by "video" or "advert-".