One day not too long ago, upon ambling into Game, a nice salesman sidled up to me, crabwise, clutching the clunky new headache-inducing Nintendo maguffin. ‘Would you like to have a look at the 3DS?’ he inquired jauntily (it was just before the launch). He then commenced to shove the thing at me with the blinding lack of subtlety and constant repetition of one of Bioware’s hateful NPC animations.
As I couldn’t skip this scene with the circle button, I took it, as warily as one might handle second-hand pornography, and regarded its centrally-hinged plastic Wonderland. ‘How do you make the game start?’ I asked, to which he replied that, erm, actually, they didn’t have any games at the moment, but the menus were in 3D and I could look at them if I’d like. ‘Brilliant,’ I should have replied, ‘3D menus. Who ever thought the future could be this bright? Do you also sell sunglasses?’
Regardless of whether the 3DS is any good or not, Nintendo did manage one of its particularly tricky problems well: how to advertise the stupid thing. Because, of course, its USP, its central design, is to give you 3D without having to wear glasses. And so you can’t make any advert where you can see what it actually looks like to use one.
Perhaps because they had no other choice, they instead showed us lots of people looking at it, without showing us what they saw. Much like watching Soccer Saturday, we got to watch people watching the real show and describing it to us. Unlike Soccer Saturday, these were all fresh-eyed, spritely, young people shot against a clear white background with faces full of joy and wonder, rather than addled, self-loving, intellectually-bereft, hack-faced adults in a state of shouty perpetual retardation, who over-use the word Geoff and make me sad about the kind of traits people choose to breed with.
It was strange Nintendo did 3DS ads well for three reasons. The first is that being sold something they won’t show you is usually, as I was saying last time, somewhere between frustrating and a lie. Yet these adverts sold the concept perfectly without any need to mention a game and scare off the softcore demographic.
The second is that, by selling what the experience promised, it was far more promising than a shuffling store attendant with the actual thing itself, or at least its menus. They sold you something you couldn’t see with a pretty face, rather than something you couldn’t use with a real face.
And lastly, of course, it was a miracle Nintendo did it well because until recently, when they chose to even bother to advertise something, the advert they finally made had all the communication skills of a professional footballer.
I think it was Charlie Brooker who compared Nintendo’s family-style adverts to a kind of desperately dreary group therapy session, and it’s a description I’ve not seen bettered. It captured the uncomfortable artificiality and awkwardness of the normal adverts as well as Christmas reminds families why they spend the rest of the year living apart. While Nintendo’s ads tried to humanise gaming, they succeeded only in creating bland, joyless, demeaning ciphers with the unyielding spotless uniformity of a fascist lifestyle army.
Their ‘real’ ad-people were, of course, as plastic and insincere as a shrink-wrapped Conservative. Without exception, they were hateful, anodyne, air-brushed little smugwits. If they only introduced a tax on fake smiles and dead eyes every one of them would be as financially bankrupt in seconds as they are morally bankrupt right now. All the invented family members and friends were ruthlessly calculated not to offend, which is as cynical an exercise in market positioning as you might expect from Steve Jobs They were also all as superficial in their shininess as fresh sick.
Look! Here’s some fluffy granny gubbing about with her brain training. How cute! As if brain-training the monstrously polite coffin-dodger wasn’t as futile and inappropriate as building a nuclear reactor for ants.
Or: Look! It’s all the family! They’re all playing Mario together! They’re really getting on with each other! Isn’t that nice? No. No, it’s not nice, it’s nauseating. It’s like being suffocated by twee. Good sweet lord above, even Charlie Manson’s family is better than this sham of flesh. I bet if someone ever did a fart or said a naughty word, they’d evaporate as suddenly and as silently as hope.
But worse than even those were the Nintendo ‘celebrity’ adverts. Because nothing says informative, intelligent, or sincere like a sentence uttered by a halfwit in return for cash, does it?
The relentlessly inoffensive, Nintendo-acceptable celebro-morons were terrifying. We were treated to the gormless, demeaning spectacle of them chatting to us as if they were our friends, as if they were real people who had normal lives that we could relate to. Whereas, of course, I’ve never been paid shedloads of cash to appear in an advert in the role of a grating simulacrum of life powered by cameras made of money. Why should I give a blind, dyspeptic fuck if some bejewelled, stubbly footballer likes a thing? When did having a ‘career’ that consisted of warbling a few bars of some dreadful dirge written by a pack of ear-hating bastards and then marrying a rich twat qualify you to be the public face of anything, let alone an image of an ideal ‘real’ life?
And don’t even get me started on Ant and cocking Dec.
But then, you’d be mistaken if you thought Nintendo were selling a game, or a console, or even a peripheral. They leave that to the people down at Game at the shitty end of the business. Because what they’re plugging is a big smiley face: the illusion of a cuddly, remorselessly pleasant, sanitised, pseudo-nice life. A life, like in Jamie Oliver’s craftily misleading shows, that represents how they think we’d like to live. A life whose pseudo-realism is sold so strongly because we know it isn’t real at the very same time as we aspire to it.
It’s a lie that seems real because we want it to be; it seems realer than it really is, in fact. Much like the idea that watching 3D screens without glasses is somehow more real than watching 3D screens with glasses, or more real even than watching 2D television screens. When all of them are just as unreal compared to your eyes.
Similarly, for all the joyous faces in the adverts, the 3DS isn’t being sold on its merits to augment game mechanics, or, in fact, as an experience that has any valuable addition to make specifically to gaming. It’s being sold as part of the experience of having a life, a natural part of living offered only by Nintendo.
It’s easy to forget, from watching the adverts, that the Wii is actually a console (and one with preciously few decent games on it, I might add) rather than a universal harmony-generating family life-box made of joy. The fact that it isn’t able to manufacture joy is beautifully emphasised by the woodenness of the hateful little ticks prancing around pretending to have fun in front of it in the adverts. It clearly doesn’t make them any less facile and awful, does it?
Perhaps, dear reader, they’re lying to us.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I used to think of Nintendo as the maker of some of the most innovative and brilliant games ever released. Even now, I think of them as a company that has revolutionised gaming so many times that games have forever-after been built from the majority of their rules. Most people don’t see just how much of the framework of every game ever made comes from Nintendo, how many accepted norms were their quiet revolutions. I’d kind of like it, therefore, if they told me about their games. Not least because, if this is their prediction of the future, and if they’re right again, then I’m fucked. A sanitised horizon of blandness is not what I wanted when I pressed the x button. This is a particularly rubbish Quick Time Event at best.
But even Nintendo, the best game-maker in the business, is not showing you the games. Nintendo thinks it’s more accessible, as a gamer, to see other gamers, not what games they play. Nintendo think it’s more accessible to see people pretending to be real playing a game, than to show you the real game itself being played.
Either way, this is the face of Nintendo, and it’s a face made of money. In its leer, you can see Nintendoland, where they’ve constructed a safe, antiseptic world of pastels and smiles just for you. They don’t sell games: they sell the wonderful story of love. They sell the life you want.
Isn’t it beautiful? It’s smiling just for you.