Back before the eternal flame of the console wars cast its first flickers upon the troll caves of the internet, debates over the greatest videogame systems were largely delegated to the bus rides, lunch tables and lazy Sundays of the world. There were few up-to-the-minute blogs or easily-accessed game trailers. The bulk of a system warrior's arguing points would be issued from the TV or in monthly gaming magazines.
It was a grand age of advertising through which the game companies themselves fueled the passions and arguments of their followers. The companies directed their fans like kings leading their people into battle, bound to the same field-honored codes of name-calling, intimidation, and selective blindness toward any part of one's system that could be considered inferior.
An effective videogame ad would stock supporters with powerful talking points while turning anyone who dared to argue into an envy-addled ball of chump rage. One of the greatest examples - and one that still haunts me to this day - is SquareSoft's print ad for Final Fantasy VII.
It was 1997. The Nintendo 64 finally came out late the previous year and, for the fanboy I was back then, there was much reason to rejoice. Then one day I thumbed through a friend's magazine on the way to school and the monster reared its head. Dominating a two page spread, beautifully rendered before a cloudy purple sky, was the Mako Cannon. That would be the "Sister Ray" to any of you fans who prefer it, but back then the only thing I knew to call it was a massively big-ass gun; an obvious image of power and a Freudian field day in the making. And above the cannon, discretely written, was:
"Someone please get the guys who make cartridge games a cigarette and blindfold."
I seethed in my bus seat. Square had only recently jumped ship with the Big N for Sony and here they were rubbing salt in the wound, flaunting how awesome it was to use compact discs like some ... computer. They even threw a snotty little factoid into the corner: "If it were available on cartridge, it'd retail for $1,200." I had no idea how they figured that out, but dreaded the fact I was going to hear it parroted from every new PlayStation fanboy in the halls.
All I wanted was 5 minutes with that game and I'd be able to point out every reason Final Fantasy VII couldn't hold a candle to its predecessors and expose that ad for the overcompensating piece of propaganda it was. I eventually got those 5 minutes, then tacked on about 60 hours "just to make sure." The ad won. Sony and Square knew they had something special and chose - wisely, in retrospect - to not only trumpet the greatness of their product but hammer what its rival lacked.