137: Persuasion is Futile

Persuasion is Futile

"McDonald's Videogame is closer to the mark. In order to succeed, players must destroy rainforests to raise feed, boost cows with hormones, fire slow employees and mask it all with public relations and marketing. It's hard enough to cut a profit the dirty way, but not employing those strategies makes it impossible.

"By all measures, McDonald's Videogame is a good anti-advergame. Players witness the restaurant's misdeeds through a set of rules, offering an explanation of the problem unlike any other medium. But honestly, it hasn't quelled my desire for the $1 McChicken sandwich."


Interesting article. But really, doesn't the whole "seeing cows slaughtered and rainforests destroyed doesn't affect my desire for a Big Mac" argument say more about the people than the games. When it comes right down to it, some people just don't give two craps about things like animal welfare and the environment. Or they give half a crap, but that's not enough to make them give up McDonalds food.

On the other hand, I personally know plenty of people who have changed their consuming behaviours based on the *cumulative* effect of anti-advertising about certain products. Looking for simple cause-and-effect correlations isn't the point. If someone buys a McDonalds burger an hour after playing an anti-McDonalds game, it doesn't mean the game has failed. The information provided by the game has entered that person's brain. That's the important part. The game has enhanced their understanding of the world. When they think of McDonalds, the game has provided them with a whole new set of information. That's the whole point. To give people information so they can make their own decisions based on all the relevant information, not just what McDonalds wants them to hear. Whether they choose to change their behaviour is totally their choice. I certainly don't want games telling me what to do.

Also, this part is wrong:
"When it comes to eating at McDonald's or making copies at Kinko's, you either buy the product or you don't."

You can buy less or more. You can feel bad about spending money at these places for a few years until the cumulative effect of anti-advertising campaigns and negative word of mouth weighs down on you and you decide to stop supporting the business. This happened to me with some stores. The important thing to remember is that people need time to make decisions.

Anti-advergames don't work because the people behind them are overestimating the intelligence of the general public. The reason commercials suck so much is because marketing researchers have performed studies that say that you don't have to make a GOOD ad, one that people ENJOY, you just need to get your brand name product's name out in as many ways and avenues as possible, so the brand name will embed itself into the viewer's subconscious and cause them to remember it the next time they walk past a retail outlet, regardless of how much they detest the ads.

As a part-time marketing writer, I'd just like to have a crack at what Sylocat just said:

When it comes to advertising a product, brand name, belief or political standpoint, just comin up with a catchy slogan or a strong basic message isn't nearly enough. You seem to assume that the 'Hypodermic' method of audience interaction is the best way to assert an opinion. Frankly, this isn't the case.

After all, are you converted to Christianity the moment you have an Evangelical preacher screaming: 'Belieeeeve in Jeeezus!' at you? Of course not, because you are a rational, critical human being. We can be indoctrinated with brands and messages, but these are filtered through our thought processes until we come to a sane, reasonable conlusion.

So what makes a successful Anti-Advergame? Like all things, entertainment is important, but education is paramount. If you can't deliver the information (on both sides of the argument), you lose credibility, and often the attention of your audience. People who only preach the amazingness of their product/religion/sheep/etc with no regard to the competition are rarely successful.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is - if Anti-Advergames are going to be successful, they need to demonstare both sides of the argument evenly and rationally. Once someone has played a game where they see that bad choices make more money, but at the expense of their own personal morals, they can proceed to make those emotional judgements that are so important in winning hearts and minds.

There aren't many 'anti-advergames', or overtly 'persuasive' games in general, because they're a fundamentally stupid idea.

Who in their right mind wants to invest leisure time into something that is more interested in preaching than entertaining? The proponents of this fad seem only to be capable of making heavy-handed, one-sided propaganda with threadbare game implementations tacked on as an afterthought. Wrong methods, wrong targets.

Theme Park and Sim City have made (millions of) people scrutinise the systems they're simulating in the real world. Many other mainstream games (and movies, books, music...) deal with complex and relevant issues under the cloak of conventional entertainment themes. They're games first, and they succeed on all counts.

Reviews of Bogost's latest book suggests he recognises this, a shame then that so much of his output seems to be focussed on the turgid academic curiosities of 'serious' games rather than work with any genuine merit.

These types of games are self-defeating, as they serve as advertisement for the very thing they want to advertise against. Why? Because they are added to awareness of the company and their products, they are generating press. Super Chick Sisters made me realize I've never even had KFC, and I'm certainly a lot more aware of the brand now. The management simulation for the McDonald's game shows you how difficult it is it manage such an empire, and that it makes sense to cut corners. The game play justifies bad business practices. There is something delightfully fun about buying off politicians to increase my bottom line.

The other question, is to people that eat at McDonalds, KFC, and use Kinkos spend that much time on the internet? Let alone on sites that would give them access to these games? I doubt it. Mostly they are eating their McDonald's, and watching network TV.

There aren't many 'anti-advergames', or overtly 'persuasive' games in general, because they're a fundamentally stupid idea.

Who in their right mind wants to invest leisure time into something that is more interested in preaching than entertaining? The proponents of this fad seem only to be capable of making heavy-handed, one-sided propaganda with threadbare game implementations tacked on as an afterthought. Wrong methods, wrong targets.

I concur. I really do hope that serious games in the future, well, treat themselves less seriously (then they become political cartoons which are actually quite funny in and of themselves). Or, produce a game that shows both sides of the issue, and NOT CARE what final choice the player of the game makes.

However, I disagree with the article in general. The goal of the Anti-McDonalad game was to convince me that McDonalds' is evil. If it does that, it does not matter if the player actually chooses to change his habits or feel guilty from eating at McDonalds. As long as you think McDonald is evil, the game wins. And since brand awareness is increased, McDonalds wins too. Horray!

The management simulation for the McDonald's game shows you how difficult it is it manage such an empire, and that it makes sense to cut corners. The game play justifies bad business practices.

Heh heh heh...

There aren't many 'anti-advergames', or overtly 'persuasive' games in general, because they're a fundamentally stupid idea.

I think you're wrong. As you point out yourself, it's not the idea that's stupid, it's the execution. All of the anti-advergames I've seen have obviously put their message ahead of their gameplay and that's a big mistake. But it's one that could be corrected. I'm sure someone will find the right balance of message vs. entertainment.

Plus I think a lot of people are turned off by any kind of social message lurking in their media, especially when it says something negative about something they might enjoy like KFC or McDonalds. People take insults to their favourite fast food chain pretty seriously and obviously won't react well to media that criticizes them. "Who cares if KFC treats chickens cruelly, their food tastes good and that's all I care about!" There's nothing wrong with that reaction, but it's not the kind of person we should use as a measure of an anti-advergame's effects.

I think we also have to remember that hardcore gamers are not the target audience for these kind of games. Is it just me or do gamers seem to be really cynical about these kind of things?

Thanks for your comments, folks (author here).

Matey, you make some strong counterarguments to my essay, but I think we agree that the execution and distribution have missed the mark so far.

You say hardcore gamers are not the target audience for anti-advergames, but as I said in the article, I haven't met anyone outside of the gamer sphere that knows what the hell an anti-advergame is. I have to explain it like I'm talking to a five year old.

That's why a better model for getting these games out there is needed. And once that happens, the issues should be raised in a way that's not as confrontational as the examples we've seen. And they need stronger messages than simply "Company X is bad because of Y"

I guess that's my argument in a nutshell.


I don't really have a strong set of arguments and counter-arguments to the whole thing, but basically, here's my two cents:

Whenever I see an Ad that tries to demonstrate the horrors or evils of a certain company or product, I have come to imagine the type of people I have known who would openly try to push said ads... The pompous, overbearing, pseudo-intellectualist pricks who think a witty quote that compares Sam Walton to the Totalitarianistic Dictator 'Big Brother' will actually change the world as they talk about the 'didactic' and 'important' book or comic they read or saw the other day, never doing anything but pushing self-righteous propaganda in other peoples' faces and thinking they are better than you for it... It may just be me, but I wouldn't be surprised if most other people don't have a certain similar image in their mind when something like that shows up. I'm not entirely unappreciative of the message, of course, but the stigma does burn brightly in my mind.

I think a main problem is that people have grown numb to satire and anti-business humor... They've seen enough.

I've had the displeasure of working at Walmart before, and from that experience, I can show a perfect example of just what I mean by 'numb': Employees, most if not all, hated their jobs, some even their own lives as they were pushed and pulled emotionally and physically each and every day... To keep from going insane from the pressure, most would turn to jokes to make it bearable. The ones of lesser intellect (which was most), would simply use blatant sarcasm and snicker a bit... The moderately intelligent might ask when they'll be sent to the glue factory... Whatever the mindframe or intellect they used, however, it was all the same: they would joke, they would laugh back the tears, and they would go back to work. They never left, since rarely was there another option, they never stood up for themselves, and they never did anything... Nobody could blame them for this, but that is how it was - they made a witty little statement, but it never changed anything.

Much like the satire I see, people see a witty little comment and they might laugh, they hear Colbert wittily remark about how injustice is all right because the burgers are just so delicious, they hear the activists holding a one-sentence picket sign and shouting what has by then become a mindlessly repeated mantra... They hear so many of these cute sayings and see so much of the horror that they are numb to the whole mess. They will continue buying the cardboard patties from McDonalds with sweatshops and clearcutting in the back of their minds, continue to shop at Wal-mart despite the drained look on every employees' face, and will continue to slip Nike shoes over their feet knowing that the children who made them had none of their own.


Added the next day...


Also, I think the simple fact that when people see slaughtering and injustice caused by McDonalds, then walk into the inside of a McDonalds restaurant, there's probably going to be a certain jarring contrast between them that makes the slaughter seem unreal when you go into the clean stores and see 'Happy Meals'. Kind of like if your friendly elderly neighbor, who you've grown so friendly with that you'd been calling her grandma, is arrested for operating a rather large-scale basement meth lab... You've seen only the friendly grandma, and no matter how many videos and photos of the lab you saw and newspaper columns you'd read, you would probably always have a hard time believing she was a criminal. We've grown to see the clean McDonalds with their cheap yet tasty burgers, Wal-Mart with their smiley-face mascot and always low prices, and the comfort and high quality of the Nike shoes... When faced with conflicting information, no matter how real you KNOW it is, doesn't hit so hard when you have seen only the greener side of the fence.

(Sorry for the rather lengthy comment, but talking out of my ass seems all the funner when it seems that I'm actually making decent remarks.)

Anti-advergames don't work because they are based upon a negative message but the irony is that the gameplay either rewards you for for negative behavior or punishes you for even attempting to play the game at all. They are in essence teaching players to become desensitized to the issue in order to "win". It is far more effective to create games that reward players for positive behavior and punish players for negative behavior. By giving players an alternative to the bad behavior, the message is clear.


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