Friday, October 17, 2008

Game on

Just when you thought the saturation point for all things Obama had been reached … surprise. Don’t look now, but if you’re a gamer, there’s a good chance that there’s a presidential candidate in your video game.

Obama's campaign ads are now appearing in several sports video games, including the phenomenally popular Madden NFL ’09 football game, according to a Tuesday story in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper and Web site focusing on the movers and shakers of Congress.

Team Obama has purchased space in the popular Xbox 360 game "Madden NFL 09,″ and in "Burnout Paradise," "NASCAR 09," "NHL 09," "NBA Live 08," and five other titles by video game maker Electronic Arts, said Holly Rockwood, EA’s director of corporate communications.

From the Hill story: “Only gamers playing online in 10 states can see the ads, which appear as stadium signage or billboards, Rockwood said. (The ads are downloaded when gamers log on to the Xbox Internet service.) Unsurprisingly, all 10 states are swing states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin. President Bush won all of those states in 2004 except for Wisconsin.”

The ads will be visible until Nov. 3, the day before the election, Rockwood told The Hill.

The Obama ads are apparently featured in ways that are organic to the game environment, rather than just dropped into situations that wouldn't be appropriate. In the street racing game "Burnout Paradise," for example, racers pass a billboard that features Obama's face next to the words "Early Voting Has Begun —"

This move, both culturally and technologically shrewd, proves (as if any more proof were needed at this point) that Obama gets it, that he and his campaign intimates truly understand the habits and pastimes of the American electorate.

And the Obama game-ad positions Obama in the alternate reality of entertainment and popular culture like no candidate before him. By implanting his campaign in the world of video games, Obama not only reaches out to the younger cohort of voters needed to win in November; he shrewdly implants the idea of citizen participation in that other world — reinforcing the importance of voting among those most likely to stay home on Election Day … playing video games.

"The 18-to-34-year-old male is the mainstream demographic for the hard-core video gamer," said Van Baker, an analyst for Gartner Inc., a technology market research firm, to Reuters on Thursday. "They're hard to get to because they don't watch much TV and they don't read a lot, so it's a good venue to get that segment."

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Video games are something Obama has apparently been at odds with in the past. In more than one stump speech during this long campaign, Obama, in appeals for stronger parental roles in society and more direct family involvement in the education process, has been hard on the diversion.

“I know how hard it will be to alleviate poverty that has built up over centuries, how hard it will be to fix schools, because changing our schools will require not just money, but a change in attitudes,” he said in February. “We're going to have to parent better, and turn off the television set, and put the video games away, and instill a sense of excellence in our children, and that's going to take some time.”

Obama spoke at Barrington (Ill.) High School in April.

 While addressing students about their future, Obama threw down an ask-not-what-your- country-can-do-for-you gauntlet. “The bad news is, you're going to have to work harder," he told the students, broadly criticizing youth culture as “watching TV, playing video games and avoiding tough classes in school.”

He even mentioned video games last week, in the third presidential debate, as a metaphor for indolence.

Now, it seems, Obama and his advisers have come to the realization that, if you can’t beat the video game as a diversion, join one, and use it to advance the message of the campaign.

Whatever the real rationale, Obama has caught the McCain campaign flat-footed again, and just maybe caught that sizeable video-savvy slice of the voting public off guard — seizing an opportunity nobody realized was an opportunity, positioning the candidate and his message right where Americans live.
Image credits: © 2008 Electronic Arts.

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