Ad Report Card: Nintendo's Game

Commentary about business and finance.
May 29 2001 9:30 PM

Ad Report Card: Nintendo's Game

Video and computer games are still largely thought of as being of interest mostly to kids and teen-agers, but one of the themes of its recent coverage is that this has changed. In additional to controversial games like "Half-Life," there have long been more sophisticated offerings like "The Sims." More recently, Nintendo has attracted attention by releasing a game called "Conker's Bad Fur Day," which is supposedly not for kids—and kids have traditionally been Nintendo's main targets. We know "Conker" is not for kids because the video game industry, having come under fire from time to time for the nature of its content, has its own ratings system, and the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has chosen to put games like this into a category it calls "Mature."

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Now, to court the "mature" individuals who might be interested in this particular game, Nintendo has produced a TV spot. For weeks and weeks it has been the most popular commercial on AdCritic.com, and you can see it there or watch the version titled "69 Uncensored Seconds" on the game's official site. (Note that even the commercial is apparently "not for anyone under age 17.")

The ad: Conker, the game's protagonist, is an animated squirrel who actually looks like the sort of character who might appeal to kids. If you promise that you're mature you can see one official representation of him here—notice that he's drinking beer and sitting on a toilet. Obviously, this stuff is not for the immature.

Anyway, the ad is not animated. It's set in a squalid bedroom, where, rolling around on a dirty matress, is a lithe young woman in tiny pink shorts and a cut-up T-shirt—sort of Britney Spears' nasty twin, I suppose. While she murmurs into the phone about her wild night of partying ("We get back here and he goes all night"), we're shown the rest of the room, wrecked by debauchery, and we listen to what I guess is the sound of someone throwing up in the other room. ("He's paying for it now," the groupie observes.) Eventually this party animal emerges from the bathroom—a squirrel. He belches. An announcer says: "A hangover is never pretty. But a squirrel with a hangover—that's just obscene." We get some quick scenes from the game itself, then it's back to the girl on the bed, shot from an angle that suggests she's doing something I'd rather not describe in a family column. Actually, of course, she's giving the squirrel a belly rub.

A Clever Game? Clicking around a little more on the game's official site gives a fuller sense of the mature themes explored: "poo problems," "phallic fun," that sort of thing. The graphics look impressive. Maybe it's fun to play.

But I'm more interested in the game that Nintendo (and the gaming industry in general) is playing with offerings like this. It leaves me unsure how to grade this commercial. If the real targets customers for "Conker's Bad Fur Day" are giggly adolescent boys, then this is grade-A material, a classic sophomoric romp that's sure to get their attention. But if the target is the "mature" audience that is supposedly embracing games that are more than dopey innuendo, blood fests, and "poo" jokes, then the spot fails completely. So, which one is it? I trust that you're mature enough to decide that for yourself.

Rob Walker is a columnist for Yahoo Tech, a contributor to Design Observer and the New York Times, and the author of Buying In.

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