A couple of days ago I was scrolling through Twitter when I heard a grown man on the TV making gunshot noises with his mouth. Looking up from my laptop, I saw that the noises were being made in order to promote the upcoming Wii U console. "Shoot at the TV like never before", says the enthusiastic narrator. "SHPEW SHPEW SHPEW SHPEW SHPEW!"
Aside from the comedy pistol sounds, I remained thoroughly unaffected by the rest of the commercial. Granted, I have already pre-ordered my Wii U, so my approval of Nintendo's marketing campaign is now rendered firmly inconsequential, but if I hadn't pre-ordered it and expressed little interest in doing so, this advert would not have convinced me otherwise. A good commercial subtly distorts the truth and manipulates the consumer. The Wii U commercial is too honest.
But commercials should be honest, shouldn't they? Morally, yes, they should be. We've all complained about how irrelevant fragrance commercials are, that one day we would like to see a glamorous model simply hold a perfume bottle up to the camera and say "this one smells of strawberries", but in truth no one would buy a new perfume if its commercial didn't feature two inordinately attractive people f**king each other with their eyes. The same goes for video game commercials.
A good commercial does a great deal more than simply sell you a video game. It sells you an idea. If the Gears of War commercial had shown nothing but muscular men decapitating and chainsawing monsters for 60 seconds, it would have sold considerably worse than it did after having Gary Jules' sombre cover of 'Mad World' soundtrack the image of Marcus Fenix fighting his way through the desolate, grey landscape that the series would later become known for. The final game was far less emotionally moving than the trailer had suggested, but it didn't matter: we had already been sold on the concept that the trailer had presented to us.
The problem with the Wii U commercial and other commercials of a similar nature is that it depicts what the player will see when playing on the Wii U, but not what they will feel. They will see their TV in front of them, their personal belongings scattered around their living room, their girlfriend walking in and asking if she can watch the TV, but none of those things are what makes us enjoy playing video games. The video games themselves are what make us enjoy playing video games.
In the first BioShock Infinite trailer, you, seeing through the eyes of the unnamed protagonist, are confronted in a dimly-lit room by a Big Daddy. Up until that point, no one had experienced the world of BioShock outside of the dank underwater city of Rapture, so when the Big Daddy flings you through a glass window and you first cast your eyes on the beautiful floating city of Colombia, you're awe-struck. You're amazed. You're, as we say in England, gobsmacked. But, most importantly, you're definitely going to buy BioShock Infinite.
The first BioShock Infinite trailer doesn't feature in-game footage. After watching it, we still had no clue how the game would be played, yet it was prematurely making its way onto potential game of the year lists. It became a most wanted game, without even showing us anything of the game itself. While we have since come to learn through gameplay footage that it will seemingly live up to the hype, up until then we had simply been convinced by two minutes and twenty-three seconds of promotional material.
Two minutes and twenty-three seconds is all it took to convince us to buy BioShock Infinite.
The only thing missing from it is Brad Pitt eye-f**king us.
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