Make sure you remember where you were the moment you learned that Sexualcabinetry began his weekly column on the Weekly Geek, The Mind Boggleth, because in 30 years, it will come up in conversation much like Kennedy's assassination, only somehow better. This week, he examines that creepy Burger King and his latest foray into video games on the now defunct (and wip3d) X-Box 360. The views expressed in this column don't necessarily reflect those of weeklygeekshow.com or the majority of the human race, for that matter, but it's about time a lone man... in a time of hypocrisy and greed... takes forth a blade... AND FIGHTS FOR WHAT'S RIGHT... COMING THIS SUMMER...
Ah, fast food and video games. The two seem to have always had a weirdly incestuous relationship. Most of us of a hairy-chested age can recall a time when the only place you could play a decent game was at Chuck E. Cheese. As Atari was to Alpo-flavored, sub-par, animatronic vermin, Nintendo and McDonalds have always had a rather synergistic relationship as well. It's universally agreed that the greatest Happy Meal premium of all fucking time was the Super Mario Brothers 3 toys, including a pump operated Koopa that hopped up and down, just like he did in the real video game. A pull-back Luigi clutched a Starman for dear life while spinning around and falling off of tables, just like in the real video game. A weird Goomba that did back flips and sang "La Marseillaise", just like in the real video game. You try to tell kids nowadays that there was a time when Happy Meal toys were cherished, instead of left at the bottom of the apartment steps for your highly intoxicated upstairs neighbor who just happens to be me to step on and embed little shards of "Cinderella Fantasy for Ugly Girls Barbie" in his foot at 2 am, and they won't believe you.
Then, of course, there was a whole line of McDonaldland flavo(u)red NES games. There were four of them, each more mindnumbingly, kneeslappingly horrendous than the last. But hey! Were we ever so young? Most of them involvedthe collecting of hamburgers and the rescuing of Ronald McDonald from nefarious foes who would tell them otherwise. I have enough respect for you to figure out where to find these trifles, largely because you've the good taste to have read this far into my rant without vomiting like so many racially marginalized grill men at the back of the Mickey D's into the "Special Sauce".
Ah, but the "advergame" has entered a new dimension with the new Burger King X-Box games. All in all, there were slated to be three, an action-adventure game, a fighting game, and a racing game. Well, the fighter never quite panned out. Instead, they gave you a racing game, a bumper car game, and an "action-adventure" with neither action nor adventure. The racer is called "Pocket Bike Racer" (playing off the now entirely played out "pocket bike" fad that lasted exactly three months over two years ago), the fighter is called "Big Bumpin'", and the action-adventure, if it can be called as such, is a rather bizarre skin of Metal Gear Solid called "Sneak King".
I just typed that.
Here I go again.
I won't go into specifics (the detail the specifics of these bizarre meddling in THAT WOT MEN OUGHT NOT TINKER IN, THE MIND OF GODS. A racing game for the shmucks, I mean, majority Microsoft demographic white males age 20-36 (phew, that was a close one!) who have no real concept of anything other than failing to contemplate the falseness of man's quest to conquer time and space via technology (in this case, pocket bikes). A strange bumper car Frankenstein beast that is half fighting game, half strange rip off of the battle stages of Mario Kart 64. And, of course, "Sneak King".
If ever Microsoft needed a Killer App, "Sneak King" may just be the closest answer they'll ever have. If only the entire thing wasn't a commercial, it may have been brilliant. Gameplay centers are the Burger King sneaking up on people (a la MGS) and waiting for them to casually mention how hungry the are, at which point you, the Burger King, jump out of whatever you were hiding in (and boy, there's a lot of things) and presented them with their requested cow bread. And while gameplay itself isn't inherently bad, it's just outrageously annoying. The whole damn thing is an ode to Burger King, right down to occasionally be preempted with a Burger King commercial WITHIN this game that is one big Burger King commercial. If only a series of Burger King ads weren't now permanently embedded onto my brother's memory chip (that's for hitting "New Game" on my Pokemon, you asshole). If only every single thought and phrase coming out of everyone's mouth wasn't "I WANT A... *dramatic pause*... WHOPPER!"
It could have been brilliant.
There's a strange sort of dadaistic sense to these abortions. I've never been exactly convinced that Burger King understands that their commercials strike us with a sense of discomfort quite similar to a viewing of "Eyes Wide Shut". I shouldn't have to associate your food with disturbingly homoerotic situations involving soy-based meat by-products. What ever happened to the earnest and honest sell? The "Here, Mrs. Johnson, try Peerless Glycerine Soap" approach? Call me old fashioned... but there's a line that can very easily be crossed when advertising goes meta.
Still, as an artifact, "Sneak King" is largely the epitome of Microsoft's approach to everything ever: slick, well researched, marketed within an inch of it's life, and sold with any Extra Value Meal. Part of the problem here is that, again, video games are not considered a true medium, and therefore it's okay to be shamelessly consumeristic. You wouldn't ask Yo Yo Ma to play the Meow Mix Song (although I would). You wouldn't ask Terry Gilliam or Jim Jarmusch to direct a commercial for Flintstones Chewables (although, then again, I would). But you would ask a few no-name video game developers to make a shovelware piece of shit featuring the Burger King, wasting their time, their creative energies, to sell something that, quite literally, sells itself. The hamburger purchasing habits of the American public is more about convenience and location than brute marketing... I could give a tinker's cuss less what kind of burger it is, as long as it's within walking distance and they have a ball pit in the back. They make money, not art.
I'm sure that the people who worked on "Sneak King" were well remunerated for their efforts, but there's a principle here that is being forgotten, a principle that Microsoft repeatedly, fundamentally, ideologically, ignores. I remember my first day playing Zelda, in the golden cartridge. I remember that single magical moment when I got the wooden sword and went off to adventure, to this very day. Video games are not quite as transient and ephemeral as they'd like them to be. You don't go to the library, with a pile of old books in your arm and say "Well, I'm done reading Dickens, I'd like to trade up for something new." American creative culture, currently dominated by these market researched, Thumb of God chimera, is constantly urging us to move forward, demanding the latest, greatest thing. It's great for the economy. It's great for the stock holders of both Microsoft and the Texas Pacific Group, but not for the soul.
We deserve better, gang. Continuing the burger metaphor, we would like steak now and again.
Recently, McDonalds brought Nintendo on to market new "activity" Happy Meals, with sports themed premium toys with Mario's happy, Italianate mug on them. Another case of corporate synergy? In this instance, it's a little heavy-handed and Macchiavellian. Both video games and fast food have been fingered as causes for childhood obesity, although in reality the main cause is "lack of parental concern". Just to say that I'm not an anti-Microsoftie (although I am), I need to point out that Nintendo was also highly irresponsible in this move. Nintendo has nothing to fear from the childhood obesity lobby, but McDonalds does. After all, Mario has his own DDR game now, which has it's own calorie counter. But the clown... has everything to fear.
When the congressional hearings come, "I was only following orders!" will be the words that come from Ronald's mouth, and he'll be pointing at all the corporate entertainment sponsors who came his way to sell a few goodies. On top of the list? Disney, Mattel and Nintendo. It won't bode well, seeing as I can think of several Republicans who are from Simplot-owned farming states that would do anything to avoid losing McDonalds revenues. It will be pretty easy to finger video games, and it's a bad news deal for everyone involved.
On the upswing, there's a slow buzz of "anti-advergames" on the Internet now, including my favorite, "The McDonalds Game". An Italian group, Molleindustria, has put together a sharp little mini-manifesto against the trend, combining politics, "Super Size Me" health concerns and incredibly grim comedy into a nice little game. Dig the adorable little butcher, I want him on a t-shirt somewhere.