One of the oldest rules in advertising is that you don't sell a product - you sell an idea. Sometimes that idea is simple: You can sell bacon with the idea that "bacon is delicious." But sometimes the idea on offer is something harder to grasp - something that cannot be bought for any price. In the videogame industry, as with any entertainment industry, there are the usual suspects. Sex sells, of course. Violence sells. But there's another idea that's even more prevalent than these old standbys - the idea of youth. Not youth as an age, or as a state of mind, but as a commodity.
I can say this with confidence, because I know a little something about youth. I wasn't always in the videogame business; I used to be in the youth business.
Years ago, in order to supplement my lousy income as a student, I took a job writing advertisement copy for the internet, which is a polite way of saying "spam." I was advertising a line of wrinkle cream products and skin moisturizers. And though my ads were destined to end up in junk folders or deleted without a second glance, I was determined to be the best damn wrinkle cream spam writer in the business ... because a guy's gotta dream, right? So for my first batch, I consulted efficacy studies and test reviews, and filled my ads with terms like "psoriasis" and "lanolin" and "epidermis."
These were sent back to me with a quick note from my employers, saying that I should remove all the "science" words. They weren't selling science. They were selling youth. In case I got stuck, they provided a friendly list of words that I should use: "Better!" "Newer!" And best of all: "Younger!"
My ads made the internet just the slightest bit worse for everyone, and for that, I'd like to say that I'm sorry ... unless you were in desperate need of softer, more radiant skin. But one lasting effect of my ad copy days has been a mindfulness towards all the ways that "youth" is commoditized. Sometimes, like with wrinkle cream, it's in full-blown snake-oil mode. But other times, it's just an idea, albeit a powerful one. In my current gig as a games critic, I notice the videogame industry has embraced the idea of "youth" as a whole.
In a lot of ways, today's gamers have access to the games of their youth like never before. Nowadays, we have the trappings of childhood at our fingertips. Classic older games remain accessible through re-releases, ports and emulation, or are made new through reboots and remakes. Vintage games can often be found online, making even the rarest titles accessible to anyone interested enough to track them down. There are projects that take this dedication to the past a step further. Consider the growing number of "demakes" that reproduce popular games through the formalistic conventions of earlier systems, such as the 8-bit Shadow of the Colossus found in Hold Me Closer, Giant Dancer, and Team Fortress' pixelated reinvention as Gang Garrison 2. Similarly, painstakingly "retro" enhanced remakes like Konami's Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth and Capcom's Bionic Commando Rearmed maintain the art, music and graphic conventions of earlier titles, but tidy them up for a new audience.