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Dead Space 2 Game: Bad for Moms But Good For Kids?


With the video game industry continuing a multiyear slump, its not a surprise that game manufacturers are looking for more creative ways to get games off shelves and into players' hands. But the launch of the sequel in the Dead Space franchise caught my attention, and not because I was particularly interested in the game.

Electronic Arts, the game's distributor, has engaged in a marketing campaign that is juvenile... in more ways than one. The company gathered together a couple hundred women who are "mothers" and showed them scenes from the game that features violent details of alien beings dismembering humans. They filmed the women's reactions and created a series of commercials like this one.

Aside from the fact that you may or may not appreciate a violent video game like Dead Space 2, there are some strange ironies with this marketing plan. First, this particular game is rated M, meaning (supposedly) that only adults can purchase the game and only adults should be playing it. Of course we know there's a good chance that both these facts won't stop many underage players who will be even more intent on seeing the game that will purportedly curl their mother's hair.

Yet the deeper question is why Electronic Arts would even venture into such a ridiculous campaign? While the gaming industry continues to remind us that the average video game player is 34, this company has purposely selected a premise that suggests teens who still live under the threat of their mother's censorship will want to purchase and play this M-rated game.

The Los Angeles Times reports an interaction between the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) president, Patricia Vance, and Jim Steyer, CEO of the media monitoring non-profit Common Sense Media. In the exchange, Steyer suggests to Vance that the ad campaign violates the ESRB's guidelines for responsible advertising practices. (The ESRB is a voluntary industry run organization that applies ratings to video games and advocates on behalf of the industry.) In reply, Vance contests that the ad indicates the game is unsuitable for kids under 18 (this message does not appear on this YouTube version) and she also attests that EA is "...not the first company, nor will it be the last, to gin up interest in its product by conveying the notion that 'the older generation just doesn't get it, so it has to be cool.'"

Vance's final volley is somewhat sad. I think many parents are growing very tired of having the media do all it can to keep the wedge between young and old as wide as possible. However the other fracture in her reasoning comes down to some simple math and critical thinking. Viewing the aforementioned ads, the women pictured all appear to range in age from between 30 to 50. Considering the average player is 34 (a statistic from Vance's organization, the ESRB), that would mean the oldest mothers -- those around 50 -- would be the only ones who could claim their "child" was playing the game that shocked them. Of course, they would also have to have been teen mothers to make this work.

In reality, this is ludicrous. The ESRB is feebly protecting the interests of one of their primary industry members, and are doing it at the cost of luring underage players into a game that many seasoned critics and game aficionados have recognized as being one of the most violent, gory games ever made.

Oddly, Electronic Arts really didn't even need this ad campaign. Those same game journalists have raved about Dead Space 2's game play, graphics, storyline and overall production. The game has received widespread artistic acclaim and, in my opinion, the grade school marketing approach only belittles the opportunity the company had to sell it to serious adult gamers who may now feel as if they are being treated like children.


Rod Gustafson


Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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