If you’ve ever watched Spike TV’s Video Game Awards show, you probably have a few things to say about the event, including “what’s with all these celebrities?”
It can be jarring to see actors, singers, and rappers give the thumbs-up to whatever’s hot in the realm of video games. Their promotions are usually accompanied by desperate, squealing attempts to gain gamer cred. “I love Mario! Like, jumping on the axe and fighting that dragon-guy–that’s cool!” Cue many hearty laughs from the Internet.
It is in fact strange to see celebrities endorse games. At times, it’s almost pitiful. But that’s only if you’re part of a generation that saw games segregated from other forms of entertainment. Just go back a few consoles in video games’ timeline and you’ll see a time when gaming was a bit more solitary and regarded with mild scorn as a pastime for nerds. The kids who played Super Nintendo regularly were generally less likely to care about the hottest celebrities and pop albums than their peers.
But here’s the reality of life in 2010: Games have a much broader audience now. Dad likes games. Dad likes celebrities. Ditto for Mom and most of the rest of the family as well. So more than ever, game companies are hauling out well-known faces to hawk their wares.
In some instances, putting a celebrity’s name on a series makes good sense. This is especially true for sports titles. Sports games enthusiasts have a lot to say about Electronic Arts’ lock on the NFL license, but there’s no question that Madden NFL would lose something without the endorsement of, well, John Madden. Likewise, Shaun White’s name is a good one to have on a snowboarding game, which goes for Tony Hawk and skateboarding as well (although 2009’s Tony Hawk: Ride went over like a lead seagull).
Even outside sports franchises, there’s something to be said for celebrity endorsements. Not every celeb is a vapid heiress with an accessory dog, or a pop idol struggling to cling to his baby-sweet voice while puberty snacks on his voicebox. Some celebrities are universally respected. If Patrick Stewart says he likes Brain Age, face it, you’re going to listen.
There’s one final, minor reason why game companies are mating their products with celebrities: It works. Has anyone forgotten the Guitar Hero: World Tour ad that parodies the famous “Risky Business” dance scene with Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, Michael Phelps and Tony Hawk? How about the same bit re-enacted with Heidi Klum flailing around in her underwear? Didn’t think so. The commercials definitely made an impact with the buying public, as Guitar Hero: World Tour outsold its direct rival, Rock Band 2, two-to-one, even though Rock Band 2 scored higher with critics.
Analysts claim that the public tunes out politicians, but will perk up and listen when famous people talk, which is why Bono from U2 is so successful with his charity work. It looks as if the same holds true for video games. Kids aren’t going to want a Legend of Zelda game promoted directly by Shigeru Miyamoto himself, but dress up Justin Bieber as Link (God forbid) and the commercial will fly with the mainstream.