Planetside 2 and the bulletproof bikinis of freedom

UPDATE:
As of 28th Jan 2013 SoE or The9 have issued no official comment. However the original marketing materials have been pulled from The9’s website and social media platforms and at least one of the threads discussing/drooling-over the advertising on US forums has been deleted. Accordingly some links in the original article will now be broken.

ORIGINAL:
It is notoriously difficult to get teenage boys interested in computer games. Publishers have tried every trick in their arsenal to tear adolescents away from allotments, garden centres, or Araucaria’s latest cryptic puzzler. Selling computer games to male teenagers is such an uphill struggle.

practical combat attire

practical combat attire

Is it any wonder, having exhausted all other tactics, publishers resort to selling with sex?

Of course this is a ridiculous, outdated and offensive stereotype. Male teenagers are as diverse, complex and screwed up as the rest of us. The late Aaron Swartz was working on RSS webfeed protocol standards at 14; the Braille system was invented by a 15 year old; Jordan Romero climbed Mount Everest aged 13.

Which makes the decision of Sony Online Entertainment’s Chinese distribution partner – The9 – to use inflatable chested teens in swimwear and kinky boots in Planetside 2 advertisments all the stranger. Why resort to cliched stereotypes? Why treat the targeted demographic as shallow whilst potentially excluding and offending every other demographic?

Broadly speaking men, teenage or otherwise, are already quite interested in computer games, jet packs, and fighter planes. If your computer game includes, as Planetside 2 does, jet packs and fighter planes you’ve already got their attention – a faceful of silicon enhanced lycra clad cleavage isn’t necessary to draw them in.

It is important to reiterate, The9 are Sony Online Entertainment’s (SoE) Chinese distribution partner. Their adverts were doubtless never intended to be seen outside China where such marketing remains prevelant. But in an internet age is such a hope naive? Adverts typical of that seen above have been widely disseminated, first around Chinese social media sites such as Weibo, and subsequently into official US Planetside 2 forums. Potential customers around the globe have already seen these adverts with SoE’s trademarked iconography and art assets advertising an SoE game.

When Microsoft Poland photoshopped the black guy from their local advertising they doubtless thought it merely tailoring marketing materials to reflect the local population. Microsoft Poland’s advertising was not intended for other markets. Yet other markets noticed, and Microsoft took swift action to avoid damage to their global brand.

Advertising informs, feeds, and validates a gaming culture. The Entertainment Software Association, a trade body of which SoE are a member, states the average game purchaser to be 35 years old and 47% of gamers to be women. There are more women over the age of 18 playing games (30%) than men 17 or under (18%). So why is gaming culture such a testosterone fuelled hostile environment mirroring only a cliched shallow stereotype of such a small segment of the gaming population?

Advertising such as this validates that culture. It states quite categorically that women’s purpose on the futuristic battlefield is to don micro bikinis and kinky boots whilst suggestively fondling their massive – throbbing – guns. A quick sampling of the official US Planetside 2 forums where this advertising first came to the attention of gamers outside China:

Holy ****! I would bukakke each and every one of those girls!writes the charming Suffa on Wednesday morning.
Skimpy top and a skirt, everytime they put the camera on her, I want her top wet.requests An Hero – heroic indeed.
While Mootar boasts he “would bum that TR girl so hard she would be crying spunk.

Sony are, of course, not responsible for their subscribers behaviour and forum moderation is an inexact, underfunded and unappreciated endeavour. Yet when such comments are left entirely unchallenged on official forums, and when Planetside 2 is advertised thus:

big throbbing guns

big throbbing guns

… one wonders how inclusive a game Planetside 2 is.

Men 17 and under form just 18% of gamers. Advertising such as this does nothing to encourage the other 82% to play a given game. Perhaps more importantly it is insulting the 18%, those teenagers who are such a diverse, complex and annoyingly talented demographic, to suggest the only way to get them interested in computer games is to thrust a pair of tits at them.

Sony Online Entertainment’s press office were approached for comment prior to publishing. The article will be updated to include any response received.