Is Video Game Marketing Subtle Mind Control?

Video game marketing is absolutely huge, and we can’t escape it. We see it in our commercials, in website banners, all over social media, on the banners outside of stores, on the flyers in our mail, and the displays within major, non-specialized retailers like Target and Walmart. We even see it on our Doritos bags and Mountain Dew bottles. Arby's makes video game memes and cardboard crafts all the damn time. Films feel like they have a smaller presence. Video game fans who are immersed in the hobby are naturally going to have an even higher level of exposure. Obviously, the goal of marketing is to get people to purchase products and part of this is making people aware of the products existence. But do the forces of influence extend beyond mere exposure?

The most powerful influence is this idea that I am missing out if I don’t purchase something. By the time a game comes out, the massive coverage many of them receive embeds this notion that everybody in the world is going to be playing this game and that you are going to be out of the loop if you don’t somehow engage. Working at Gamestop, I was a sucker. If a game was released and customer after customer came in to buy it, their excitement would be infectious. Hell, even the simple fact that games or limited edition products were flying off the shelf would compel me to purchase something I might not be all that interested in. If we were down to a single unit in stock, I was going to buy it just in case. I would wager that many people felt the same, because apart from the people trading in obviously stolen copies, we would see a bunch of returns within the week of people who weren’t vibing on a particular game.

Which begs the question, why would they buy it? Why not rent it? Why not wait a little for a price reduction or word of mouth reviews? Fear of missing out is surely a contributing factor. Perceived scarcity also creates a demand, driven by apparent cultural value and a need to act quickly.  It must be more than that, though.


Sex sells. Cigarettes sold, because they seemed cool. Many things are packaged and branded as must haves, even though there isn’t an actual draw to them. How many things have you purchased that collect dust? What was the shelf life of the joy you could derive from most of the things you purchased? There are definitely thrifty, pragmatic buyers out there, but pre-order culture and the fact that most of what a game will sell is near its release suggests that marketing is compelling us. Almost as if there is some element of mind control.

Graphic designers spend a lot of time on logos. Major companies research the impact of these logos. That is because logos are meant to inspire emotions. One element in this design is, as you may have guessed, color. Think of all the logos and fonts you see associated with businesses and computer software. They’re blue, aren’t they? How about fast food brands? Red? Yellow? It’s weird to think, but colors come with associations and because there’s a large emotional component to purchases, these colors are meant to manipulate. There’s an unconscious element to your view of a product. Well, maybe not you, specifically, but for a lot of us that is the case. And even if you feel like that isn’t the case for you, maybe it is worth double checking.

Box quotes, pull quotes in commercials, and other such things lend social proof to a product. This is despite the fact that you don’t necessarily know the exact person that wrote the quote. You might not know the context of the quote either, as these are often carefully selected and removed from the rest of the article. You may see a numerical score appear on a commercial, which seems to validate the quality of the game, but how can that number mean anything if we don’t know the taste of who wrote it? I would give the collective Dynasty Warriors games a 7 out of 10. Most people would slap me for the implication. But if you follow my reviews, then you might know where our tastes overlap.

Console wars provide further evidence into the role emotion plays in all of this. Be it a choice between cars or consoles, we often debate which item we want to purchase and is better. Sometimes we take feedback from friends or other cultural clues to inform that decision, but there is a leap of faith involved. You’ll notice that after people spend a lot of money on a product, they become a bit further entrenched. As someone about to make a purchase, you are in a state of power. After the purchase, you no longer have that money. The tendency of people is to justify that purchase instead of regretting it. I am no stranger to buyer’s remorse but that is usually less so when we are talking about very expensive things. Damn, do I love that PlayStation VR I basically never use.


Also, isn’t it funny that things are priced one cent below the dollar? Not a coincidence. I won’t even bother to pick a penny up off the ground but that .99 tagged onto the end of a dollar amount just feels better. Sub $70 is disproportionately easier to cope with than $70, even if the difference is a penny and the tax brings it over $70 anyway.

Valence, the strength of an associated emotion, has a role in marketing as well. On social media, most of the things you’ll see shared are upsetting in some way. Sure, hopeful and happy gets around, but it inspires fewer clicks and shares. You’ll see more of a game, but you might also form a stance around it if there’s some degree of controversy. When some boycott, other’s vote against the protestors with their wallet. We do tend to take sides, don’t we?

All of this is done with subtly because we don’t like to feel like we are being sold to. We like to be smarter than the car salesman or the guy at Sprint because we don’t want them having power over us. We want to feel like we are in control rather than being taken for a ride. Marketing is a college study. Marketing is something that has been around for ages. Marketing is psychological and you can bet people studying demographics and technique are paying close attention to what kind of rhetoric and imagery they can use to manipulate us. They know the power of persuasion, they know the ways our unconscious can be shaped, and so I have to wonder if this is some form of mind control? Certainly it feels hypnotic at times. We can all try to be more conscious of these things, but we can never be absolutely certain what things are influencing us. If we have a good time, it doesn’t really matter. But if we are buying junk? Well, let’s just not

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Contributing Writer
Date: 10/19/2018

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