[11 April 2008]
Here’s why Google is great, and their advertising scheme works:
Just last week, I was sending an e-mail to somebody about Super Mario something-or-other (I think it was an Ebay seller about a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 or something, but that’s not all that relevant here). I couldn’t help but notice that, after I sent the mail from my Gmail account, one of those little one-line text ads popped up at the top, saying something like “Like Super Mario Bros.? Try Super Chick Sisters!” What kind of responsible journalist would I be if I didn’t click on that link?
Hovering over the link, I couldn’t help but notice that I was on my way to PETA’s website, but I clicked anyway. There’s a certain sleaziness about PETA that’s hard to shake, in that what they’re doing tends to be motivated by good (or at least understandable) causes, but their methods tend to be a bit, well, questionable.
Super Chick Sisters has actually been around for almost a year now, as it turns out, and it’s easy to see why it continues to draw visitors: For a piddly little Flash game, its production values are quite high, and its presentation pretty slick. Pamela Anderson has been kidnapped, you see (just before she was about to break the story that KFC’s methods are, um, unsavory, to put it lightly), and it’s up to
Mario & Luigi Nugget & Chickette to save the day from the evil corporate KFC warlords who have kidnapped her! As is told in a variety of cute little cutscenes between levels, Mario & Luigi have been afflicted with “Wiitis”, which I think roughly translates to Wii Sports: Tennis elbow.
It’s not just the cutscenes that are “cute”, either; the entire game has a gloss and a happy feel to it that’s entirely at odds with the information being presented. It’s classic let-down-your-guard kind of stuff, presenting a Mario-esque functionality and power-up system with a Sonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone sort of happy shinyness to it (the first level is most reminiscent of the latter, but the happy shinyness never really lets up). As you run around stomping on Colonel-bots and whatnot, you also get information from randomly scattered people as to the specifics regarding KFC’s cruelty. Example: They cut off the beaks while the chickens are still alive. It’s a terribly gruesome thought, and the juxtaposition of this sort of education with the primary-colored glare that comes off of the game is difficult to resolve.
The difficult thing about Super Chick Sisters is that it’s actually sort of fun as far as Flash games go. Not only that, but the presence of actual unlockables (in a Flash game!) and an ever-changing landscape is enough to keep you going. The thing is, the propaganda never, ever lets up. You see tale after tale about the overcrowded, crippling conditions, and you become either an activist or an accomplice; there’s really no in between once the game beats you over the head with its message long enough.
As such, as much as I’m loathe to allow a game to muck with my psyche as much as this one does, I think it’s a brilliantly executed stunt on PETA’s part. They have actually managed to tread the line that makes a game casual enough to draw you in and absorbing enough, once you’re in, to keep you for the long haul (something that far too many big name developers have been trying and failing at for years). As long as they keep you, then, they can slowly wear down your defenses, to the point where you’re putting Pamela Anderson in your MySpace top 8, dousing yourself in sheep’s blood and yelling things outside KFC’s corporate headquarters. This is brainwashing at its most subversive, and as such, it’s really rather brilliant.
Since the release of Super Chick Sisters, PETA has actually released another game, called Bloody Burberry: The Fur Fighters. While it appears to use the same color palette, its PETA-specific activities, bleak tone, and questionable attempts at humor (models are stupid, tee hee!) don’t capture the imagination nearly to the extent that something like Super Chick Sisters can. If you haven’t before, go give Super Chick Sisters a try, and let me know how you feel once you’re done. Are you comfortable with getting preached at while you’re trying to enjoy a game? Was the message easy to ignore in the name of silly fun? How did this survive the legal hand of the mighty N? Drop your thoughts in the comment box, and, of course, enjoy your weekend.