Obama launches online video game advertisements after criticizing online video games

Gregg Re Editor
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Console and computer gamers who enjoy driving flaming vehicles recklessly through crowded intersections, mowing down hordes of approaching zombies and taunting their online opponents might notice a new, non-playable character surface during their electronic adventures this fall: President Barack Obama.

Even though the president just last year encouraged the nation’s parents and children to “turn off the video games and pick up a book,” his national campaign on Monday confirmed it has deployed dozens of virtual advertisements in a variety of online-enabled video games. The ads will appear in Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Virginia through Nov. 3.

Electronic Arts, one of the largest video game publishers, will display the billboard-like advertisements throughout cross-platform sports blockbusters like the football game “Madden NFL 13,” as well as old Internet-based versions of classics like Battleship, Tetris and Scrabble.

The ads, which are also running on gaming sites like Pogo, focus not only on encouraging turnout, but also on the policy differences between the president and his rival Mitt Romney that most resonate with the young people who typically play video games.

“Think voting isn’t important?” asks one twenty-second pop-up advertisement that currently displays for Pogo users before they can play “Poppit!,” a Web-based puzzle game that tasks players with repeatedly popping balloons that appear to be bothering an anthropomorphic cactus. “Obama: doubled Pell Grant funding. Romney: Student aid at risk for millions,” the ad continues.

The ad’s claims are dubious, not only because the president sought to cut Pell Grant funding dramatically, but also because there’s no clear sign Romney wants to make any significant cuts to the program. Given the fast-paced nature of most big Xbox and Playstation releases, though, odds are slim most players will find the time to investigate just how honest these in-game ads are.

“People have short attention spans and limited time now,” Jeremy Airey, head of U.S. production at video game giant Konami, told CNN last year. “The amount of digital distractions now is far greater than it’s ever been before.”

The Obama campaign began its foray into video game advertising in 2008, when it paid EA for spots that appeared in Madden and the intense racing game “Burnout: Paradise.” Unlike most racing games, Burnout encouraged players to cause the biggest, most violent car crashes they possibly could.

EA has since included political figures in a handful of its games. Beginning in the 2011 iteration of the Madden game franchise, players who won the Superbowl were treated to a prerendered video of their virtual players meeting Obama at the White House.

And in 2010, the EA Sports title “NBA Jam” allowed players to field a digital team consisting of President Obama, Joe Biden, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Al Gore against a squad of Republicans that included George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, John McCain, and Dick Cheney, who was capable of superhuman 360-degree dunks from three-point range.

EA, which also recently published a series of sci-fi role-playing games that permit players to enter into homosexual and inter-species romances, has denied any political bias or affiliation.

“EA accepts advertising in our games from credible political candidates, similar to a TV, radio or online channel,” a company spokesperson told the gaming website GamePolitics. “The ads do not reflect any political policy for EA.”

EA spokesman Dave Madden told Adweek that, based on the company’s analysis, gamers who saw Obama’s adds in 2008 were substantially more likely to consider voting for him.

“It was made clear in the last election that reaching consumers through video games makes a significant impact, so it’s no surprise to see this tactic used once again in such a competitive election,” Madden said.

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