Double Agent
What do you want on your tombstone? - March 19, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Curiously strong! Don't say we didn't warn you.


(808) 572-IANP

Rather than write a typically stirring introduction, I've instead sold the space to Ian P.

There's no use bitching about it -- selling the very sanctity of the column for a few extra bucks is my prerogative, but more importantly, bitching about it will only generate more free publicity for Ian, so the only harm you're doing is to yourself and to your cause.

Let's go.

Because we can


This whole Shadowman thing has to be both the worst marketing move I've ever seen, and the best. On one hand, this stirs controversy, which breeds publicity, and as they always say, there's no such thing as bad press. On the other side, this is just flat out wrong. Terribly wrong. Pathetic; tasteless; deplorable--whatever. If you have a good negative adjective, Acclaim is fucking inviting you to bust out your mad verbal skillz on their trashy little stunt.

Really, lets just look at this for a second. Forget all the political groups that are going to have a field day with this. Forget about the actual game, or the possible reasons for pulling something like this. Instead, just focus on the fact that they are, in essence, exploiting poor families in a time of intense grief in order to push 10 more copies of a hackneyed "3rd person action/adventure". Can anyone possibly read that sentence and be okay with everything? Not only are they doing this, they are justifying it with amazing lines as "advertising on gravestones falls outside of codes of conduct and regulations of any formal advertising bodies".

Translation: we're doing it because we can, so just try and stop us!

Note to Acclaim: Fuck off.

-Justin Freeman

Your scathing breakdown of the situation provides some precision focal points for indignation, but I'm interested primarily in the seemingly obvious maxim "there's no such thing as bad press."

How many of you reading this column can honestly say you were more than passingly aware of Shadowman 2's pending release prior to this? Apart from the occasional fun poked at its subtitle's 1337-ish "2econd," I sure as all fucking hell wasn't.

Acclaim's entire strategy could be shot down prior to its commencement and the scheme would still have been successful, thanks in part to people like me who insist upon discussing it via public channels (which really fills me with a sense of pride, lemme tell you). Advancing this line of thought a step further, there are those among us who feel Acclaim was perfectly aware their plan would never make it as far as the graveyard because it would meet with insurmountable moral objections, and that, moreover, they were counting on just such a negative reaction since some under-the-gun marketing exec first pulled the idea out his or her ass at a boardroom brainstorming session.

"Nothing so horrible could ever be real!"

It can't be serious, because it couldn't possibly work, except as the media stunt that it undoubtedly is, despite any denials on the part of the company. They haven't really crossed any lines, and probably won't damage the industry reputation. In this world of "X game designer will make you his bitch," ads and games with zero moral rules built in, where gaming rests in the mind of the public somewhere between doing recreational drugs and masturbation, it would take a miracle to actually damage anything.

The couple of people who're thumbing their noses at the tender sensibilities of basically the entire world to clone a human being are crossing lines. This is just another stunt dreamed up by marketing wanks to pander to the unwashed adolescent masses who still equate being crass with being "badass."


P.S. The headline to that article, on the other hand, now that was poor taste. Grave concerns, indeed. That guy should be shot.

I have to admit that I agree with your appraisal in large part, but putting morality and, along with it, good taste aside for a moment, Acclaim's plan can still be faulted from a marketing perspective....

"I'll pick it up with some of the insurance money!"

Ho boy. What I want to know is, how could ANYONE in Acclaim's marketing, management, or other departments think that this is in any way shape or form a good idea? I believe this might be one of those cases where the "no publicity is bad" idea gets put to a serious test. Especially since I can't see any possible benefits for Acclaim *but* through the publicity, and trying to win the hearts of the terminally stupid who decide "hey, if it pisses people off, automatically it's something good and I wanna get it!" I mean, is anyone actually going to shuffle into the graveyard, heart full of mourning, tears possibly streaming down their face with loss, then glance over to a nearby tombstone and decide "Oo, that video game sounds like a lark! I'll pick it up with some of the insurance money!"?

At any rate, to answer your specific questions: As you probably noticed by now, I think Acclaim's blown their idea of good taste so hard that Monica Lewinsky would be sitting up and taking notes. If Good Taste is sitting somewhere on Earth, this lamebrained idea will be out somewhere in orbit around Pluto, or beyond. It's in bad taste, and it's just plain stupid.

I don't however really expect that this will have a negative impact on the video game industry as a whole. Things like video game violence that are widespread will, yeah. Matters like guns in video games, which pretty much jump across corporate lines, yes. Things like this that obviously fit in the category of "lame corporate publicity stunt"? Nah, probably not. People are going to think of it more as just that, a lame corporate publicity stunt, not as a symptom of video gaming on the whole. I think that the only entity upon which this stunt will reflect (negatively) is Acclaim itself. I imagine that here and there a complete whacko (Like Falwell or something) might try to hold this up as yet another example of the Evils of Video Games, but who pays attention to them, anyhow?

Of course, now I'm just waiting for the next advertising waves to follow. Ads for Harvest Moon games on cartons of eggs and milk? Or better yet, branded onto cattle? Ads for Tomb Raider etched into the Pyramids? Various zoo animals getting brands pushing games like Zoo Tycoon, or Animal Forest, or Pokemon? Where will it end?

-'-,-'-<<0 Trickster 0>>-'-,-'-

Sure, Acclaim has successfully gotten word of Shadowman 2's release out to a group of gamers who may never have given a damn otherwise, but as you said, this is definitely going to prove a serious test of the "any publicity is good publicity" axiom because pushing a gory B-grade adventure game on the bereaved is in such unquestionably poor taste.

Pop-up ads ... of the DAMNED!

Erin -

I'm sure all the good taste and political correctness issues will be covered, so let me put this in a slightly different perspective:

Would you actually BUY something advertised on a TOMBSTONE?

That's what I thought.

- An'Desha - You thought pop-up ads were bad. Now we get pop-up ads of the damned.

No, probably not, but the stunt could potentially backfire on Acclaim in a much more severe way, spurring a chunk of their potential audience to swear off the developer's line-up indefinitely, regardless of what ultimately comes of this fracas.

Cold turkey ... or stone cold?

Oh, God.

They've really done it now.

I know you will no doubt get letters of extreme cynicism and repulse, overflowing with adamancy from the great folks like Ray Stryker, etc., and I will completely agree with them. This is downright disgusting. What is Acclaim THINKING? I don't care how unfortunate a person I would be, I'd never disgrace a grave with an advertisement for a back-from-the-dead, voodoo hack-and-slasher. Hell, ANY advertisement. But perhaps most of all is the fact that the game Acclaim wants advertised is Shadow Man 2; maybe--MAYBE--I can see some of the less gruesome games, that don't have themes of death and killing making their way onto some gravestones for the ultra-poor, but SHADOW MAN? This is truly the sign of the Apocalypse.

I will never--EVER--buy, rent, or so much as pick up a box of an Acclaim game in the store again. And as for the GIA's coverage of the game--it's probably best to stay away from that title for a little while. Just a suggestion.

Just goes to show you that for every publisher like Working Designs, which would go head over heels for its fans, and doesn't really care about what kind of sales it gets, as long as it keeps potatoes and ale on the table, there's always one that destroys the very fabric of human decency / society to make a buck.

-- Steve S. Freitas

This invites the argument that, if families are responsible for the the decision to paste a corny billboard to a deceased loved one's grave, corporate trampling of the concept of "human decency" is a moot point, since desecrating monuments to the dead is then entirely each family's own, private prerogative.

It's my life! Er ... death.


At first I wanted to recoil from the distaste in this new marketing venture. But then I thought about it.

It's going to happen some time. As our culture disolves more and more with all the greed and yada yada so forth (I don't feel the need to pull big words outta my ass tonight so I sound intelligent) advertising in unconventional, and irreverent places is going to have to happen to catch the eye of the over spammed consumer. It's pretty bad now, any day soon it'll be like just like it was in Snow Crash.

Also, if I am the dead guy, what I want on my tomb stone should be my business. If I want a passage from the Bible on my tombstone nobody says anything, though a pagan or athiest may find it in bad taste. If I want a small quote, be it insightful or funny, no body says anything. If I want my tombstone to say, "I'd rather be playing Final Fantasy XXIII (SquareSoft,msrp $119.99) for Sony Playstation 8 (Sony, msrp $699.99). Playonline requires membership, not to exceed $39.99 a month, all other fees incurred by internet access sole responsibility of the consumer or their legal guardian." than damn it thats what it should say.

The Thryll Killer
"They can tell me what to put on my tomb stone when they pry it from my cold, dead, um, yeah..."

My immediate reaction to this was more or less agreement.... undoubtedly there are quite a few people out there who'd appreciate the sardonic humour of lending tombstone time to advertisers -- especially if said advertisers wanted to promote a hobby that had been dear to the individual. Certainly it would seem a person's God-given right to specify how many characters of their grave's marker they want given over to SEGA to push the latest Sonic.

Yet burial sites have always been meaningful, sacrosanct places for the living, and who's to say one has the right to disrespect the families of one's neighbors in the cemetary?

Thanks for the push

Dear me Erin,

I can not believe what we have on our hands this time. This is a new all-time low in advertising. Incredible as it sounds, this even beats those pop-up ads that are scripted to follow your cursor around and replicate themselves when closed. It doesn't quite top Futurama's hilariously disturbing ads-while-you-sleep, but I'd say it's close. This is un-believable.

The rite of burial is one of the last sacred aspects of daily life in modern culture. People of all walks of life, whether religious or not, still practice this custom. For almost everyone who does, it is an important and respected occasion. It's bad enough that crooked funeral services capitalize on grieving families by tacitly (and often not-so-tacitly) extorting their money away, but to even suggest that one could so blatantly allow the scourge of commercialization to enter the funeral realm is just sick. Millions of people believe *deeply* that the ground of a cemetery is a holy place, millions more find meaning in the mere fact that their loved ones have come to rest there. What the hell kind of right do these people think they have to infect such an important ritual with their money-grubbing stink? Even if individual families want to whore themselves out, that doesn't justify invading the private space of all of the other families that will come to the cemetery to pay their respects.

Adding insult to injury, the executives suggest that this may particularly appeal to "poorer families," as if by being poor you would somehow find less value in such spiritual matters. I see this plan as yet another way of preying on the less fortunate, like paying the homeless in exchange for subjecting their bodies to medical research.

Such a crass method of advertising would be deplorable coming from anywhere, but the fact that this has originated from a game company makes me want to scream. Do we really need more of this kind of publicity? Isn't the negative feedback from the games themselves difficult enough for our struggling young medium to deal with? Thanks a lot Acclaim, you big piece of shit!

El Cactuar

Tracing this all back to the "games = rubbish" letter of yesterday, I have to say I'm pretty disappointed that Acclaim would take the balls of the industry, as it were, into their own hands with such a flagrant attempt to garner shock and amazement, and give those constantly on the prowl for more ammo in their war on video games as a respectable medium such a goddam Daisy Cutter of a tidbit. Games and gamers teeter perpetually at the brink of the Crevasse O' Infamy, and who turns up to give them a hearty shove? Friendly fire -- Acclaim.

ph33r for the Protestant work ethic

Lady Erin of Mehlos,

My Christian blood boils at the utter and sickening contempt shown toward those who have passed into the Lord's Kingdom! Well, OK, not really. You can call me jaded if you want to, hell, you can call me flower if you want to, but I've come to expect these inane antics from advertising agencies. I mean, do you watch the trailers when you go to movies? Does your television have an on button? Truly, anyone who's seen chewing gum or rice advertised by half-naked women rubbing on bare-chested men as if they were stranded on a desert isle and needed a signal fire should have not the slightest inkling of doubt that to your average ad exec taste is as foreign a concept as dental floss to an earthworm, and propriety means nothing more than making sure only THEIR company's accessories can plug into the damn thing. As far as I'm concerned, if someone HADN'T tried to pull stunt like this, I'd fear for the future of the much-touted protestant work ethic. ...more.

Now, that's not to say I wasn't deeply disturbed by this latest tidbit of "news." No, the part of this article that caused my stomach to put olympic gymnasts to shame and become the envy of contortionists worldwide was the following line, reproduced here in an attempt to liberate the contents of any decent human being's digestive system: "...suggestions that Sony was responsible for creating an 'edgy' advertising culture around its console which may have galvanised Acclaim Entertainment's marketing tactics." So much for the highly-lauded news reporting of the English media. I thought only Americans had to put up with this buck-passing, blame-tossing, overanalyzed, underresearched, senseless, scandalous, slanderous, trumped-up, camera-whoring, attention-clamoring, panic-inducing, straw-grasping, honorless, duplicitious, and downright shameful, nay shame-LESS "we have no real news, leads, and/or intelligent ideas so we'll make any old filth up" mockery of the truth. My God. We're contageous. If you need me, I'll be on my roof looking for some great chunk of space rock soaring through the heavens that might mercifully put a firey end to all this madness--provided we don't beat it to the punch.

-Wise Master Hibb

"I neither confirm nor deny suggestions that the Kellogg Company is responsible for creating an 'edgy' pastry culture around my breakfast table which may have directly caused my lobbing of fresh-baked peach cobblers at elderly pedestrians during my morning commute."

And there you have it. Advertisers of the world, you've toed the line for quite some time, but you may have finally stumbled over it -- even we snarky sub-culture castaways are dismayed by your brazen envelope-pushing in the Realm of All Things Crass and Clueless.

Bottom line? Go to hell.

Just when you thought it was safe to eat fruit snacks

Bad taste is human, shit like this is divine.

And Penny Arcade thought the Lithtech engine was a blight upon humanity....

Closing Comments:

While this issue relates less directly to the console world, let's run with it, and tomorrow, compare our notes on what effects readily available game/graphics engines like Eclipse Entertainment's Genesis 3D could have on gaming at large, both in instances like this, and in general.

- Erin Mehlos

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