When is Playtime not just Playtime?

September 21, 2008 at 7:20 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Do you work the New York Times crossword online? Do you visit GoldToken for a game of backgammon or chess? Or maybe you are more the simulation game type and enjoy creating families and neighborhoods with TheSims2 or speeding along mountain lanes in Roadsters. And then there’s always sports – Madden NFL anyone?

If you play games online, have you noticed any banner ads on the host site? Maybe you remember there is one, but you don’t remember what it is for. A dancing figure and something about financing, maybe. What about in your games? Some games have buyable add-ons, such as The Sims Ikea stuff pack featuring a line of furniture from the Scandinavian brand to furnish your little simulated homes. Other games may have you driving past billboards for Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, while still others are even more up-front about it – maybe you’ve played Hot Wheels Turbo Racing?


As expensive as some games are, free games can be quite attractive, and there are a lot of them out there. They usually either support themselves with ads or serve as ads in and of themselves. Do we care? I will admit to being annoyed by the flashing “you may be a winner” banners, but I can tolerate a little bit of brand presence in a good game. It has to make sense, though.


The big question is what happens when it comes to children. According to a 2003 Department of Education study, 64% of children ages 5 to 14 who access the Internet do so to play games. They might be playing games with Quicky on the Nestle Quik site, or they might Bike with Barbie. Free entertainment for the kids – what could be wrong with that, right? But what about the extended brand exposure and the emphasis on consumption? Is it a bad thing that Junior spends half an hour helping a cartoon bunny guzzle chocolate milk and save a chocolate waterfall? Do we want our little girls to be exposed to extended Barbie messages, and will it lead to whining in the toy aisle or even eye damage from all that pink? (Really, you should check out that site. But wear sunglasses.)


As technology and media creativity grow by leaps and bounds, there are more and more questions. When it comes to advergaming, we have to make sure everybody plays by the unwritten ethical rules, too.


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