UPDATE: Square Enix has pulled the ad, even before this post was published. That has got to be a record. They released a statement, which is posted below.
Video game advertising is creative, I’ll admit that much. The latest campaign from Activision/Treyarch promoting Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 called “Surprise” is a stroke of genius. It’s great. With that, many other advertising agencies sometimes dig deep in their pockets to create campaigns that transcend traditional advertising, they immerse the subject in advertising that asks you to play along. The latest campaign from Square Enix and their ad firm promoting Hitman: Absolution seeks to immerse it’s target audience – in cyberbullying.
With bullying a continued sociological stress point in today’s society, I’ve written about it before, it seems odd that Square Enix would sign off on a campaign that encourages players to threaten their friends with death via Facebook. All fun and games right? The email literally says “Square Enix Wants You to Put a Hit on Your Friends!” The identifying features for the hit and threat of death are listed as such: Her awful make-up; Her ginger hair; Her annoying laugh; Her strange odor; Her big ears; Her muffin top; Her hairy legs; Her small tits. These are the female options, with the male options just as insulting, ranging from small penis to body weight. Then you get to pick an equally insulting reason. The defense of this, if there is any, is that gamers tag each other with dirty jokes and insults all the time, so it must be okay to send such an insult through Facebook. But what if you send it to someone who doesn’t play video games? Is it still just for laughs?
When you select an insult and a name, the app takes over, integrates a static cut scene in which the targets Facebook profile picture is integrated in as the target, then they are “eliminated.” I have to be clear though, it is an intuitive campaign, in execution and programming and does fit in with the style of the game. Where Square Enix went wrong was releasing it outside the game. Within the game world, if you want to threaten another person playing a game in which you hunt and kill people, that seems par for the course. I can’t imagine anyone playing a game as such would be offended. However, with it being open to anyone, making it easy to send a pre-programmed threat, well, that’s just terrible marketing.
Some of you are shrugging your shoulders right now, saying “meh, it’s not so bad.” That’s because you are gamers and you have a desensitized humor about this kind of thing – about cyber-bullying. I understand that point, if I was to send this to one of my gamer friends it’d be hilarious. But lets assume for a second that a 14 year old who is a gamer, sends this to another 14 year old who is not a gamer. Then what? Is it a credible threat? Or are both sides laughing? With bullying, you are never sure what the outcome will be, which is why it is such a touchy issue. And while I’m sure Square Enix will take the NRA style stance (they didn’t pull the trigger), in an industry that is full of younger demographics, it seems terribly irresponsible.
Then of course there is the legality of such, using the NRA defense Square Enix has no such further responsibility for anyone sending death threats to their friends or strangers because it is under the guise of advertising. or do they? The waters here are murky, and they most likely would not be to blame for something terrible happening, nor should they be. That’s our social responsibility, to monitor our kids and so on.
The thing is, I’ve really enjoyed the Hitman franchise. I like the stealth elements and the creative ways to whack people. I have played most of the releases, and was planning on purchasing this latest release. However, how can I speak out against bullying and support a company that is basically running their own cyber-bullying campaign? I can’t. And I encourage other gamers to not purchase this game as well. In a time where female game developers are fighting against rampant industry sexism and children are committing suicide due to cyber-bullying, it seems that Square Enix simply doesn’t realize that as a major game manufacturer they should have at least a shred of social responsibility.
Make sure you let Square Enix know that promoting cyber bullying is not a good way to sell a game.
It appears that even before this article was posted, Square Enix had heard enough and removed the app (the link above now just goes to the main page). This was their statement to the press:
“Earlier today we launched an app based around Hitman: Absolution that allowed you to place virtual hits on your Facebook friends,” the statement reads. “Those hits would only be viewable by the recipient, and could only be sent to people who were confirmed friends.
“We were wide of the mark with the app, and following feedback from the community we decided the best thing to do was remove it completely and quickly. This we’ve now done.
“We’re sorry for any offense caused by this.”