As a PR move, donating a free DS Lite and copy of Brain Age to President Bush on his 60th birthday was brilliant on Nintendo’s part. After all, there’s lots of free advertising to be found in the dozens of press mentions the bit has already received, and nearly all of them printed verbatim the self-serving letter from Nintendo to Bush (which includes gems about making flights on Air Force One “a bit more fun!” Doesn’t that plane have, like, two bowling alleys or something?)
But this story is more than a PR case study — it’s also a rare window into the political inclinations of some members of the video game press.
Sure, we see some political opinions when a story about the latest bit of anti-game legislation pops up, but those blurbs are usually just knee-jerk reactions against whoever has been foolish enough to anger the mighty voting block that is gamers (*snigger*). But this is different. While Nintendo was careful not to state anything explicitly in its letter, the implication of giving a brain training game to a president widely stereotyped as a dim bulb is not lost on anyone. Which outlets took the bait and made the obvious joke, and which ones played it straight? Let’s review some of the outlets that chose the former route:
Leading off the snarkfest, unsurprisingly, is Spong which had by far the most ruthless attacks on the prez. Not only does the British site lead off by calling Bush a “warmongering lunatic and global terrorist overlord,” but it goes on to suggest that Bush’s aging should make people happy as they “wait for the inevitable.” Ouch! Other overseas outlets weren’t much better: England’s ComputerAndVideoGames asks “Will Dubya start making sense now?” right in the headline, while Australia’s PALGN notes that the President is “hardly known as the most observant observer in the observatory.”
For some domestic outlets, the potential for mischief was just too much: Kotaku claimed that the “sheer number of [joke] possibilities have temporarily locked-up my snark muscle.” Gameshout, on the other hand, apparently had a locked up grammar muscle when they refrained from jokes because they wanted to “stay partial [sic] in such a matter.” And something must have locked up in 1up.com’s brain muscle when they bizarrely ended their story with a joke about Helen Thomas, Advance Wars, and foreign policy for Iran. Because if there’s one thing gamers love, it’s references to Helen Thomas.
The Nintendo-focused sites were pretty restrained: Nintendojo simply gave a backhanded compliment by wondering aloud “just how low President Bush’s brain age is,” while PlanetGameCube took the coward’s way out in deciding to “leave the jokes to our talkback goons.”
Surprisingly, these were the only major outlets I could find that used the opportunity to take pot shots at the president, subtle or otherwise. Many other outlets simply reprinted the story without comment. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t able to find any outlets that went the opposite way, using the opportunity to take offense at Nintendo’s slight jab at President Bush. Is this a sign that the game media is lacking in upstanding defenders of the new conservative majority, or merely an illustration of our obsession with sophomoric humor directed at those in power? Feel free to discuss in the comments.