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This history of video game advertisements proves that video games are hard to advertise

Video game commercials are a strange, squirming beast. Where ads for TV shows and films are dependent on conveying the general story and selling the star power of its cast, video games have a harder sell. Games are about selling the world and flaunting its gameplay, but even that’s not enough. Game commercials have the unenviable task of having to be cool.

A fun, comprehensive new video essay from YouTuber NakeyJakey delves into the art of the game commercial, beginning with the bizarre ‘90s-era slapfights between Nintendo and Sega and moving through the cinematic, oddly elegant approach adopted by more modern games like Grand Theft Auto 4, Gears of War, and Halo 3.


None of those games used their commercials to outline story or develop character; rather, they used various approaches to assert the game’s size, whether that be the breadth of its world, the weight of its threat, or the importance of your role as the player. For many games, however, it’s not finished until you’ve found the perfect song: Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World,” for example, was as effective in that Gears of War commercial as it was in Donnie Darko. Some music just conveys; set it against pretty much anything and it’ll give it the depth you’re grasping at.

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About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.