Monday, April 1, 2013

Parker Bros. Video Hotline, 1984.

Graffiti and bathrooms turn up in games in a kind of highly stylized fashion: you never see a stall door in Marc Ecko's Getting Up or Jet Grind Radio, while the stalls in eg. Duke Nukem 3D serve only as an opportunity to demonstrate the Build Engine's flushable props, and perhaps a chance to frag a Pig-Cop with his pants down. Historically, this activity and location are most closely tied together, but games have ennobled the art of putting words on a wall. Back in the early '80s, it was still seen as quite a transgressive activity, which is why it's surprising to see the scenario cast as the setting for a video game ad. (But of course, to juvenile delinquents such as my blog's name calls out, this would be their agora, their community bulletin board. The setting is perhaps more canny than it realises. Of course, in real life there would be more obscene scrawls of Olive Oyl's tree-branch-like anatomy.) (There's probably more to be said about graffiti's depiction in video games, but 11:30 pm while shaking down a post about this particular ad probably isn't the place to do it.) (And bathrooms! Don't get me started! Just one reference: Zenobi's Behind Closed Doors, progenitor of the "escape-the-room" genre.)
FOR A VID TIME CALL
1-900-720-1234
Spider-Man Was Here
Roses are Red
Violets Are Blue
Q-BERT'S A HOPPER
And This Place Is Too!
FROGGER EATS FLIES
JEFF IS A WIMP
I'm not wimpy -- I play Popeye!
(unintelligible)
BIG DEAL
I GOT 007 FOR MY BIRTHDAY

150,000 ON Q-BERT
COILY'S A SNAKE
GYRUSS IS COMING
SUPER COBRA'S THE TOUGHEST YET
THINK YOU'RE GREAT LET'S MAKE A BET
OTHER GAMES ARE JUST A BREEZE
I'LL WIPE YOU ON COBRA
AND THAT'S THE SQUEEZE!

I AM NOT SHORT!
CALL OUR NEW VIDEO HOTLINE
GET THE WORD ON PARKER BROTHERS' LATEST GAMES
Consumer Cost 50¢ Per Call.
That's all cute enough. A couple of stock pieces of immature scribbling, obvious gags, then the rest is weird boasting about gaming prowess. Is this the bathroom of an arcade? The ad, I think, overstates the hold games had on the popular consciousness. It would have been awesome if they had indeed enjoyed this degree of cultural penetration, but I don't think it ever got there.

Despite its departure from their core business, Parker Brothers had a good run during the first video game boom, from the looks of things with at least one solid hit to every two also-rans. Makes you wonder why they got out of the biz (until their stumbling attempts to sell Sega Master Systems) but perhaps it's for the best that they got to go out with their dignity.

The real question is: what is this ad promoting? Not just the games, but a hotline -- one with the weirdly Skype-y title of a "Video Hotline", presumably short for "video game hotline". You could call it and, 50 cents later, it would tell you which new games were coming out? Here, Parker Brothers, I have a better idea: I go to the store, and see which games are on the shelves -- for free! Then, I buy one that I like the looks of. "But wait," says the automated Parker Bros. voice on the other end of the line (or, embarrassingly, a live operator) -- "in 1983 Strawberry Shortcake Musical Match-Ups is coming!" Nuh uh. You don't spend money on the ad convincing us to spend money on the next ad. And, well, perhaps that is why they got out of that business. Not enough calls to the hotline.