Juxtaposition in Video Game Commercials

Textbook Tarantino or tired trope?

I recently re-entered the world of BioShock’s Rapture by means of BioShock: Infinite’s Burial At Sea DLC. As I moved about the underwater city, full of the Gatsby-esque architectural stylings of Frank Lloyd Wright, I heard familiar sounds from the 20s-40s cascade through the setting.

At first, these genuinely warm pieces lulled me into a comfort juxtaposed against what eventually becomes a dark and grotesque atmosphere. Though, after roughly an hour, the presence of the pieces became more noticeable than they had seemed in my first play-through of the original BioShock. I pawned this off to the Billie Holiday Pandora station I’ve practically had on loop since that original play-through.

However, I began to wonder if the use of happy/soothing/serene/moving music juxtaposed against aggressive and bleak circumstances may be overstaying it’s welcome. Just as quickly as I had decided to push this notion out of my mind, I heard news of the new Wolfenstein: The New Order trailer making use of Martha and The Vandellas hit “Nowhere to Run.” While the song my not be strewn throughout the entirety of the trailer, it made me wonder if my initial inkling was correct.

I have decided to compile a list of many video game commercials that take advantage of this marketing approach, starting with Super Smash Bros. in 1999. This is likely nowhere near a complete list, merely an example of a marketing technique that is becoming less and less subtle.

Is this approach still effective or tired?

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

Song: The Turtles – Happy Together
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Black (2005)
Song: Giuseppe Verdi – La Traviata: Noi Siamo Zingarelle
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Gears of War (2006)
Song: Gary Jules – Mad World (feat. Michael Andrews)
iTunes | Amazon MP3

BioShock (2007)
Song: Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

Dante’s Inferno (2010)
Song: Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Playstation 4: Perfect Day (2013)
Song: Lou Reed – Perfect Day
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

Titanfall: Life is Better With a Titan (2014)
Song: Robbie Williams & Jonathan Wilkes – Me and My Shadow
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

PS4: Sharing Means Caring (Destiny) (2014)
Song: Josh Daughtery – Sharing Means Caring

PS4: Sharing Means Caring (Watch Dogs) (2014)
Song: Josh Daughtery – Sharing Means Caring

Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)
Song (Original): Martha and The Vandellas – Nowhere to Run
iTunes | Amazon Mp3


UPDATE: Thanks to Bob Mackey of Retronauts for the “Sharing Means Caring” recommendations.


Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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3 thoughts on “Juxtaposition in Video Game Commercials

  1. Thomas Paine says:

    Beyond the obvious lure of juxtaposition I wonder if there isn’t another subtext at play here. Is there an attempt to appeal to women and assuage parental misgivings about violent video games? Maybe I’m way off base here and these ads actually do the reverse but I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that, at least in some cases, they were trying to downplay the violence. The Wolfenstein 3D ad did not fall into this category though, I think they were going for pure shock value.

    • kylestarr says:

      Thanks for the addition, Thomas! I would not target the specificity of women into that argument but certainly parents. Without a doubt, the choice in music does alter the context of violence as play.

      I do believe the Wolfenstein 3D ad links into this motif as a new form rather than a continuation of the same marketing strategy. IMO, while the actual piece from the game is a clever take on popular music under the Nazi-regime, the heavy use of upbeat pop at the beginning and end caps attempts to average out the chunk of the violence seen in the middle. It does straddle the line a bit but I think it can be looked at under the same lens as the Bioshock trailer. These particular games are not free of the trailer music where the others are.

      • Thomas Paine says:

        The only reason I mentioned women is because while they make up their fare share of gamers in general I believe they are underrepresented in these violent, mostly FPS, games. Gaming studios want growth and what better way to get it than to appeal to an untapped market. Obviously a little music in your ad isn’t going to be a game changer but I just wonder if it’s part of their strategy. Misguided or misogynistic as it may be.

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