Today in Bad Advertising: Nintendo 3DS “Not a Gamer” campaign

If you’ve watched TV recently you might have seen this set of commercials promoting the Nintendo 3DS as a device that’s not just for gamers.  The commercials show one popular female star (such as Sarah Hyland from Modern Family) playing a 3DS as she relates to some real-life experience and connects it to the game she’s playing.  At the end, she says “My name is ______, and I’m not a gamer.  But with my 3DS I’m a INSERT WITTY THING HERE.”

It’s pretty clear that handheld video games have taken a huge hit by the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android gaming devices.  These devices have managed to bring a whole new demographic of people into the world of games-on-the-go, and Nintendo clearly wants a piece of that success.  These commercials are an obvious way to attract women who don’t see themselves as ‘video gamers’, trying to set the stage for the 3DS to be a handheld device that the mass market purchases to play games on.

I roll my eyes when these commercials come on, as there is a whole slew of problems associated with them.  The fact that women who have a handheld gaming device in their hands, who are literally playing a game have to say “I’m not a gamer” at the end could be read in a few ways.   Is that because women can’t be lumped in with the gamer label?  Is that because being a gamer requires you to only play hardcore shooter titles on your Playstation 3?  Is it because the types of games that these women are playing aren’t legitimate games?  All of the above? Here’s the videos, decide for yourself.

About Tami Baribeau

Lead Editor and co-founder of The Border House, feminist, gamer, lover of social media, technology, and virtual worlds. Pansexual, equestrian, dog lover, social game studio director and producer. Email me here and follow me on Twitter!
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24 Responses to Today in Bad Advertising: Nintendo 3DS “Not a Gamer” campaign

  1. Ari says:

    What is Mario doing here? How is one “not a gamer” for playing the same games that got the majority of gamers of this generation into gaming?

    That seems like a self-dig, Nintendo.

  2. I don’t see it as a problem; I see it as a symptom of a problem, and that problem isn’t Nintendo’s.

    There are a lot of awesome spaces on the internet for non-traditional game players, Border House being one of them. But by and large, if someone outside the norm (read: watching television spots) finds games tempting, they’re going to hit a wall of hate. They’re going to be told from the outset that if they don’t immediately a) have a penis, and b) master Call of Duty X15, that they’re not welcome. Nintendo is saying, “Those people are not your gateway. You can have fun with our games; you don’t have to be part of their hate culture.”

    They’re telling potential fans that they can just play the games, they don’t have to be hung up on labels and identity. I think that’s a pretty positive message. Maybe they didn’t come across the best they could. But also, I don’t think these ads are supposed to be for you (the entrenched, pre-existing player of games.)

    • Cuppycake says:

      But on the other hand, some of us who are entrenched in game culture DO feel that we’re gamers. I definitely identity as a ‘gamer’. So when I see this, I feel like it’s putting me into some category that ‘normal women’ shouldn’t aspire to be, because I’m in the “hate culture”.

      • Hm. I don’t really see it. I get what you’re saying, but I think the takeaway message is, “You don’t have to identify with those people to play our games.”

        You choose to identify with those people. That’s your choice. I don’t think Nintendo cares that you choose to identify with them. They just want people to know that you can play games without being part of the culture that rejects them (and, frankly, rejects you, me, and a ton of other people.) There have been some awesome strides toward inclusion. But, it’s also easy to just play the games, and reject the surrounding culture. I could see, if I weren’t entrenched from a young age, not wanting to dive in.

        I guess my other question is, on what television programs are these commercials airing? Are they playing these on SyFy? On Comedy Central? During Big Bang Theory? Or are they airing outside traditional avenues. Targeting is definitely a part of the message in advertising, and I think without context, it’s hard to make a value statement.

        • Cuppycake says:

          The few times I’ve seen these commercials have been on primetime TV, like during NBC’s The Voice.

          • Thank you.

            That’s kind of what I expected. They’re trying to reach outside standard channels. They’re trying to net potential customers that aren’t interested in the investment and association that game culture –for better or for worse– has communicated as a fundamental part of the game playing experience.

          • (And conversely, I think that in order to be truly inclusive, you have to be willing to embrace people that are really put off by the label.)

    • Brinstar says:

      Yeah, I agree. I feel like the adverts are saying that folks who play these games are not defined by narrow labels like ‘gamer’ and that through these games, they can aspire to be more, like ‘artists’ or whatever. I feel like the ads are aspirational and trying to appeal to people’s imagination to be *more* and to use games as the vehicle.

  3. Nefa says:

    Alright, so when I see these commercials I get the impression that they’re just doing the cutesy “I’m not ‘generic title’, but am a ‘different title'”. The ads themselves are geared toward a market who may not be familiar with the product anyway, so why market to them?

    This makes me think of that PS3 commercial which features many characters from video game series promoting the “long live play”. ( The characters are surely iconic but for someone who doesn’t bother with video games – what is it telling them? Nothing! It’s just a self promotion aspect that appeals to those already within the culture.

    Personally, I think the whole title of “gamer” has some negative connotations associated with it recently and the aspect of moving away from it doesn’t surprise me.

    • Ari says:

      appeals to those already within the culture

      That’s the audience the PS3 is trying to attract, though. The core. I think the 3DS is targeting something more like the Wii crowd. If Sony made commercials like this, however, they’d alienate their target audience.

  4. Blake says:

    I suspect it’s because “gamer” has taken on certain, gendered, connotations, especially of competitiveness and possibly cruelty. There should be a space for “I wouldn’t ever call someone a n00b, but I like playing games.”

    I respect people’s unwillingness to identify with our culture, even while I’m working to change it. I am, however, glad they included Mario, because I’m not sure that otherwise they aren’t just pitching their product as “not just a game device, so girls might like it too!” But I think there is a population out there who don’t identify as “gamers” and do enjoy playing video games, and Nintendo recognizes that group as a core part of its demographic.

  5. Ike says:

    They should just say, “My name is [name]. I’m a [witty thing] AND a gamer.”

    • Anjin says:

      They could, but I’m not sure it is Nintendo’s duty to rehabilitate the term. I think those of us who identify as gamers will have to do that for ourselves.

  6. Zoya says:

    Nintendo has always done quite well at capturing this demographic without using that language. I’m not sure why they have to fall back on such unsubtle techniques now. It’s a poorly written campaign. The Kim Cattrall ads were much better. They didn’t have these canned identity statements in them, but she performed an aspirational identity while demonstrating her affection for Nintendo games. The intended reading is pretty much the same, but there are better ways of putting that message across.

    • Cuppycake says:

      Yeah, I mean it just feels lazy to me. It seems like Nintendo marketing straight up thought: “Okay, iOS has been able to bring in people who don’t identify as gamers. Let’s be as blunt as possible and try to find people who aren’t gamers to bring in a new demographic.” The result is that I don’t believe this is some kind of deep message shunning gamer culture or the problematic nature of the term “gamer” but instead is blatantly looking for women who don’t normally play games.

  7. Pai says:

    I think these ads unconsciously plays into the stereotype that (pretty) women/casuals aren’t ‘real gamers’ (and don’t want to be).

  8. Olivia says:

    I really don’t understand the uproar over these videos. I thought the message was “when you play our games, you’re not just a person playing a game (a gamer), you actually ARE a stylist, an artist, a champion.” The idea being that you’re transcending your normal everyday life and experiencing something totally immersive and new and becoming what you are in the game. I think that is a fun, light-hearted message to send, not some malicious backhanded slap against self-identified gamers or a suggestion the term “gamer” is for guys. Look at the big, happy smiles on their faces when they declare “I am not a gamer.” It’s a derogatory sneer, it’s supposed to be a celebration of the fact that Nintendo’s games are supposedly so great that they become a whole new person when they’re playing them.

    • Olivia says:

      Er, it’s *not* a derogatory sneer, etc etc.

    • Ari says:

      The idea being that you’re transcending your normal everyday life and experiencing something totally immersive and new and becoming what you are in the game.

      Isn’t this the point of virtually every game, though? You’re not a genetically-engineered super soldier, you’re not an assassin, you’re not a wizard, not a robot, etc., but in the game you can be!

      Idk I find it completely absurd to watch someone playing one of the core gaming titles (Mario) of our age, on a gaming console that does nothing but play video games (unlike, say, an iPhone), that she clearly invested hundreds of dollars in, say “I’m not a gamer”. You might as well be standing in front of a bookcase full of books you bought holding a copy of Ulysses, saying “I’m not a reader, but with James Joyce, I’m an Irish poet!”. Just, absurd to the point of farce.

      • Olivia says:

        I don’t think there would be anything absurd about marketing a novel in that manner. Books are marketed that way to children all the time, as a matter of fact, as a means of enticing them to get into reading. It’s just the same thing here. Nintendo is trying to reach a market that does not currently game/see themselves as gamers, so they’re focusing on the immersion of gaming as a medium. It might be strange to see a novel marketed that way to an adult, because culturally we see books/reading as a medium that is for everyone already, but games aren’t there yet.

  9. glitchy says:

    On the one hand, I really do feel like, in my mind, “gamer” means something more specific than just “someone who plays video games”. I’m not sure what, exactly, it does mean to me – probably someone who’s into all the latest and greatest games, probably plays shooters (among other things), probably pretty competitive. Even though gaming is one of my main hobbies, I don’t feel like I’m a gamer, because I don’t fit into that image and I feel like I’m only on the periphery of “gamer culture”.

    On the other hand, it does feel somewhat problematic that all of these commercials feature women. There are certainly some men (like me) who also don’t identify with the “gamer” label, and some women who do, so it’s kind of… weird to only single out women as the targets of your ads for “non-gamers”. Like it’s implying women can’t be gamers, or at least are unlikely to be.

    • Alex says:

      I think a good parallel for “gamer” is “movie buff.” Okay, yes, everyone who plays games is technically a “gamer,” and almost everyone watches movies. But the way the word is actually used is much closer in definition to movie buff, someone who doesn’t simply go to the movies once in a while, but who watches a lot of films and examines them and can tell you every reference made in any given Tarantino movie. Similarly, a gamer is someone who is more into games than most people (because everyone plays games, so you don’t really need a special word for that!).

      • Olivia says:

        Yes, exactly. I know plenty of people who play games but would not identify as a gamer. Not because they are repulsed by the suggestion/identity, as so many people reacting to these videos seem to think, but because gaming just isn’t that important to who they are. I watch movies all the time, but wouldn’t consider myself a movie buff because it’s just a pastime, not a hobby. Same for people who play games but are not gamers.

  10. Shannon says:

    See, I like the idea that they’re broadening their appeal by saying they’re not gamers, they’re [X] by playing a game. I would like it a whole lot more if they’re picked lots of different random people *including* people who might fit the stereotypical “gamer” appearance (20-something white cis males).
    BUT ignoring the way they’ve chosen to go about it – by picking pretty young women to proudly say they’re not gamers – especially hot on the heels of the “girlfriend mode” debacle! – seems a bit absurd. Context context context.

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