There’s only one thing that marketers of nontraditional game control systems seem certain of: middle-class families, their most coveted customers, still haven’t a clue what their products are supposed to do. Early Wii test groups must have resembled the first encounters of primitive hominids with alien monoliths, and ended in Dad strangling Junior with a Nunchuk cable and Grandma howling at the rafters with a Sensor Bar lodged somewhere unspeakable. To head off such atrocities, Microsoft and Nintendo have deluged the Internet and TV with strikingly unironic adverts whereby actual lovely families, who were compensated for their time, demonstrate how to use Kinect and Wii U without it turning all Lord Of The Flies, ‘spontaneously’ spouting on-message dialogue. The ads are so trendy that Sony made one for something called PlayStation Move, which as far as we know doesn’t exist. And we’d probably have heard of it.
Attempting to boost middling sales after a lacklustre E3, Nintendo set to work on a desperate new ad campaign – a Hail Mary pass to the consumers who weren’t buying Wii U because of the misconception that it was something other than a new console. Indeed, surveys showed that 83 per cent of the Wii U target demographic still thought it was either a fancy peripheral, a Japanese conceptual art project, or a government surveillance drone. More informed players now know Kinect is a surveillance drone, as reporters who waded deep into its EULA discovered. In any case, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore the first question that strikes anyone who sees these ads: “Where do they find these people?” We shadowed the Galoresby family from casting to final cut, setting out to report on a trend but stumbling on a family’s downfall.
The Galoresbys are an American family of Caucasian extraction. Responding to Nintendo’s open call for submissions, they sent in a video application of themselves convivially gaming, and were thrilled to be selected.
They were flown to Nintendo HQ, and ushered into a cosy living room set with sleek furniture and a window onto a perfectly manicured lawn. The Galoresbys had been told that they’d only have to play games on camera and say what they liked about the system. “We thought they chose us because we’re a nice family,” the father, Barry, said later, looking rueful in his cell. “But as soon as we got there, they started making changes.”
First, the producer wanted to “tweak the optical diversity” of the cast. Nintendo had already pitched at white families, black families, and single-parent families, all with meagre results. In a last-ditch effort to blanket more demographics, he put the Galoresbys into mo-cap suits, which is why in the final version of the ad, Katie, the mother, appears to be Latin American; Barry looks South Asian; and Heather, the young daughter, is half Cherokee and half Chinese, as signalled by the feather in her headband and the erhu she was made to play theme music on. Most strangely of all, Ben, the Galoresbys’ adopted Senegalese teenage son, is a white octogenarian in the ad. Even two-year-old Nathan gets mo-capped into Maniitok, a chubby Inuit baby in a fur onesie. “It seemed kind of offensive,” Katie Galoresby later admitted, “but we were trying to raise money to match Ben’s academic scholarship, so we went with it.”
What ensued is almost too terrible to describe – almost. For the next 14 hours, clad in sweaty bodysuits and blasted with Klieg lights, the Galoresbys had to play a single minigame collection over and over, glowered over by the producer. “Ben likes the graphics, but I can play too!” Heather yelped, frantically bowing her erhu, which earned an encouraging nod. “Space marines, ninjas – I’m surprised by how many hardcore games there are,” Ben offered confidently, then looked shocked when the producer made a vehement neck-cutting gesture, mouthing, “Ixnay on the ardcorehay!” “What people don’t realise,” Barry ventured nervously, then said all in a rush, “is-that-it’s-a-big-upgrade-from-their-last-system?” He flinched until the producer smiled approvingly. Through trial and error over tortuous hours, the Galoresbys homed in on the talking points you know so well from the ad.
“Mom, wouldn’t it be great if hardcore gamers all got eye cancer?” Heather chirped wearily. “This really makes their last system look like a steaming pile,” Katie droned. “Yeah, this is definitely a videogame console,” Ben said in a loud, brittle voice, “not Japanese conceptual art.”
The mental and physical toll on the family was gruesome, especially as the mo-cap suits included no zippers or vents. At last, Barry Galoresby’s mind broke and – in a chilling echo of the past – he strangled the producer to death with a Nunchuk cable, earning him a life sentence. The virtual Galoresbys, of course, are now one of the most beloved advertorial families ever, after baby Inuit Maniitok became a viral star. Meanwhile, the real Galoresbys have dissipated into anonymous penury, and Edge is proud to tell their tragic, incredible story today.
Illustration: Marsh Davies