Last week Owen was pretty ill so I stayed home with him, nursing him back to health. The side effect of spending most of your day on the couch with a sleeping toddler on your chest is that you watch a ton of daytime TV.
And contrary to popular belief, the fact that I work in TV doesn’t mean I actually watch a lot of it, not during work hours anyway. Sure, I watch screeners and such and I have the TV on in my office for SportsCenter or re-airs of some of our originals, but I’m hardly ever really watching; it’s very passive.
So anyhow I took advantage of the time by watching some neglected HD channels on the HD tier namely Food Network, History, HDNet and Animal Planet.
And then a funny thing happened. An ad came on.
Not that funny in and of itself, but it was more than that. It was an “integration” – one of those ads where the host of Food Network show actually talks to you about the product. They call it “host selling” and in this case it was Aida Mollenkamp talking about a Nintendo DS game, Personal Trainer Cooking. Her show’s website is currently being sponsored by the game too.
Now I can’t find that particular ad on the internet but I did see another ad for the same game, this one starring Lisa Kudrow. Here’s that ad:
From the YouTube description:
Watch the DS Chef take Lisa Kudrow and her niece step-by-step through how to prepare Kung Pao Chicken with Personal Trainer: Cooking.
But why didn’t Kudrow appear with her son, Julian Murray?
I don’t know what I’m driving at here since, in general, I really love the fact that the Nintendo DS is marketing itself as the destination for female gamers of all ages. They’ve recently featured Liv Tyler and America Ferrara in their ads and I think they send a really important message about games and gamers to young girls and women: games can be about more than murder, fantasy or sports AND games are meant to be social.
I think games and game systems geared at males – boys AND men – do a good job of showing gore and graphical power and objectification (of both women and hardware/software) but they rarely show the social benefits of gaming. The camaraderie. The fun. We get one-ups-manship and the glorification of victory, but it’s winning in a very narrow field. We forget that the real reason to play any game is to have fun.
Wii ads are the notable exception, especially Wii Fit, which shows how everyone no matter their sex or age can get fit using the system. And the Rock Band/Guitar Hero juggernauts are especially adept at selling themselves as family fun and I dig that, mostly because Jenn and I are addicted to Guitar Hero.
But something about the cooking game sticks in my craw. Maybe it’s the choice of spokesperson, both Kudrow and Mollenkamp.
Maybe it’s the Food Network in general which only had male “Iron Chef”s until Cat Cora joined.
Maybe it’s because I have a daughter and I hate the idea of folks cramming a dated gender role down her throat like so much bad school lunch meatloaf.
I know in our family I do the most cooking. I just wish the ads featured families learning to cook together or a single person using the game to plan a dinner party for a big group of friends.
I guess I’m saying that for a company like Nintendo, the possibility of showing people how transcendent the idea of play can be should trump and “natural” assumptions we have about who plays what kinds of games. Especially in this area of casual gaming on Facebook, it seems like a mised opportunity to market a cooking game at girls and Food Network viewers. That’s the obvious path to go down.
But Wii Fit and their other titles on other platforms aren’t typical; they aren’t expected. They – and all the music games on the market across the various platforms – show us that people want to be entertained and they want to connect.
I have a son as well and I want him to enjoy more than just blowing stuff up or scoring touchdowns. I’d like him to play an instrument (even if it’s virtual) and learn to cook too.
I like the idea of Personal Trainer Cooking. If I had a DS I’d probably still be buying it despite my complaints.
But as someone who watches media and marketing closely because I work in media and marketing I’m a little put off. Sure the ad is nice and all but I kinda wish the spirit of the ads were more like this Entertainment Tonight piece with Jennie Garth, which itself would’ve been better if Peter Facinelli were in it (did I just type that?).
Anyhow, I’m just thinking about games because of Christmas and I find myself continually thinking about how we (the media, advertising, society) talk to girls and women since I’m raising a girl who I hope grows into a fine young women. A gamer who has fun, whether she’s cooking or rocking out or ganking some dude.
Am I way off base here? Do I need to lighten up? Should I go cook a meal? Shred some tunes? Play more WoW?
Let me know.