The recent release of Sony's new "Super Slim" PlayStation 3 model hasn't exactly set the video gaming world on fire. Don't get me wrong—it's good-looking enough, features a snazzy new disc tray and a boatload of space, and even comes with a couple of great games (our 2011 Game of the Year among them). But, it's understandably hard to get excited about an almost seven-year-old product again, especially when the company pushing it refuses to cut its price.
I'm sure Sony recognizes this problem though—there's a great deal of money riding on these things, after all. One way it has tried to hype up its new release is through an "Official Unboxing" video as part of its PlayStation Blogcast series.
The video is about what you'd expect. In a clean-looking room stands Maya Butler, Sony Computer Entertainment's Public Relations Generalist. Behind her stand three flatscreen televisions, all of them framing the same blown-up picture of the new console. On the round table in front of her sits the contents of the bundle—the box it comes in, the games it comes with, the controllers it includes, and, of course, the physical console itself. It's a room of PlayStation, to be sure.
Maya does her job well enough. She describes what the bundle is all about, what players will be treated to should they decide to drop a few hundred dollars, why the new console is the sleekest one yet, what her favorite features of it are. She lauds the new sliding disc tray in particular. It all looks pretty cool.
Rapidly changing camera angles catch the machine in all its glory. The package shines and sparkles with just the right amount light hitting it at just the right angles. Close-up shots put you face to face with Uncharted 3, the AV cables, the instruction booklet. Then there's the console itself. Boy, does it look good. It's small, sturdy, sexy even. It's clear as day at this point—Sony wants you to want this.
Is this getting weird for anybody else yet?
Whenever I watch unboxing videos like these, I can't help but always feel a little bit uncomfortable. I mean, I get why they're made. People get enamored with technology these days. I get enamored with it myself. Can you blame us? Just today I watched a video of a pig saving a goat from drowning while I was talking to my friend across the country and participating in a virtual space war with people from Germany. That's nuts. Sometimes it's neat to just get excited about this stuff, and then bask in the technical achievements we've created. Plus they look cool. I get it.
But there's a nagging part of me that thinks these videos take it a little too far. All the glowing praise and carefully orchestrated film footage suddenly turns a hunk of wires and metal into an object of desire. We're led to believe, at least to some extent, that some object—in this case a new PlayStation—will be satisfying some longstanding need within us. And if that need isn't there, then the videos like this unboxing are going to try and dig it out for us. This system is supposed to be too great to pass up.
This isn't an entirely new tactic, and it certainly isn't one unique to just video games. Turn on your television, wait about 30 seconds, and then check out one of the latest iPhone commercials. Go to your nearest supermarket, pick up the latest "lifestyle" magazine, and see how long it takes all you to feel like you're inadequate as a person. Check out a presidential campaign speech, and listen to the latest candidate tell you why they're the best person for the job. You'll see what I mean; this is everywhere.
But unboxing videos like these make this manufactured desirability too blatant to ignore. Sometimes gamers can get a little too wrapped up in our pastime. It becomes a way of life. My livelihood is based on writing about these things, so trust me, I know. Petty disputes over what console is superior, or what game deserves what review score, or why X commenter doesn't know what they're talking about go from pointless annoyances to day-ruining encounters. That's not to say games aren't important—they most certainly are—it's just that sometimes we maybe sort of lose sight of what we're dealing with.
The business side of the video game industry, at its core, is predicated on one simple tenet: getting people to buy things that they don't need. Next time you watch an unboxing video and the latest machine or game or whatever beings to appear necessary to your daily functions, that tenet may be worth remembering. Video games are fun things to play with, sure, but that's just it—they're things.
Date: October 10, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*