Advergames: Controlling Our Minds Since 1989

Advergames: Controlling Our Minds Since 1989

If Mad Men has taught us anything, it's that womanizing is an irresistible quality that every man should strive for. But if it has taught us two things, the second would be that our lives are run by advertising agencies. And to some extent, this is true, as even our video games are largely influenced by advertisers.

By this point, video game publishers have developed a level of subtlety to their in-game advertising. For example, NHL12 is sponsored by Honda, you could steal a Dodge Charger in Grand Theft Auto, and players used Sony Ericson phones in Splinter Cell. But advertisers were a bit ballsier in the 80s and 90s, the heyday of the advergame.

For the uninitiated, an advergame is an overt advertisement in the form of a video game. Remember how Disney made those Pirates of the Caribbean movies to make their out-of-date ride seem more appealing? It's like that, except with video games. I spent the last few of weeks compiling a list of the best and worst offenders in the advergame industry. Here are the highlights.

Best: Chex Quest

Chex Quest holds the distinction of being the first video game to ever be included in a cereal box. This was back in 1996, when gamers were still playing Warcraft II and Full Throttle.

Anyone who has ever played Ultimate Doom should feel right at home in Chex Quest, because, essentially, it's the version of Doom that would have existed had my mother been the head of development at id back then. Players find themselves in an elegantly decorated house firing something called "zorch" at some slimy aliens.

Regardless of its domesticated exterior, Chex Quest was actually very popular. In fact, fans have been making homebrew sequels since the original splashed down in their cereal bowls. The most recent incarnation, Chex Quest 4, (which may have been somewhat stolen) was released in 2008.

I should also mention that Chex Quest came bundled with 50 free hours of America Online. In 1996, that was like winning the lottery.

Advergames: Controlling Our Minds Since 1989

Worst: Avoid the Noid

Here's what you need to know: the Noid hates hot, quality pizza, and that's just what Domino's Pizza specializes in. In Avoid The Noid, players were placed in the role of a pizza delivery guy who had less than 30 minutes to deliver a pizza to the top floor of an apartment building. The building had been infested by a patrol of Noids who possessed tiny missiles. Players would employ a series of front handsprings to avoid them. If you failed, the Noids would kick you in the face and stomp on your pizza. Seriously. That's exactly what they did.

Advergames: Controlling Our Minds Since 1989

Avoid the Noid is the grandaddy of all advergames. It was created as a part of a 1989 ad campaign to promote Domino's Pizza, and was released on the Commodore 64 and MS DOS platforms.

To tell you the truth, at first I had a really hard time putting this in the "worst" category; people still speak fondly of the title. But five minutes of playing Avoid the Noid was enough to convince me to slap a "worst" in front of the title. Though, I did enjoy it when a Noid blew up a payphone.

Best: Cool Spot

The funny thing about the Cool Spot franchise is that it was actually fun.

Advergames: Controlling Our Minds Since 1989

For those of you who were born after 1990, Cool Spot was a platformer in the same vein as Super Mario Bros. Players controlled Cool Spot, the sun-glasses-wearing red dot from the 7up logo, as he fired delicious 7up bubbles at all his enemies. Spot would take damage if he touched an enemy and, at the end of every level, Cool Spot would rescue other cool spots. All of the spots looked exactly the same, which may point to some subtle racism on the developer's part.

Seriously. This game was as fun as almost any other platformer from the early 90s, and it had earned itself quite a bit of praise from reviewers. Since advergames are, by definition, more about advertising than gameplay, they are almost never worth playing. But the Cool Spot developers actually put some work into their title.