I Dislike This PS4 Commercial

“Sharing Means Caring”

This commercial has been appearing for a few weeks before some of the YouTube videos I’ve been watching. It’s funny, in a way, but after seeing it many times in a row, I started to find a more problematic side to it in the current climate of video games in society.

The commercial’s joke in a nutshell is the contrast of adult video games showing violence with a simple children’s song. A cute ukulele-type instrument strums with a kind male voice and kids in background singing, “Caring means sharing, and sharing means caring… that’s how sharing works.” Very much in the style of Raffi.

The problem with this type of humor is that still today we are fighting a battle over games with mature content like sex and violence and their appropriateness in our culture, especially with children. Politicians and areas of the public are still pointing fingers at violent videos games as a motivation for acts of violence even when little evidence points to it.

So a commercial’s humor that stems from a trivialization of acts of violence feels very counterproductive and badly timed. I seemingly adds fuel to the fire for opposition to violent video games.

I’m very much in favor of a wide variety of games and content. There are many games that trivialize and desensitize the player to violence for humor (Super Meat Boy) or for great narrative effect (Spec Ops: The LineThe Last of Us). But video games are only now becoming an established medium where they are respected for their diversity of perspectives, storytelling abilities, and interaction. This while a long and continuing line of repetitive first-person shooters dominates a large portion of game sales and attention.

Games are slowly earning “legitimacy” as people come to understand what is appropriate for children and in games in general as time goes on. But a portrayal like this serves to undercut any potential meaning to the violence of the games depicted.

Imagine a clip from The Last of Us being shown in the commercial. That game creates a world in which the bland, senseless violence that is so quickly asserted by default in Call of Duty or Battlefield is slowly developed, and painfully justified. Killing people in that game is horrific and brutal, and it is not easy to stomach. It is core to the theme of the game and its story. Imagine all of that meaning and context being ripped away for a cheap punchline, and having it placed alongside titles without a hint of that level of thoughtfulness.

I’d like for more video games to take a more nuanced look at the use of violence, for gaming to progress further to where an advertisement for a console can’t so easily simplify all its major titles to empty killing. I’d like for more games to not only be rated “mature”, but to be mature.

Like film, there’s a place for Call of Duty, just like there is for the friendly Pokémon. Michael Bay and Disney similarly create those experiences for people to want them. But people don’t view the entire industry of film as action and children’s animation. There is a regard for excellence. This commercial shows us we are not quite there yet for video games.

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