A gamer has posted images of a billboard advertising Barack Obama’s presidential campaign which he says he came across while cruising the streets in the racing game Burnout Paradise for Xbox 360:
The Obama campaign and publisher Electronic Arts haven’t responded to press inquiries, leading bloggers to speculate whether the ad is just crafty Photoshop work or a real attempt to reach youngsters. Either way, as GigaOM’s Wagner James Au writes, the news raises an interesting question: Are in-game political ads a good idea?
The obvious answer is “yes.” Au notes that the Xbox 360 occupies a third of American homes. Combine that with historically low voter turnout from young people, and this looks like another way to bring out the vote.
Or is it? Utility for the political candidate aside, it’s worth finding out whether these ads actually work. Obama has been hailed for leveraging new technology in his campaign—My.BarackObama, Facebook, an iPhone app—and this is another piece of the puzzle. Unlike those other methods, which can convey detailed information, this is literally billboard advertising, but in a new, virtual space. Given the tendencies of young people to avoid polling places on election day, the Democratic Party–and the Republicans, for that matter–would be wise to study the impact of Obama’s methods. Perhaps they should invest in some exit pollers. I can see the question now: “Does leveling up put you in the mood to vote?”
If in-game political ads prove successful, members of Congress could try it again during midterm elections, particularly if the technology exists for location-based advertising.
At the very least, the ads’ presence might raise the mulitplayer gaming discourse beyond potty humor and bigotry. Although it’s possible they could also make the conversation even worse.