Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sell out to the man with this list of promotional tie-in video games

Illustration for article titled Sell out to the man with this list of promotional tie-in video games

With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or confirming that Journey Escape was a real Atari game and you didn’t hallucinate that. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,453,723-week series, Wiki Wormhole.

This Week's Entry: Advergaming

What It’s About: As far back as the days of the Atari 2600, there have been video games designed to plug a particular product. Some are ordinary games that include in-game advertising. Some are obvious tie-ins like a NBA-sponsored basketball game, or a racing game from BMW. But there are a surprising number of games that take place entirely within the world of products like Coke, Sour Patch Kids, and Chex cereal, many of which were giveaways that came with their tie-in product.

Strangest Fact: Atari made an official mod to their hit game Space Invaders for a Coca-Cola sales convention in 1983. The new version—Pepsi Invaders—replaced five of the original game’s six aliens with the letters P-E-P-S-I, letting Coke’s sales force shoot down the name of their biggest rival, and also an alien because Pepsi doesn’t have six letters. For whatever reason, the gameplay was also changed, giving players unlimited lives, but a time limit in which to shoot down their sickly-sweet rivals. Because the game was only produced for a single event, copies are incredibly rare and have sold for over $2000 on eBay.

Controversy: Viva Cruiser was a browser game created by Pfizer in 2008, to promote ever-popular erectile dysfunction drug Viagra. In the game, you ride a motorcycle—the constant vibration of which may or may not be the root cause of your erectile dysfunction—on the way to a hot date, picking up roses, gifts, and naturally little blue pills en route. The Food And Drug Administration actually had the game taken off the Internet, because it failed to disclose any of the game’s possible side effects. It seems like online gaming is a bit outside the FDA’s jurisdiction, but in this instance a little overreach is probably for the best.

Thing We Were Happiest To Learn: Atari’s pervasive weirdness extended to the console’s tie-in games. The 1980's most popular gaming system was well-known for oddball titles like Circus Atari, and Demons To Diamonds. Their promotional games included Kool-Aid Man, Johnson & Johnson’s oral hygiene game Tooth Protectors, and Purina’s dog-food-themed Chase The Chuck Wagon, all three of which were available as mail-in offers.

Thing We Were Unhappiest To Learn: Even a video game giant like Mario isn’t immune to the lure of sweet tie-in money. First, in 1986, Nintendo remade the original Super Mario Bros. as a promotion for popular Japanese radio show All Night Nippon, replacing enemies and side characters with figures from the show and popular musicians. The following year, Nintendo created a promotional tie-in game for Fuji Television called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. The game was Mario-like, so much so that when the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was deemed too difficult for American audiences, Doki Doki Panic was quickly remade with Mario characters and released stateside as Super Mario Bros. 2. (Both games were eventually released in both countries.)

Also Noteworthy: Doritos has had a more prolific game studio than Blizzard in recent years, putting out four original games since 2008, compared to the Warcraft creators’ three. Dash Of Destruction and Harm’s Way are racing games; Crash Course 1 and 2 are obstacle course games. None of them seem to involve cleaning orange powder off of your clothes, which seems like a far more challenging task than simply driving a car.

Best Link To Elsewhere On Wikipedia: Besides a list of Advergames at the bottom of the page, a category page for video game genres is a worthwhile overview. But the unlikeliest link for a page about tie-in video games is propaganda techniques by medium, which lists Advergames alongside bumper stickers and beheading videos.