Gamers are Standing By

[Note: This post originally appeared on Terra Nova.]

June 28, 2006

Dave Elfving (of Machine Chicago) pointed me and others to this insurance commercial (“The Lord of Mishap”), which he first saw on television. Take a look and come back. I’ll wait.

Clearly, you’re in good hands with gamers.

But how did we get here? This is an industry (insurance) widely known for its conservatism in marketing and its focus on, above all, playing to its potential customers’ desire to feel safe and secure. Isn’t it remarkable, then, that we’ve reached a point where a long-established insurance company can reasonably expect to gain customers by saying, effectively, “You shouldn’t worry if you’ve got Farmers insurance, because gamers are standing by”?

Is this an index of how far gaming has come in the cultural imagination? It seems to me that we are in the midst of a transformation where the hallmark of frontline competence in business and technology is moving away from an engineering-style application of linear rationality to solve problems, and toward the application of the embodied, improvisatory, and multiple competencies that games instill.

But there are other interesting questions. Is this shift primarily generational, an attempt by Farmers to reach younger customers? Or do we think that this kind of appeal has broader reach? That is to say, how widely is gaming competence coming to be seen as the kind of competence you want on your side?

Also, does this reflect more a growing idea that gamers’ competence is what we need in a technologized environment (since we assume all of our long-term customer-corporate relationships are deeply technologized)? Or is it deeper than that, reflecting a growing cultural tendency to see the world, technologized or not, as a game? In this vein, note how the commercial draws upon its audience’s gaming competence as well, in the game-like interface that overlays the suburban setting, and which provides the first clues to what’s really happening to the poor Lord of Mishap. Marketing always aspires to get customers to identify with a product’s providers, so apparently not only are gamers standing by, they are also white-picket-fenced home owners and minivan drivers, and it makes perfect sense to them to liken everyday mishaps to the appearance of an otherworldly menace wielding arcane powers on Maple Street.

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