From October 1 to October 22, you can become the proud owner of some Halo 4 Warrior Avatar Armor on Xbox Live.
The catch is you need to watch three out of four U.S. presidential debates. On paper, this is a wonderful thing. People need to be more politically active as candidates become less centrist. Getting free avatar armor for being involved sounds like a good way to push for activity.
I question the tactic’s effectiveness, however. This isn’t about being politically aware. That’s different. We see political messages in gaming all the time. But activity? Activity is a different beast, a different cauldron of troubles and challenges for those outside the circle. This program might get players invested, but whether it’ll get them to become politically active is questionable at best.
Why? Because the numbers and the reasons don’t add up. Firstly, nothing stops gamers from putting the videos on their console and then deciding to do something else in the meantime. Watching for 30 minutes is pointless if a gamer decides that he has better priorities.
If Microsoft offered a more pronounced physical requirement for viewing the videos like going to a local video game store, for example, then we’d at least have a group of people invested.
Secondly, the prize isn’t all that good. To anyone who isn’t already intent on watching the debate or is a massive Halo fan with a Pokémon-esque desire to collect all memorabilia, the avatar armor serves no purpose.
Giving out innocuous downloadable content such as cool, gimmicky weapons in a Microsoft-sponsored game would be more effective. No one’s going to care about my blinged-out avatar.
Lastly, I don’t understand the demographic appeal. Political awareness and activity require an early, consistent exposure for continued investment. According to The Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer is 30 years old. The possibility of inciting a sudden drive to become active is marginal.
Instead, Microsoft should get parents involved. You’re not going to get 18 year olds magically invested in Barack Obama versus Mitt Romney if they already aren’t in the first place. But their fathers and mothers, who are more likely to be affected by the election, will probably be interested. Appeal to them, and drive them to Xbox Live.
This effort, however, is definitely, unequivocally, unquestionably a step in the right direction. If gaming wants to be taken seriously, it needs to show that it can be a platform capable of handling serious, real-world issues.
I applaud and pity Microsoft's initiative. Though I can question its effectiveness, I cannot question its helpful intent.