Earlier this year I put together a list of 10 great modern video game ads. This week Sony released a new commercial that deserves to be in the company of this exclusive group.
"Michael" is a two-minute live-action film featuring characters from more than a dozen games that have appeared on PlayStation platforms. It begins with a pair of Second World War soldiers from Call of Duty parachuting through the night into a forest. The duo make their way through the shadows to a dimly lit pub, where they find PlayStation-exclusive heroes including God of War's Kratos, Uncharted's Nathan Drake, and LittleBigPlanet's Sack Boy mingling with personalities from popular multiplatform franchises including Portal, Assassin's Creed, and Metal Gear Solid.
This motley crew of characters takes turns sharing stories of their exploits until one of the Call of Duty soldiers feels compelled to speak of his experience on Omaha Beach. It was hell, we learn, and the only way he made it through was with the help of Michael, an average looking guy holding a PlayStation 3 controller whose image is immortalized in a gold-framed photograph hung in this haven for PlayStation heroes. Rousing music creeps up, the rest of the characters begin to chant Michael's name, and the words "long live play" slowly emerge on the screen.
Go ahead, give it a watch. It's in the sidebar. I'll wait.
It's great, geeky fun, I'm sure most of you will agree, and an excellent way to create a feeling of fraternity and loyalty among gamers in general and PlayStation fans in particular. And while I admit that now more than ever I really do feel like a champion to Bioshock's weep-worthy Little Sisters – one of whom appears here – there's more to this short film than the clever way it flips things to make us the heroes in game characters' lives.
Sony's ad tacitly declares that we don't play games just for their guns and explosions. It affirms that video game characters and the stories in which they appear are important. It suggests that games make players feel. I've spent hours with all of the characters featured in the spot and I felt a legitimate flood of emotion as it built towards its climax.
Perhaps I'm reading a little too much into it. It is just an ad, after all. However, there's something about Sony's spot that made me feel proud to be a gamer. And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone, as evidenced by the commercial's startling success: Some three million views on YouTube alone in a single day.
I think I might add one more viewing to that tally right now.