Celebrities are paid to promote products in every market imaginable, so why not video games? Sometimes their involvement goes beyond merely selling games to an audience and instead becoming part of the game itself. It can be fun if one is playing through a game and spots a character whose model is like that of a well known face. Maybe that character is a comedian performing at a comedy club in Grand Theft Auto IV. This is an acceptable way of including famous people in games, tucked away where we can find them if we choose, not thrust in our faces every second screaming catchphrases at us.
In the 1990s developers unleashed many titles that were either written by or stared celebrities. TekWar, Spice World, Shaq-Fu, the list goes on and on. Some met with mixed reviews, others were downright hated. Some developers attempted to sell their games to the fan base that already existed for these famous faces, leaving much to be desired in the way of gameplay. Other games were limited by the technology of the day, either being unable to model a character correctly, or poorly recreating musical numbers.
Games are still being produced today using famous names, that much does not change. However, developers are wiser now. Technical limitations and other excuses will not cut it in the market today, this does not stop them from taking celebrities and trying to turn them into something more than they appear to be. An example of this done badly is 50 Cent: Bulletproof. It is often left to indie developers to show the big companies how it should be done. Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is an unofficial sequel to 90s basketball games. In the place of a sports game, it instead offers players a traditional JRPG experience.
The one place that celebrities in games redeems itself is when all they need to do is provide voice acting, as long as they do a decent job. No likeness of themselves, no duplication of their mundane lives, just a solid piece of work in the style that we would expect from that person. Jack Black did this rather well in Brütal Legend. While talking about voice acting, it is worth noting that the job itself can create famous voices. Jennifer Hale, most recognised for her role as the female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect is well known for her work and has appeared in countless games from as early as 1994.
We have looked at celebrities endorsing games, now lets take a look at the other side of the coin: celebrities who play games. Always looking for ways to increase their own fan base, these people are looking for new groups to bring into the fold. Some are not even real gamers, merely trying to appeal to us because they once played Marble Blast Ultra at E3. Most of these would list Halo as their favourite game, but really, by now who has never heard of Halo by now? It does not take much pass oneself off as a gamer if you know a little about popular games.
There are celebrities who actually play games, such as Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day. With the busy schedule that such people have it is debatable just how much free time they have to devote to completing them. Day was asked once if she contributed anything creative to our industry, but the questioner was shot down on twitter for way he posed the question to her. Mila Kunis used to play World of Warcraft and showed a decent grasp of raiding during interviews while promoting the Max Payne movie. She used to play with then boyfriend Macaulay Culkin, who was friends with Michael Jackson, star of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on the Sega Mega Drive.
In the future games need to stop trading off famous names and instead should focus on improving core gameplay. Some actors may see video game work as a quick payday and I for one would rather see my games produced to the best of a teams ability without having to reply on big names to hide their failings.
Do you believe that celebrities add anything to the games industry? Would you like to see anyone promoting games? Let me know in the comments!