Soda machines in video games contain purposes of consumerism, aesthetic, ludic, and narrative, to enhance players’ presence. Furthermore, they fortify the consumerist values of modern capitalism.
In his article, I’d Like to Buy the World a Nuka-Cola: The Purposes and Meanings of Video Game Soda Machines, Dr. Jess Morrissette examines the representations of soda vending machines in games and analyzes the roles – commercial, aesthetic, ludic, and narrative – played by these machines. Furthermore, the author argues that soda machines connect games in a world we identify as like our own and strengthen the consumerist values of modern capitalism.
The author launched the Video Game Soda Machine Project (VGSM Project), a website for cataloging examples of soda machines in video games, which he utilized as a database for the study. The VGSM Project has documented 3,362 soda machines from over 1,500 different games since its launch in 2016.
The commercial purposes of soda machines contain the concepts of product placement and advergames. In-game advertising holds three aspects: in associative integration, games attempt to associate a brand with the activity featured in the game; in illustrative integration, games conspicuously feature the product itself in gameplay; and in demonstrative configuration, games allow players to experience the product in some capacity within the limits of the virtual space.
Even though the in-game advertising is an ever-growing phenomenon, surprisingly the soda machines don’t frequently appear as product placement for actual soft drink brands – of the 3,362 soda machines of the database, only 72 were representations of real soda brands. These actual brands appeared either in separate games or as part of advergames, meaning games that are specifically designed for a brand with the aim of conveying an advertising message.
The soda machines also hold aesthetic purposes. Being essentially a box that has a function, they are relatively easy to design and implement. Moreover, soda machines in games, much like in real life, are built on catching the players’ eye. Often bright and colorful, they present varying visuals and color palettes to otherwise possibly bland or flavorless visuals. Additionally, the visuals of soda machines can enhance the mood of the game and evoke emotions such as tension. For example, brightly lit soda machines are often a source of atmospheric environmental lightning in a dark horror game series Resident Evil.
The ludic purposes of soda machines mean that they hold interactive elements and are utilized in gameplay in many different ways. Most commonly they are used to aid players in the form of health or power-ups.
Lastly, in-game soda machines contain different narrative purposes. They have been used to tell stories of the game worlds and characters. In some games, they act as quest objects or story artifacts. Soda machines also can give a sense of continuum and connection to game series, for instance, Fallout series contain recurring brand of Nuka-Cola, as famous as the game itself. Additionally, fictional soda machines frequently have satirical elements in their brand names parodying actual soft drink labels.
Dr. Morrissette argues that the aforementioned purposes of soda machines coalesce to establish video games in a reality that players recognize as their own. Soda machines are objects found everywhere and known by virtually everyone in developed countries, that makes them a great way to evoke the sensations of realism in games. Additionally, players can instantly expect the range of possible interactions with that machine. All these enhance the presence and immersion, feelings of being there and game worlds being authentic.
The author states that the meanings of soda machines, in addition to enhancing the presence and immersion, reflect and fortify the consumerist values of modern capitalism. They represent the defining features of contemporary capitalism such as consumerism, advertising, conspicuous consumption, and shopping culture. Soda vending machines give life to game worlds by means of active markets. The article declares that games can be believable even when containing supernatural elements such as dragons and zombies but a game without capitalism would be rather unheard of.
The article concludes that soda machines help establish a sense of presence in virtual worlds by serving as familiar symbols of our reality. Simultaneously, they fortify the consumerist values of contemporary capitalism by replicating in games the same models of commodification, branding, and consumption as in real life.
The featured image is taken by Duane Grim, @DemonicXcvii in Twitter.
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