So, Blizzard has come out with a new commercial for World of Warcraft. It’s the latest in the ongoing “What’s Your Game?” series, wherein a celebrity divulges their secret love of the game by gushing about their character. The results have, in the past, been quite humorous, with William Shatner revealing his shamanistic tendencies and Mr. T revealing his night elf… well, Mohawk.
And now, after a long hiatus, we’re given a look at yet another “star” and their passion for all things Azeroth, this time in the form of longtime Internet joke Chuck Norris. But rather than the standard formula, we’re treated to a montage of a WoW-ified Norris unleashing feats of over-the-top violence on Azeroth’s denizens while an Asian stereotype reads off a list of ridiculous claims.
Just a silly commercial, right? Unfortunately, there’s more to this than that. This latest ad is problematic in a number of ways and seems to be indicative of a company that is quickly losing touch with its own player base.
Hit the break to find out why this thirty-second spot has got me all bent out of shape.
For those of you not versed enough in the Internet to understand the concept of Chuck Norris jokes (and, believe me, I envy you), it’s a phenomenon that started somewhere back around 2005. People would begin attributing ludicrously heroic deeds to Norris, often granting him superhuman abilities that mostly involved roundhouse kicks. Like any Internet fad, it was difficult to say exactly what the cause of this was, though many suggest that they were inspired in part by Conan O’Brien, who would often show clips of Norris’s show Walker: Texas Ranger completely out of context to revel in their absurdity.
These jokes naturally found their way into World of Warcraft, which was in its infancy at the time. In these ancient times before even the game’s first expansion, the general chat channels for seemingly every realm would be lit up with hundreds of players regurgitating every ridiculous Chuck Norris facts that they could. This gained particular notoriety in the Barrens zone, whose general chat has the well-earned reputation of being more or less a cesspool of Internet-related humor.
You’ll note that when describing the phenomenon of Chuck Norris jokes, I’m describing them entirely in the past tense. That’s intentional. Like just about every senseless Internet joke over the years, the phenomenon of Chuck Norris facts has come and gone, becoming a source of groan-inducing annoyance rather than comedy. Only those seriously behind-the-times would be caught relying on them as a source of humor. And that’s one of the reasons this new commercial is so baffling.
Let’s not mince words here: World of Warcraft has a bit of an image problem. The game is hemorrhaging subscribers after nearly seven years of constant growth. While that can be attributed to a number of reasons – not the least of which being that the game is simply old at this point – many long-time players that have found themselves quitting have voiced frustration at what they believe to be a game that has grown stale.
And, frankly, this commercial is only reinforcing this notion. Relying on a six-year-old phenomenon to try to drum up interest in World of Warcraft is only supporting the increasingly common belief that WoW has become barren of innovation. Regardless of whether or not that is the actual case, using a joke that hasn’t been funny in years just seems downright sad at this point. Blizzard might as well have devoted half a minute to “All Your Base” jokes or “WHAZZUP!?” references.
Furthermore, just who is this commercial supposed to appeal to? Even at its height, the draw of Chuck Norris facts was entirely limited to Internet culture. But this is a television ad that debuted during a football game. Is this their plan to attract new subscribers? Did they really expect your average Joe to understand the joke behind this commercial? Anyone who wasn’t familiar with this meme would just be completely lost as to why a washed-up martial artist was promoting some fantasy game, and those who were familiar will just wince uncomfortably. The whole thing is a mess on multiple levels.
Of course, this whole thing wouldn’t be such a big deal if it were just about a failed opportunity to promote World of Warcraft. Companies release mediocre commercials all the time. No, where this situation really gets bad is the fact that it actually features Chuck Norris. Not just the overblown, heroic image of Chuck Norris created years ago by Internet jokes, but the actual human being in the flesh. And that presents a whole different set of problems.
You see, after jokes about him reached the height of their popularity several years ago, Chuck Norris did what any former celebrity would do given the situation: squeeze new-found awareness of himself into another fifteen minutes of fame. In Norris’s case, he channeled this into promoting an extreme right-wing political agenda.
Turns out that when Norris isn’t pushing the world down with push ups and curing cancer with his tears, he’s actually crusading against the homosexual community. Norris was an outspoken supporter of California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed homosexual marriage within the state, going so far as to label the ban’s opponents as anarchists. He even railed against the national Day of Silence, a movement to bring light and awareness to the incredible social pressure placed on homosexual teenagers – one that has lead to a significant rise in teen suicides. He personally seems to think we should look towards colonial methods of corporal punishment for “sexual deviancy.” Classy.
This isn’t even the only recent issue Blizzard has had where the have, however inadvertently, come out on the wrong side of the homosexual community. A few weeks ago, they found themselves apologizing for homophobic comments made by George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher in a video that was broadcast during a concert at Blizzcon. At this rate, the company is really risking the alienation of a large portion of their own player base, as there is a significant population of WoW players that are members of the LGBT community – the realm Proudmoore is famously a haven for such players, who often participate in in-game pride rallies.
Now, naturally, I’m not accusing Blizzard of being a homophobic company. But what they need to realize is that when you run a game which over ten million people actively play, you need to be much more cognizant of your public face. Quite frankly, hiring on a man who clings to the last remnants to his Internet stardom in order to promote his anti-gay agenda just smacks of insensitivity, and relying on a years-old joke to sell your game just makes you look desperate and out-of-touch.
Before I get accused of hating on Blizzard, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I actively play (and still love) World of Warcraft. I whole-heartedly believe that, despite popular opinion, the game is fresher and better than its ever been. They have some really great ideas as far as keeping the game interesting, andwhat I’ve played of the new expansion has given me confidence in Blizzard’s direction with the game.
But I realize that I’m not the one that Blizzard needs to convince of the game’s future. BioWare’s Star Wars: The Old Republic is looming right on the horizon, and while supposed “WoW killers” are a dime a dozen, dipping subscriber numbers have put Azeroth in a vulnerable position that its never faced before. All the brilliant mechanics and innovations Blizzard has in store won’t mean a thing if they let the game’s image continue to deteriorate.
Blizzard needs to secure confidence in their flagship franchise, and this commercial is not helping.