Big Mac Attack

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Big Mac Attack

by Harrison Heller

Introduction / Artist's Statement:

Big Mac Attack is a piece of virtual performance art staged in real-time in the popular PC game Counter-Strike: Source. Counter-Strike: Source is part of the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre of games. Players from around the world connect to the game via the Internet and join either the Terrorist or Counter-Terrorist team. These plays can communicate via text or voice chat. The two most common game modes are elimination (in which one team must eliminate the members of the opposing team) and demolition (in which the counter-terrorists must defuse a bomb planted by the terrorist team). The virtual combat takes place in urban environments, several of which are designed to look like the Middle East.

In this game, players can upload any image for use as a "spray", virtual graffiti pasted on walls/floor/ceiling of the virtual environment often to mark a kill or territory.

In 2005, $56 million was spent on ingame advertising and ad agency Massive Incorporated has predicted that it will grow to $1 billion by 2014.Many companies view the virtual environment of videogames as a fantastic new advertising vehicle for their products. Videogaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has come to establish itself as a major cultural phenomenon alongside older media forms like film and television. Today, advertisers apply principles of product placement (used to great effect in Hollywood blockbusters) to popular videogames in order to attract customers from the millions of gamers worldwide. These in-game advertisements are often ingeniously integrated into the game's virtual environment and are usually designed to be as unintrusive as possible. Nevertheless, many gamers, who often pay $60 dollars per game, find ingame advertising disruptive and very irritating. For them, in-game advertising represents an inappropriate and unwelcome corporate intrusion into their virtual entertainment space. Yet, most gamers begrudgingly accept in-game advertising as a fact of life. The goal of my project was to call attention to in-game advertising by marketing a product to gamers in the most explicit and disruptive way possible. I wanted to provoke a reaction from gamers and get them angry about the encroachment of in-game advertising into gaming. I chose Counter-Strike because of the spray functionality (which I planned to use to post McDonald's images) and also because it is a game with zero ingame advertising. As a result, its players do not expect to see advertising when they play. In fact, the brands depicted in the game are entirely fake. I chose McDonald's because it often markets to the gamer demographic and so gamers might actually think that me and my team were hired by McDonald's.  In addition, McDonald's imagery is very iconic and probably one of the most recognizable American brands in the world. Furthermore, a McDonald's incursion into virtual space would mirror McDonald's expansion all over the world. McDonald's currently has over 31,000 restaurants worldwide and  has even spread to places like Saudi Arabia, Lebannon and Iraq that are generally hostile to Americans.

My project was partially inspired by Velvet-Strike (2002), an artistic intervention that encourages Counter-Strike players to make peace-themed, anti-military sprays.Players would then enter Counter-Strike and take part in virtual peace demonstrations, such as gathering in a heart shape and refusing to attack. My project is a similar piece of performance art in Counter-Strike, but my target was in-game advertising rather than warfare.

The Preparation:

Our performance was complicated and required four players. As a result, it required a lot of preparation and discussion before we even entered a game. The project uses four kinds of appropriation: (1)McDonald's themed game modifications (2) McDonald's jingle, "I'm Lovin' It" (3)  McDonald's marketing images (4) McDonald's marketing text from McDonalds.com. 

  • I selected and download four McDonald's advertising images on Google images. I set one as my "spray" and sent one to each performer with instructions for them to use their image as their "spray".
  • I changed my game name to [McD]I'mLovin'It and told the others to change their names to [McD]Hamburgler, [McD]BigMac, and [McD]Ronald.
  • I downloaded a modification for Counter-Strike that I found online which changed the leather gloves of the characters into McDonald's gloves with the Golden Arches clearly emblazoned on top. I distributed this file to all of the performers.
  • I went on McDonalds.com and copied advertising text from their website. I combined this text with some of my own writing to produce a script which I planned to read ingame.
  • I ripped the McDonald's jingle "I'm Lovin' It" off of a YouTube video and sent it to one of the performers ([McD]Ronald) who was instructed to play the music at specific moments during the script reading.
  • I wrote a second, smaller script of advertising text from McDonalds.com combined with my own writing and gave it to [McD]Ronald and [McD]Hamburgler to continually post ingame once the performance began.
  • We went into an empty server, tested our sprays and determined the perfect spot----on the wall of a tunnel that all the counter-terrorists face when they spawn ingame.
  • I set up a video camera to record myself on the computer (for "behind the scenes" footage) and loaded up Fraps, a program that lets me record ingame footage. We were now ready to begin!

Here are the spray images given to each of the performers:

[McD]I'mLovin'It
[McD]Ronald

[McD]Hamburgler

[McD]BigMac

Scripts:

Script read aloud in-game over voice chat by me ([McD]ImLovin'It):

"McDonald's is proud to offer you wide variety of high-quality, great tasting menu options. You can choose well-balanced and delicious meals from McDonald's menu by mixing and matching choices each and every time you visit. Who wants something tasty for breakfast, for just a dollar? You asked, we delivered. The dollar menu is now at Breakfast We'd like to introduce you to a few of the delicious new additions to our menu. Nobody makes breakfast like McDonald's! [CUE MUSIC] Sizzling sausage, melty cheese. It's the one and only Sausage McMuffin. A lot for just a little! Or, start your morning off right with crispy golden hash browns for just a dollar! You can't go wrong with sausage burrito. Savory sausage, fluffy eggs, bell peppers and onions. Wrapped in a flour tortilla. Too late for breakfast? Take a bite out of our famous Big Mac! Two juicy beef patties, fresh onions, lettuce and pickles, topped with American cheese and drizzled with our special Big Mac sauce! Mmmm. Who can say no to that? Get a Big Mac combo and maximize your meal with a soda and our crispy fries! Only at McDonald's! [CUE MUSIC]"

[McD]Ronald's script pasted into the text chat box:

"Love McDonald's? Want to know a little more about our famous burger brand? Then check out McDonalds.com!"

[McD]Hamburgler's script pasted into the text chat box:

"With over 31,000 locations world-wide, we're sure to have a McDonald's near you! Use our store locator and come on over!"

The Performance:

  • I found a Counter-Strike server that was running the de_dust map and had a significant number of players currently ingame.
  • I entered the game with my three performers --- [McD]Ronald, [McD]Hamburgler, [McD]BigMac.
  • All four of us joined the counter-terrorist team. As soon as we spawned, we ran to the tunnel wall and pasted our McDonald's images in a row. The performers stood near their images like a McDonald's booth, wielded only knives (rather than guns), and had already been instructed not to attack anyone.
  • I made my ingame character jump up and down ---this was the signal to [McD]Ronald to begin the performance. He played the opening of the "I'm Lovin' It" jingle and I began to read the script.
  • Meanwhile, [McD]Ronald and [McD]Hamburgler were pasting text into the message box about McDonalds.com.
  • Once I finished reading the script, [McD]Ronald blasted the entire "I'm Lovin' It" song in the game for all to hear as we jumping around dancing to the music.
  • We repeated this performance 5 times on different servers in order to provoke different reactions.

 

Documentation:

Below is the video documentation of Big Mac Attack. We did five performances in order to get a variety of reactions from different gamers on different servers. Big Mac Attack: Reactions is a montage player reactions and Behind the Scenes is a short clip of me at the computer in the middle of a performance.

Our performance provoked a variety of reactions. Many players found the performance irritating and told us to shutup (or simply got the admins to mute us). Several asked if we were paid to advertise for McDonald's, one player kept saying that he was sure that we were "spam bots from McDonald's" and another declared that "McDonald's has sunk so low." Yet, despite the backlash against McDonalds, many other players defended McDonald's or inquired about the McDonald's menu. After the performance, a few players even declared that they now wanted McDonald's food. Clearly, for these players, the advertising worked despite my attempts to make it as disruptive and annoying as possible. Please watch the Big Mac Attack: Reactions video to see player reaction highlights from the five Mac Attacks.

PERFORMANCES:

Big Mac Attack #1

YouTube | Vimeo

Big Mac Attack #2

YouTube | Vimeo

Big Mac Attack #3

YouTube | Vimeo

Big Mac Attack #4

YouTube| Vimeo

Big Mac Attack #5

YouTube | Vimeo

REACTIONS MONTAGE AND OTHER CLIPS:

Big Mac Attack: Reactions

YouTube | Vimeo

Big Mac Attack Behind the Scenes

YouTube| Download

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