My friends say I'm paranoid. My wife has issued a get-some-help-or-I'm-outta-here ultimatum. But as we approach the summer consumption season, I find myself overwhelmed by a sense of stealth seduction, of being swayed by forces beyond my conscious perception. In short, I am convinced that marketers are trying to get me to buy crap and do stuff. And they're doing it by giving me stuff to do and watch.
It sounds implausible, I know, but hear me out. Between segments of my favorite show in which people fall down, I have to watch four ads. Amid my cheeky technology dispatches, I'm noticing all sorts of clumsy-ass plugs ... or are they? Either the entertainment marketers and content providers of the world are attempting to separate me from my hard-won dollars, or I'm a bit player in a conspiracy bigger than us all.
If my suspicions prove accurate then I shall have some tough choices to make. Do I spend or save? Do I venture out or stay put? Do I dare to eat a peach? If so, will the clandestine pro-fiber marketing cabal finally stop tapping my phone?
I'll say this: These unseen forces clearly want to get the multiplex back on my summer-travel agenda. Ordinarily, I'm an art-house guy who favors films in which dowdy middle-aged librarians improbably find love with diffident, tragedy-scarred taxidermists who are charming but don't realize it. But that might change after the puppet masters steered me towards "Day X Exists," which does more to awaken my dormant interest in "Salt" than do 3,235 previews showing Angelina Jolie sliding across the floor with bazooka aflame.
A multi-mission online game, "Day X Exists" unfolds like an episode of "24," minus the glib abrogation of Miranda rights. In it, the player works as a low-level federal operative attempting to either expose, undermine or advance a conspiracy that threatens to do things that are the opposite of nice.
Each mission is divvied up into three sections: a brief video intro, a game and then a video debriefing. The clips boast a rare cinematic feel; the games require some skill, unlike most click-and-yay! online challenges. Clearly much thought went into this project, as it more effectively evokes a sense of spy-game unease than many full-length thrillers.
But mostly I dig "Day X Exists" because it affords me the opportunity to sneak around, dissemble and blow things up without fear of criminal sanction. Alas, I'm not quite the underworld operative I am in my daydreams, in which I inevitably save the Swiss consulate by weaponizing my pants. Of the three "Day X Exists" missions that have been unveiled so far, I only succeeded in one: I'm a gifted liar, but can't focus an arrow-key-operated camera or hack a hard drive worth a damn. Also, apparently I'm willing to betray my country any time somebody asks me politely. A Bureau desk job beckons.
The furtive assault on my attention span and entertainment budget doesn't stop with "Salt," however. Somebody -- maybe a black-ops marketing ninja, maybe my doorman -- won't rest until he transforms me from a soccer-mocker into a fútbol fanatic.
Okay, that somebody is quite obviously ESPN. For the last three months, the network/brand/quipmeister has done everything to alert me to its World Cup coverage short of kidnapping my mom and premising her safe release on my sustained multiplatform engagement. It turns out that I didn't need much prodding.
All it took was 90 minutes spent interacting with "I Scored a Goal in the FIFA World Cup Final," which speaks more eloquently about the sport and what it means -- to its players, to its fans, to the world outside our window -- than the hundreds of "if you don't appreciate soccer, you are a bad sports fan and, by extension, a bad human being" commentaries with which we'll be bombarded over the next few weeks.
The concept is simple. In three-minute bites, 28 players who scored a goal in a World Cup final game reflect upon their experience. The heartfelt narratives are supplemented with game clips and audio calls. They offer historical context and a wealth of lovely detail, like one player admitting with great regret to having scalped a pair of tickets earmarked for his parents.
"I Scored a Goal" succeeds because it impresses on moron American fans like me -- who count Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat's victory over Randy "Macho Man" Savage at WrestleMania III among the sublime sporting events of their lifetime -- what's at stake. The collective mood and civic pride of entire countries will rise or fall based on the performance of their national teams. The message of "I Scored a Goal"? Soccer matters like few other sports do. It makes an incredibly persuasive case.
I'm never going to be a soccer nut (they refer to a "team" as a "side"? That's crazy talk!). I still think the game would be more interesting if it were played with two balls, which would render it less like an aggressive twist on field hockey and more like pinball. But after watching every one of the "I Scored a Goal" vignettes, several of them more than once, I couldn't be more primed for the games ahead.
In conclusion, I owe a debt of gratitude to the covert marketing/content provocateurs who nudged me in the right direction with both "I Scored a Goal" and "Day X Exists." Now, can you remove the microchip from behind my ear?