Springfield Sprawl: The Ad of the Game of the Movie of the Show

Curator's Note

This batch of trailers all very amusingly advertised the 2007 videogame, The Simpsons Game, with the Medal of Homer trailer even picking up a Golden Trailer award for Best Video Game Trailer. All were (and, at time of writing, still are) accessible at the website for the game, with individual pages for each mock game.

As promos for a tie-in game that seemed inspired largely by an attempt to create more buzz around a spinoff movie of an original television show, these clips would likely be excused by many as mindless additions to a hype and promotions system that has long since gone feral. Yet, at this seemingly distant outpost of The Simpsons, active textuality is being produced. We have The Simpsons’ signature animation style, voice talent, and style, but most importantly we have its signature brand of smart, savvy media parody. Each of these clips, in other words, offers as much Simpsons as an equal segment of the television show. They create an image of the game (as suitably Simpsonesque, as meta and playful in approach, as several games in one) while also authoring The Simpsons text at the paratextual, overflowed outskirts.

Presentation of such instances of overflow can often appear interesting and cute, yet peripheral, or even rather arcane. Yet with an entity the size and fame of The Simpsons, I pose that a great deal of the public understanding of the text is created at such paratextual outposts. After all, we all know The Simpsons as much if not more through its merchandise, advertising, promos, tie-ins, and substantial paratextual imprint as through the show itself. At this point in the show’s life, even many of its self-declared fans know it and enjoy it more through such sites than through the show. And thus, while “overflow” as phrase can suggest excess and more than is needed or wanted, often overflow is anything but extraneous.

I ask, then, how much of any well-known franchise or text is read and understood in part or in whole through its various forms of overflow?

Comments

Avi Santo's picture

paratexts, overflow and narrative

Interesting post, Jonathan. As someone primarily interested in the management of intellectual property, a process deeply imbricated in paratextual and inter-textual coordination, I’d argue that we only ever experience the brand through its paratexts. That said, The Simpsons Game ads are a particularly interesting case because, as you suggest, they are strategically designed to prepare fans/consumers for both multiple Simpsons encounters (with the movie, the TV series, and of course, the videogame) while also deepening fan investment in The Simpsons brand by cleverly recreating The Simpsons formula even in promotional materials for the brand itself.

What strikes me here though is how this type of overflow does not provide additive comprehension of The Simpsons narrative, which as a parody of the sitcom genre, purposely has no coherent narrative to expand upon, but rather, extends (and prepares fans for) the “feel” and style of the Simpsons world.

Finally, your post makes me wonder about the relationship between paratextuality/ intertextuality and overflow. Are the former strategies used in coordinating/making sense of the latter (for industry and fans alike), or, does overflow require more direct storytelling/building/deepening cues than paratextuality and/or intertextuality?

Nina Huntemann's picture

Pleasures of Parody

Thank you Jonathan for bringing these game trailers to my attention, and for the provactive post. I enjoyed the parody of some of my most loved games, which led me to think about your question. Preface: This is an entirely auto-ethnographic response.

 

As an ambivalent and casual observer of The Simpsons, my personal engagement with the television show has been rather sporadic. I reluctantly saw the movie, but attended because that was what my friends wanted. Never-the-less, I might buy the game having seen these promos. Not because I particularly care for the characters or the narrative, but because the "Simpsonification" of the primary texts (MOH, GTA, Everquest, and Katamari Damacy) promises me viewing/playing pleasure. I want to see how the signature smart, savvy media parody of the Simpsons re-imagines and pokes fun at my favorite games.

 

So, to answer your question, for me I would say at least half if not more of the franchise I read through its various forms of overflow.

Jonathan Gray's picture

Wait, Nina!

@Nina — I should’ve added that another reason I like these examples is because they’re actually better than the game, which has really poor camera work (not at all smooth when you move, and it gets trapped behind walls a lot). The game still has some very funny game parody moments (Will Wright’s in it, Milhouse is the King of All Cosmos, Lisa’s pronunciations in her Japanese fighting game is classic) … but otherwise it’s kind of meh.

@Avi — I’d agree that the game or ads don’t expand a narrative, since The Simpsons has no uber-narrative, but they are somewhat expansive in how they broaden the show’s parody to another medium, just as did the film: rather than simply peddle sitcom parody in a game or film, the game offers game parody, and the film offers film parody. So, there’s a slight broadening there.

As for your ultimate question, let me deflect that to @Will, as he who coined the term. I tend to think more things are paratexts than do many people, and I think everything is intertextual, but I’d be interested to hear how or if he distinguishes between overflow and paratexts

Will Brooker's picture

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, WE'VE GOT FUN AND GAMES

As someone who has only ever watched half a dozen Simpsons episodes, I enjoyed Jonathan’s clips based on whether or not I recognised the original game — so most of my pleasure came from the lovingly accurate parody of GTA San Andreas. Yes, I mostly know the Simpsons through its paratexts — a t-shirt of Bart inviting “Eat My Shorts”, a news story about 7-11s becoming Kwik-E-Marts, a discussion board post about the new credits. So I don’t really recognise the Simpsons characters in these clips, apart from the primary cast, or appreciate any show-specific in-jokes: the jokes to me are in the way the editing, music and virtual camera movement echoes the Rockstar trailer for GTA, with which I am familiar.

As for overflow, I intended it to describe, and still think of it as referring to, cross-platform extensions of the fiction which offer a further immersion in and interaction with the diegesis: a website run by characters from a TV show, a documentary about the Blair Witch, an ARG that invites you to collect Apollo chocolate bars and call the cellphones of Hanso employees, a news report from an alternate history where superheroes exist. So I wouldn’t include trailers, posters or reviews within that bracket, unless they continue the simulation.

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