Sitting cross-legged on the floor during the big reveal of the Xbox 360, controller in hand as if he was Zoolander’s Hansel after a crash course in public speaking, former Microsoft evangelist J Allard introduced us all to a young lady whose gamertag was Velocity Girl.
“She might pick up a controller every once in a while over at a friend’s house”, he told us, “but really gaming is not a central part of her existence.”
Her presence there was a way for Microsoft to try and show the world that, after four years of dudes, explosions and high fives, the Xbox brand could appeal to more than just competitive young men. That the Xbox 360 would be the family device the original Xbox only dreamed it could be.
To satisfy Velocity Girl’s needs, then, Microsoft was going to go beyond offering just games. They were going to find an outlet for her crafty, design-savvy, proto-hipster tendencies by letting her loose on the Xbox Live Marketplace.
“…the Marketplace is going to be a way to get VelocityGirl reengaged with our market and reengaged with games”, Allard continues. “Because on the Marketplace, she’s going to be an active member of the community, the community of people that play games like Tony Hawk.”
“Now, she might never pick up a controller, never take a run in the halfpipe but she’ll be able to design and sell stickers, shirts, boards, sound tracks and even design her own skate park for those hardcore gamers like Striker.”
Doesn’t that sound exciting? It certainly did in 2005. Thing is, it’s now 2011, and those features not only never turned up (some Forza paint aside), but have manifested in means diametrically opposed to Allard’s original pitch.
He said we’d get, in essence, Etsy for the Xbox 360. Somewhere people could make things, share things and be creative. We instead got a corporate takeover, as the Xbox 360 Avatars seem to exist solely so that users can spend money outfitting them in designer clothes (based on actual brands like Adidas) or with over-priced trinkets being pushed by big publishers.
Don’t feel too bad for her. She was of course never a real person (though she is, at least, a real gamertag). Like SniperMonkey and vinylrecon, two other “gamers” shown off at the event, Velocity Girl was never more than an idea, a concoction for Microsoft’s big E3 showcase likely inspired by either Primal Scream’s 1986 song of the same name or, even more likely, ’90s band Velocity Girl. Which is exactly the kind of thing she’d have been listening to while she toiled away on virtual flannel shirts and sticker packs…if she had ever been real.
Sure, she’s far from the first example of a console manufacturer failing to deliver on a pre-launch promise, and she’ll be far from the last. But there’s something oddly personal about Velocity Girl’s case that makes it an interesting one to look back on. She wasn’t an extra USB port or a piece of cross-media playback technology. She was a promise personified.
A fake one, yes, and surely annoying as hell in the flesh had she been real, but a person nonetheless. The fact she had a name, interests and hobbies even gets you wondering whether, at some distant level, there was a hint of fact behind the layers of fiction. That part of her was the daughter of a Microsoft engineer, some cute girl who worked in a Seattle coffee shop, maybe even someone dear to J Allard’s heart.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.