Marketing just doesn’t get me anymore. But back then – back in 1996 – I was only six years old. And a six year old tends to be susceptible to all kinds of advertising, especially when it came to the ‘Get N or Get Out’ N64 advertisement. Never before that – and never after that really, was I so susceptible to the feeling of being ‘out.’ Being outside of the cool kids club was unthinkable to me, so of course I got an N64 as soon as I could convince my parents to buy me one.
But before N64 – at least for me, there was Chex Quest. It’s clear to me now that the game is just one giant Doom mod with the express purpose of selling more cereal. But then, it was different. Really, it was my first look at science fiction – the green snot-looking Flemoids were my first encounter with the other kind. Now, I understand that the Flemoids were no more harmful to the Chex Warrior than the common cold. But back then it seemed real, as scary as a horror movie for someone who didn’t know the genre conventions.
Just like the above intro – entirely straight with its ridiculousness – the stakes seemed real; the fact that everyone had a Chex body and human heads and appendages went entirely unquestioned. A Five Star General shaped like a Cheerio? I couldn’t be helped to even question the absurdity of it.
But what was happening – what seemed imminent to me – was the fall of Bazoik, the home planet of the Chex Warrior. The General Mills cereal scientists had lost communication two days ago, and who better to restore contact and peacefully relocate the Flemoids than a six year old controlling the mighty Chex Warrior?
Except I don’t think I quite understood the peaceful part. In my impressionable young mind, it didn’t seem like you were just teleporting the Flemoids back to their own dimension.
Armed with the ‘Zorcher’ – something that looks like what a golden age sci-fi writer imagined TV remotes would look like in the 21st century, the Chex Warrior and I braved hordes of Flemoids, zapping them out of existence – or at least it seemed. Their muted screams of agony and the glimmering sound of the teleportation didn’t help much – it just made me think that I was sending those mucus-y monsters to an early grave.
Was I traumatized? Far from it. I enjoyed it. Like the Chex Warrior between level loading screens, I felt as though I was wiping slimy green mucus off the bottom of my boot. The Flemoids were my enemies – and I, the Chex Warrior – was the bane of their existence.
Should a six year old be thinking this way? Maybe. Or maybe not. But even more ridiculous is the very existence of Chex Quest itself. To create what is supposed to be a wholly nonviolent experience out of Doom, the most violent of the early era of video games, doesn’t just seem ridiculous but totally absurdist. It’s the kind of risk a brand wouldn’t take today, but it somehow propelled Chex into the forefront of many six year olds’ minds.
But while Chex Quest may have violent roots, it made Chex – not just as a cereal, but as a substantial and material product, cool. Unlike other promotional tie-ins of the era like Sneak King or Cool Spot, it didn’t feel like it was selling me a product, but rather an experience. The experience of saving the galaxy, of being the absurd Chex Warrior – with his falsetto masculine voice and the bravado to match – of not just being a brand, but being a savior.
Of course, nowadays I understand what Chex Quest is: a marketing gimmick designed to sell more cereal. But as a six year old, blissfully unaware of the game’s origins, or for the most part, the medium at large, it seemed like it was nothing short of revolutionary.
To think Chex Quest got me into its fantastical world – not just its own universe, but the universe of games at large. All because of a CD in cereal box.