I'm fascinated – fascinated – by how studios choose to use viral marketing to their advantage, or, on occasion, their disadvantage. One that piqued my curiosity recently was the KeepHerAwake.com "game" that was part of the Warner Bros. campaign for the new A Nightmare on Elm Street. Unfortunately, I'm late to the game, and the site has already been taken down and automatically redirects to the main Warner Bros. homepage. I'd have liked to played with it a little just to really make sure it was as ridiculous and gnarly as it sounds.

BoingBoing first pointed it out in mid-March, writing, "Maybe they picked up tips from American black ops torturers, waterboarding detainees and forcing 'stress positions' to 'keep them awake' in the name of liberty." Writer Susannah Breslin stepped up the coverage a notch with a blog post entitled, "Warner Bros. wants you to torture a woman to death." Bresln writes, "Surely, these days, studios like Warner Bros. will do whatever it takes to fill theater seats. Don't let the guys at Guantanamo Bay have all the fun! the thinking must have been. Everyone can be a torturer. It's the American way."

I'm not totally convinced that the connection between US civil rights violations of prisoners has a lot to do with an ill-conceived promotional game, although the similarities are eerily similar. I do think it's the latest in a long line of terribly ill-conceived and/or tasteless attempts at viral marketing, such as the "oral sex" video game promo for the movie Running Scared, which, as Christopher Campbell pointed out, requires the player to perform oral sex on one of the character's wives, ostensibly searching for the G-Spot in the hoping of winning by pleasuring the woman until she orgasms. Well, points for mentioning the G-Spot, I suppose.
It seems as though the more outré of these misguided attempts at online marketing get shut down fairly quickly, and it begs the question why studios would spend so much money designing and programming a site that, chances are, will be yanked after enough people complain? I mean, it's not easy to program a game that allows the user to keep a character awake through encouraging her to mutilate herself with a knife, burn herself, take a cold shower (boobies!!), etc.

I'm not entirely clear what the aim of marketing strategies like this are supposed to accomplish, especially with a built-in audience like The Nightmare on Elm Street. Fans will see it no matter what critics or friends say, and certainly a web-based game that allows you to torture a woman in the interest of helping her – keeping her awake and away from Freddy, so you can feel like the good guy while you're, you know, making her self-mutilate – will draw anyone who wasn't already on board to check out the latest incarnation of Freddy. It's complicated game of complicity that would make Michael Haneke rub his hands in glee. (What's next, Funny Games for the Xbox?)

Do you play web-based games like this? What was the last viral marketing push that you saw and liked, or that piqued your interest in a movie you would have otherwise avoided? What do you think of the short-lived KeepHerAwake.com game? Let me know what you think in the comments.