In today’s world of entertainment the media machine is a factory process line; from preview to review, it’s a step by step construction/destruction of what ever is in its way. It is a catch 22, vicious cycle; for something to be big it needs to be popular and for something for popular it needs to be big. But big isn’t enough and passion is now obsession; the gaming press feed off the cries of the huddled masses waiting for the tiniest morsel of information. Where did the journey begin? And is there a way to get off?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I have picked up a game off the shelf in a store and actually needed to read the back. I already know the plot, the graphics, the controls, the ups and the downs, sometimes even the big, bang, twist ending.
Not only do we see dozens of trailers and shots months before the game is out; we also hear of the unlockable features (trophy/achievement lists). I have even seen a game dev release a press statement confirming whether or not there will be cheat codes.
Which leads me to my big question; don’t you miss the romance and the mystery? I know I do. I miss that feeling of having a game in your hand not knowing whether it could be the best thing you have ever played… or even the worst. It sounds like a bad thing, sure, but sometimes that surprise of disappointment can make those diamonds in the rough even sweeter to the taste.
But even I have fallen victim to the hype bug; before I take the anxious dive into the shallow depths of my wallet my brain needs certain parameters fulfilling. Firstly I look at the reviews from the sites I trust to see if they match my expectations, then I go to somewhere like Metacritic and see what the world thinks (or more accurately what the ‘raging fanboys’ have to say). Once I am done there I will pop over to Youtube and watch a handful of gameplay vids and reviews and after all that, if my hands still feel the itch to reach for that worn down bank card, only then will I take the plunge.
But what about those times when the glowing previews turn into gloomy reviews; when the hype train stops a mile short and drops us all in the twilight zone? A perfect example is the recent multi-platform release from Capcom, ‘Remember Me’.
In every preview that I read there was no shortage of hyperbole thrown towards the title in every paragraph. Words like ‘revolutionary’ and ‘stunning’ were being tossed around like eggs in a basket; words that have lost their earned impact through years of over-use.
It was only nearer the time of release that the game’s true colours were being shown; the press started mumblings of its repetitive gameplay and overly linear story. Comments of the negative nature were still well hidden though; nestled amongst the reams of superlatives and praise, all faults are overlooked in favour of the big picture. Benefit of the doubt is given and all that is left is the review.
So, when that score hits on release day and your eyes pan down to that stinging 6/10, are you surprised? Most of the time I blame the hype machine and simply let my wallet take me elsewhere. But why does this happen? Why is the next big thing so often, the next big letdown?
I think it is just simple business; a website needs people to read its stories and they need people to read about the same games over and over again. So let’s just say that a new game is previewed and the press say it is nothing but mediocre, bargain bin material destined for the summer sales. No one is going to care anymore; once you have tasted a bad sandwich it isn’t likely that you will go back for a second bite.
The press need to string us along; like fish on the end of a baited line, we are all being slowly reeled through the water destined to be gutted on the wooden floor.
Media hype has made the market a huge hall of mirrors; a universe where Ken Levine has to give Bioshock: Infinite a front cover with a guy with a gun on the front just so it will appeal to the ‘COD’ demographic. If I have seen one modern, military shooter, I have seen a thousand and it is all down to what gets the most coverage. Quite frankly, a world in which Medal Of Honour gets the front page and a gem like Journey gets a sneak peek on the back cover is one that I am ready to get out of.
Only a few months ago when Tomb Raider was released, I was walking through my local supermarket and glancing at the gaming mags when I saw not 1 but 3 covers all displaying the very same image of Lara Croft wielding her new bow. Within those magazines I saw interviews with indie devs and letters from fans. I saw a passion for gaming and a love of the industry; it was just a shame that only a small handful of pages were allowed to display such things. Tomb Raider was different; centre fold spreads, free posters, detailed screen shots and dazzling graphical comparisons. Time had been spent so dearly on something that had so much exposure already.
I like to think that it is our job, as gamers and writers, to not only look at the surface but swim into the reef and show the world what wonders lie beneath the crashing waves of Battlefield and the swirling winds of Call Of Duty. Next time you are looking for something great to play, look past the front page and ignore the waves of vitriol that spew from the fires of Mount Metacritic. The titans of the media are just a mirage in the desert; we might just have to wander on our own before we find our peaceful oasis.
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