This week we saw the arrival of yet another big title that’s been teased by publishers like a cat toy dangling in front of a neglected kitty. Watch_Dogs finally hit store shelves and it shares something in common with an earlier release, Titanfall. It’s a good game, but it’s not amazing one, and that should be okay.
There seems to be a disconnect going on between the people that make games and the people that market them. One the one hand, you have a bunch of developers working hard to create an interactive experience that they hope people will enjoy, which is a straightforward, respectable goal. On the other hand, you have the marketing departments at these publishers trying to tell consumers “THIS GAME WILL CHANGE YOUR FREAKIN’ LIFE!” and that’s a less noble intention to have, especially since we’re talking about videogames. It’s true that some games can provide valuable insight that might affect positive change, but most games, like most other forms of entertainment, are just there to provide an escape, not improve your life.
“..games now are in the unenviable position of being Super Freakin’ Awesome even before anyone outside the developers and the gaming press has played.”
Titanfall and Watch_Dogs are both examples of a hype machine that is one half media manipulation and one half consumer-created rising expectations. Both of them were ambassadors for what gamers could expect from the next generation, but Titanfall for better or worse, also got touted as the poster boy for the Xbox One side of the console wars. As a result, because some internet inhabitants have an almost religious zealot/sports team loyalty to their hardware manufacturer, certain games become points to win arguments even before anyone has even played them. “Wait for Titanfall,” is just the same refrain on “Wait for Killzone II,” or “Wait for Final Fantasy X.” By this point, thanks to the media and the wild expectations of fans, games now are in the unenviable position of being Super Freakin’ Awesome even before anyone outside the developers and the gaming press has played them. It sets such titles up for a fall, because even when a game is good, or even very good, it’s considered a failure because it wasn’t an all-time great, or a classic of historical importance to the medium. Not every game is going to be a Shadow of the Colossus or Ocarina of Time. But for a fan that’s been passionately arguing about an upcoming exclusive’s superiority—to the point where his or her precious online reputation has now been put on the line—it needs to be, in order to vindicate the hype. And if it isn’t, the detractors have an easy time of making people eat crow because the game “sucks.”
Let’s be clear, Titanfall does not suck. Watch_Dogs definitely does not suck. But, if people needed these games to define next-gen gaming, then yes, they failed. They are both, however, still a great deal of fun. And for the average gamer who’s not “screaming” in all caps in internet forums, they might even be awesome games that provide hours of entertainment. There are people who just want an enjoyable interactive experience which, as I mentioned earlier, is normally the humble intention that most people actually making games have.
People should not inflate expectations about what a game should be before they’ve even played them. Most game reviewers don’t sit down with a game already thinking “I know this game is a perfect 10! As soon as I see the studio logo, I’ll sit down and write my glowing review!” But some people have already made up their minds about the quality of certain games months in advance. Others are more than happy to call such games “failures” to rub the noses of the super-enthused in their own wrongness just so they can feel smug about being right. But if they actually ignore a good game because it was good and not a religious experience, they are robbing themselves of the reward that all gamer are entitled to when they sit down to play a game; just having fun.