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The most popular gaming centric event is E3, and that is a shame. It’s a shame because we’ve reached a point where hype is more synonymous with gaming than the full games themselves.

The problem is the full frontal assault of trailers and commentary on trailers (something this author has been considered guilty of in the past!) on the senses, changing expectations and dulling the impact of the games we play. The problem is the ten minute demo videos, shot on shaky cameras inside some dude’s breast pocket, designed to inform but ends up ruining the novelty of future gaming experiences.

I recently caught up on Roger Ebert’s Little Book for Reviewing and then Nukezilla’s fantastic commentary on it. That’s really the two articles you should be reading. They’re very informative for someone who wants to seriously criticize games, and not just say, It was good 10/10. No, serious, intense criticism. It’s all good stuff, well worth reading.

But the part that struck me was the part about trailers.

Here’s the thing: if you’re anything like me, you talk yourself into games. Bioshock 2 was the prime example. The idea smacked me as horrendous, my gut told me it was bad, but trailers, and reading about the game, sucked me into it like a horrible black hole. Of course, the game was bad (though not as bad as it could have been), and I regretted the purchase immediately. And that’s the thing: most of the time, you can tell if you’ll like a game from the most basic of information. A screenshot or two, a general, facts-free description. An RPG about time traveling set on the moon! would be enough to make me buy that game; video trailers serve to do nothing more than give me more, more, more. What trailers are are well targeted advertising, with an air of authority. If a writer you like posts a trailer for a new game and yells, Get pumped! you’ll get pumped. You never stop to think, Why’s the writer doing this? Certainly not because the publisher would love to buy his/her review with an exclusive trailer.

This is the only preview I want: something in line with RPS’ recent post of the games of 2011. Yes, there’s hype here, but it is old school, conservative hype. It is one screenshot, showing you what the game looks like, and then a brief discussion of the game. For instance, describing who made it, and what kind of game it is. These are the factors which let you make a gut decision whether you’re interested in something or not. Something to let you make a gut reaction.

And trailers, as they say, are Ebert’s spread of chilled shrimp. They are a way to ply reviewers, and gamers, into being excited about a product they probably don’t care about. What this does is twofold: one, it encourages fanboyism, by hyping people less in touch with reality so much that they will love the game, and two, it jades those of us who buy into the hype, because we will play the game and it won’t be that good.

When people talk about us gamers who grew up with Nintendo Power and EGM and Gamepro in the 1990’s now hating video games, this is what they’re talking about. They’ve lived forever in a culture where trailers were the norm. They buy into the hype machine unwittingly. Those of us who grew up seeing small, low res pictures in magazines of our future titles, coupled with short, basic prose got used to having a gut instinct. We know when games will be good or bad from very small components. The problem is, then more is offered. It jades us. It gets us excited about things we’re pretty sure will be terrible.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution: no trailers. No discussion of trailers, no hype, no nothing about games that aren’t already in my Xbox, or on my computer. I look through RPS’ list, and I already know which games I care about. I know I’m going to get Portal 2, on the day it is released, for full price. I know it’s going to be a worthwhile game, from the little information I have made myself privy to about it. I don’t need to watch a massive trailer that will spoil large portions of the game and ruin the novelty of the experience to know that it will be a game I play.

I mean, I will admit, soften my stance, by saying trailers have their place. For some of these games, when they come out, I’ll probably use them to inform a purchasing decision, because I have no opinion about them. Mostly indies. Trailers for indies are more practical, because they tell us…what the game is. I don’t need to watch more than one, though. It doesn’t help me determine whether or not I’d like the product, it just makes me more likely to buy it. Which most people would call advertising.

And that’s what trailers are: advertising. And I’m sick of ads, especially ones passed off by journalists as news.


  1. Heh! That’s been my policy ever since I stopped caring about E3 announcements (i.e. 2007). In fact, I blame trailers for giving Pat the wrong impression about Alan Wake.

    That being said, the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedian is still better than many movies out there.

    And MGS: Twin Snakes. It also had a kickass trailer.

    • Tom

      There are certain trailers that acquire…a certain aesthetic value of their own, and makes them worth watching. Just usually after the game has come out.

  2. What’s up with that title, btw?

  3. David

    I haven’t read Ebert’s book, but I read the Nukezilla commentary–and was struck by the trailers as well, though mostly how posting them without any context or commentary is really just free advertising.

    That said, I’m not sure I would go as extreme in reverse as you. I enjoy watching trailers, but I never digest them whole. I watch them for clues about a game’s design, features, etc–especially if it’s a sequel. That said, there are definitely games that get over-exposed where I turn myself off of the coverage for the sake of preserving my experience with the game.

    They weren’t technically trailers, but one game that showed WAY too much was Dark Sector. If I remember correctly, the devs showed 30+ minutes of uncut footage long before the game was released.

    • Tom

      Ebert’s book is just an article. It’s a very small book, posted on the internet. He just called it a book because…books are cool? I dunno.

      I think it’s definitely less…important in sequels, to not watch trailers. Which is very counterintuitive, because you feel like you should know more about not sequels before buying them. With sequels there’s less chance you spoil something truly novel than with original games, because 95% of sequels nowadays are “we’re polishing this idea a little bit, back at ’em gents!”

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