It’s happened to all of us; a trailer comes on advertising the latest release, a videogame that looks like everything you could want and more, full of action, adventure, emotion and stunning visuals. Then those telltale words flash up at the bottom of the screen: ‘not actual game footage’.
Of course, once upon a time, this was to be expected. Back in the day it was hard to get across the atmosphere and immersive world of a game with some footage of a little pixellated figure with a square head and cuboid arms waddling along a landscape that’s most distinguishing feature is ‘green,’ and so obviously we expected some liberties to be taken.
But with today’s normal gameplay graphics having reached heights even cutscenes couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago, it begs the question of why do developers still sometimes feel the need to show us visuals that don’t actually represent the game they want us to buy?
Of greater concern still is when a game goes out of its way to advertise itself as one thing, only to be revealed as almost the exact opposite. One of the most well-known culprits is Gears of War. Their trailer depicts a ravaged world with our brave hero walking through it alone, pausing only to look with sadness upon the smashed face of a statue of a child, before being attacked and having to heroically battle his way out whilst ‘Mad World’ plays sombrely in the background.
It suggests the game will be a moving, powerful exploration of the horrors and ultimate futility of war. Not, as those of you who’ve actually played the game will know, about being really good at shooting things.
Similarly Dead Island’s infamous family holiday trailer, featuring a slow-mo, time-hopping artsy account of a family’s island break being interrupted by rampaging zombies resulting in their sweet, innocent little girl being hunted down and ripped to shreds, made many gamers think the game itself would be full of similarly poignant, upsetting scenes when in reality it was more concerned with having you come up with new and inventive ways to hack zombies into little tiny pieces. There are many more examples.
The first problem with trailers like this is that they seem, frankly, lazy.
They are concerned not with showing off the best the game has to offer, but hitting emotional buttons in the easiest and often most clichéd ways possible (the sad music, the death of children, the infinite amounts of slow-mo) in spite of whether the actual game content is capable or even aiming to deliver anything similar.
The second problem, then, is when a gamer picks up a game they believe to be about the futility of war or a story of love and loss or something else the trailer has claimed it will be, and comes away feeling cheated.
Regardless of how good the game itself is in terms of gameplay or graphics, you’ll still feel disappointed if you were expecting something with more depth.
But not every game requires depth. If a game is only about being really good at killing things in imaginative ways, why not just say so? It’s not like being a pure, emotionless shooter hurts a game’s success – just look at Halo or Gears of War.
There is nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, or an action game an action game. Batman: Arkham City is a fantastic example of this. The only reason anyone really wants to play a Batman game is so that they can feel like Batman.
So what does the trailer show us? A game where the player gets to be Batman. Where Batman beats the living daylights out of everyone he comes across. That’s what the game’s about and so that’s what we’re shown, and frankly I couldn’t be more excited.
But what about other games, which do actually attempt to tackle something a little deeper, whether it’s moral issues, more complex stories or creating engaging, three-dimensional characters? They should be allowed to advertise this in their trailers without being accused of the falseness many now expect because of the bad example other games have set.
In this way, then, these deceptive adverts are harming the chances of other games, not to mention the way non or casual gamers think of the medium.
By creating these emotional, often rather ‘arty’ trailers, the developers appear to be trying to prove to the masses that videogames are more than just violent, soulless splatterfests, they seem to simply prove the point of every naysayer by releasing games no different to all the violence orgies that have come before.
There are games out there that want to do more than this, that are actually capable of creating heartrending moments rather than simply playing emotional chords in trailers which then in gameplay amount to little more than a half-hearted attempt to make us care for a character’s death that often feels forced and painfully wooden. Few will have felt the death of stoic grunt number three, but many a grown man will admit to shedding a tear when Aeris was killed in Final Fantasy VII, or welling up at the ending of Red Dead Redemption.
So then, how are these games that are genuine in their depth meant to show it when surrounded by so many that aren’t? Part of the issue lies in the nature of the trailers themselves. Game designers treat videogame trailers like they’re advertising the latest Hollywood release, and many tropes from the world of cinema are evident. Instead of trying to speak to gamers through the language of film, they should try using the language of videogames.
As the previous examples attest, there is a unique and potentially very powerful medium, not about creating a series of mini movies with pauses in the middle where you get to shoot things, but about the merging of gameplay and story to create something mentally, emotionally and physically engaging.
Many games are doing just this but this isn’t in any way obvious from the kinds of trailers currently being wheeled out to supposedly highlight the best the gaming world has to offer.
What it comes down to for gamers is a matter of personal preference. Some people want to play a game with depth and resonance, tales of loss and love with relatable, complex characters; others want one where they can run around chopping zombies into little bits and making things explode.
Either is completely fine, the issues arise simply when a game developer lies about which category their game falls into. Either they start telling the truth in their trailers, or put ‘not representative of actual game content’ at the bottom of the screen.