If Peter Mandelson worked in games

I’m sure we’ve all been through it. A huge title from a world-class developer gets announced; the hype machine starts a-rumbling. Online communities post wild speculation and enthuse recklessly about what this, the future of gaming, holds for us all. Gradually, the slow drip-feed of information filters down to us, the loyal fans. The months roll by inexorably. Bold reviews heralding this, the Messiah of gaming, are released, the acolytes trumpeting their universal acclaim. The fateful release day creeps up on us. You wait in line with your fellow enthusiasts at the midnight launch, the indifferent world oblivious to your need to play this wondrous new revelation as soon as humanly possible.

Midnight launches: absolutely worth it

Game in hand, you run home, tear off the wrapping, and fire up your machine of choice. You play it; perhaps you even meet your friends online to chat about it – their gushing praise drowns out all sensibility. And then, slowly, like Saul on the road to Damascus , the scales fall from your eyes and you realise: your beloved new game isn’t very good. Months of waiting, of devouring any titbit of information, of watching the trailers and gameplay videos, has come to naught. You have been conned. Like some sort of mini-bereavement, so begin the five stages of grief:

1. Denial – “It’ll get better. The beginning levels are always a bit weak; you have to wait for the story to get going, or your character to level up, or the big set pieces.”
2. Anger – “I can’t believe I paid £40 for this piece of rubbish. I want to vomit on the disc and finger-paint all over it with excrement, then gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon so that they never again have to witness such a shameful betrayal of all that is good.”
3. Bargaining – “I tell you what, Rubbish Game 101, let’s strike a deal: you give me 800 gamerpoints, and then I will trade you. Everyone’s a winner. You get a new owner who’ll love you, I get some money back. And perhaps even a little self-respect.”
4. Depression – “Christ. This is just so awful. I can’t even force myself to see it through to the end. Who really cares about gamerscore anyway? I’m such a fool; I hate me. Where did I put that rusty spoon again?”
5. Acceptance – “Okay, so I bought a bad game. Everyone’s done it. Perhaps the sequel will be better.”

Kubler-Ross: insightful

Perhaps I am hard to please (I like to think I am discerning rather than difficult). Perhaps marketing, PR, hype, and the endless fanboy rantings sway my weak-minded convictions against my better judgement. Perhaps I set my expectations stratospherically high. Perhaps I am just plain unlucky. Perhaps the answer is e) All of the above.

Regardless, I have played many games that have disappointed me. This in and of itself is not so much of a problem – I’m not expecting to enjoy every game equally, and I don’t mind forking out for a few turkeys as long as I stumble across the odd gemstone along the way. No, what grates is when I suffer what I have started to call Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome: when everyone but you loves the game. I feel like some sort of clipboard-carrying charity-T-shirt-wearing High Street totem of doom, a universal symbol of fear and mistrust that must be avoided at all costs. I’m just trying to help. I’m like the outreach worker drug addicts hesitate to speak to: don’t make the mistakes I made. Choose a different path. I’m the voice of reason in a maelstrom of anarchy.

Fallout 3: unpleasant

Assassin’s Creed, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood, Grand Theft Auto 4 – at the risk of being burned for my heresy, they are all games I didn’t enjoy. I’m not saying they’re bad, just not that good. In my rarely-humble opinion, Fallout 3 was ruined by floaty controls, depressing landscapes, repetitive missions and stilted conversations.

And then, eventually, it dawns on me: no-one cares. It’s just a game. If I don’t like it, I can just buy another and quit whingeing. And so I do, shuffling off to research my next must-have title.

I’ll see you at the next midnight launch, Sisyphus.

Closing thoughts:
I’m sure I can’t be the only one for whom this has been true. Share the love (or, in this case, invective). What say you, fellow gamers?

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