Video Games and How to Kill Them

It’s incredible what a couple of thousand words and a handful of screenshots can do to the mind of a game hungry kid.

A few months ago I was talking to my son about the most recent Resident Evil game, about how I had been looking forward to playing it, and about how it might well be the first thing that has made me crave a taste of Playstation VR, when he said the following, “I’ve already watched someone play through it on YouTube.”

For reasons that only he will ever fathom, my eldest lad had sat and watched a complete playthrough, experienced all the nasty surprises and hard hitting shocks second hand, and let’s be honest, killed the game stone dead for himself if he was ever to pick it up one day. And based on a quick jaunt through YouTube, this is something that has become so commonplace in modern gaming it’s almost an epidemic. One with little chance of cure either, as let’s also be honest, curiosity is a killer…just ask that cat.

This phenomenon of grabbing little tasters of the main course isn’t a new thing. We are used to witnessing film trailers showing audiences the best bits of the movie in an effort to sell something that was in reality usually a lot tamer than the trailer suggested, it didn’t spoil the entire film, but it did often dampen otherwise superb moments. Now in gaming we have gone the whole hog. Guys and girls on Twitch and YouTube playing through entire games before they’re even in the mitts of the general public. And like moths to the spoiler flame, we watch in droves! I’ve been guilty of it myself.

In fact, this “let’s kill the joy” thing runs all over the place. I re-subbed to Loot Crate some time ago, I did this just as they happened to make a change that saw them send out the crates early to some of the bigger name YouTubers out there. And I went and watched one of them open the bloody thing whilst mine was still bouncing its way through the mailing system, thus killing the main point of the crate in the first place. I wrangled with myself before watching the video, do I, don’t I, and then convinced myself the theme wasn’t really my cup of tea, gave in to temptation, and clicked play. When the box showed up a couple of days later, any magic was gone.

I now find it quite hard to remember the last time I played a game that I hadn’t already watched some portion of. When so much playtime is just one click away it’s hard as an avid gamer not to be enticed to watch. The only problem is, that click is one that can kill pivotal and glorious gaming moments for you further down the line.

I know personally I’ve ruined more than a few twists and cliffhangers along the way, allowed superior gaming moments that should have hit me like a tornado, pass by on the breeze of too much YouTube.

But, it wasn’t always like this. There was a time when all we had as video game fans were the monthly magazines and the once a week episodes of GamesMaster. The magazines were little treasure troves of glorious screenshots and first glimpses of new titles, or when the time was right, new consoles! I used to devour these things from front to back, every single word, and then when I was full on the word count I would just gaze at the images and hope that I might get a chance to play one of the games soon, and that surely this is the pinnacle for video games. You have no idea how long I looked at the beauty in the Aladdin platformer. A handful of still images that sparked my imagination for the bigger game more than any video ever has. It was a far simpler time, no doubt, but whilst it might not have been the pinnacle for games I had proclaimed, I firmly believe it to have been the pinnacle for excitement about games. It’s incredible what a couple of thousand words and a handful of screenshots can do to the mind of a game hungry kid.

Then we had GamesMaster. TV gold for the new gamer generation that would rush home from school to park themselves firmly in front of the screen for half an hour of snippets and action from games we had yet to play. It arrived at a time when games were infiltrating the mainstream and it filled a void for those of us craving more than the monthly mags. It was witty, it was exciting, and it was packed with video games. In some ways it was something of an early glimpse of how the coverage of video games would play out. There were challenges on levels from games I usually hadn’t played yet and there were videos from upcoming games I hadn’t seen before, I would sit and let it wash over me, happy to drown in every glorious pixel that spilled from the screen.

A particularly memorable GM moment.

But that was then and this is now. The times have changed, the seams of the internet channels are bursting as game show upon game show squash into the same place, and largely, do the same thing, play the games we’ve yet to play and discuss in detail the games we’ve yet to enjoy, and I imagine like many of you, I sit and watch. But I remain convinced that more has become less, and that we definitely lost something along the journey to this modern age. We lost the awe, we lowered the excitement, we plucked games from the heights they might have reached and pulled them back down to earth, and we did it by simply watching. Watching others play the games, watching them dissect the games, watching them lessen the game’s impact for the moment we begin to play.

I want to walk away from these channels and try to find a place where I can once again play a game and have only a notion of what is to come. But it’s difficult. At heart I’m still the same kid who craved every nugget of information and would seek out anything video game related in the hope of catching a new screen or video from a game I was excited about. Now that information is ridiculously easy to reach and my willpower is a weakling.

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

That’s in no doubt, but how about yourself? Have you ever regretted watching the players? Ever stumbled upon just a little more information than you wanted about a game you had yet to play? Or, are you one of the lucky ones with a +5 willpower save who always manages to avoid such game killers?

As magical and fulfilling as the new gaming landscape is, with its playthroughs and its unboxings, its alpha tests and beta goodness, stacked high demos and YouTube personalities, for me, it lacks the real magic that lives in expectation, and excitement of the (relatively) unknown, the sort of magic that once upon a time, in a galaxy pretty near, could make a kid dream big.

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