Are we really so surprised?
The recent release of Hello Games’s No Man’s Sky has proven itself to be a monumentally divisive event in modern gaming, bringing out both the most pugnacious of its fans and the most skeptical of its journalists to voice their naturally polarising opinions.
There are innumerable instances in recent years where a game’s perception has come between these two communities, such as with Gone Home or Depression Quest, but far more often than not these conflicts arise out of a perceived critical leniency rather than the skepticism and disappointment we see here, notably from Jim Sterling.
What truly sets this game apart is the fact that its fans’ virulence has gone so far as to inspire actual death threats to journalists who reported its delay. This was far before the actual release of the game and, if anything, is a testament to how successfully Hello Games managed to cultivate such a fervent fanbase solely on a foundation of high-polish vertical slices and lofty promises.
Doesn’t that shock you? Like really shock you? Multiple fans of this game would take to their highly optimised keyboards to threaten both developers and journalists…
Wait, wait, wait… doesn’t the fact that there were fans of a game that wasn’t even released yet shock you even more? They couldn’t even possibly know what it was that they were being so aggressive over. They couldn’t possibly know that the actuality of No Man’s Sky would almost definitely underwhelm their expectation.
If none of these things about No Man’s Sky‘s now infamous release shocked you, you are forgiven.
This is… this is how it is now.
Hello Games sold their ideas of expansiveness and excess manifest without offering any kind of proof of realisation for years. People are now somehow shocked that these intangible ideals of exploratory excess and unbound ecological nuance do not match up on disc.
It was a ridiculous expectation to hold in the first place… these things are axiomatically unattainable, you cannot simply develop a reality of infinite procedural generation because it is not grounded by anything tangible.
But this is just how it is now. Developers promise and prevaricate these ideals of expansiveness, accuracy or innovation so that they can sow an innately artificial ideal of a game into the minds of their audiences.
We fall in love with that false idea and are heartbroken when we realise that the reality is not the same as our perfect concept… even down to details as innocuous as a release date.
I would say that this viscous cycle of death threats and veritable con artistry is sad, but if anything it’s really kind of scary. It’s scary because it’s not going away, and both parties seem to be enabling each other, with virulent consumers unabatedly buying into these false promises and developers ceaselessly commodifying disillusionment.
Companies aren’t going to stop making their No Man’s Skys or their Watch Dogss. The only way we can have an effect on this issue is if we just stop buying into the hype.