Gamer Imagination and The Hype Monster

Gamer Imagination and the Hype Monster

My current project, UFO, is the most complicated thing I’ve ever programmed. It’s taking a long time. Longer than any of my previous projects, which were made during weekend game jams—or in the case of A Night in the Woods, made over the course of one month. I haven’t been infected with feature creep and everything is going as planned. The delay is not because the game is unwieldy, but because I’ve had health issues and am still learning to code. Regardless of the reason behind the long development cycle, I have posted regular updates so people know what I’m doing.

They are simple videos, consisting of footage of the game in its present state, and sometimes a music track. I don’t advertise these videos apart from linking to them once on social media sites. I created a profile page on GameJolt as well. The YouTube videos have received a few comments. At the time of this writing the GameJolt page has 566 views and and two ratings of “5 out of 5”. These are small numbers, meaningless even compared to notable indie games, but this process still leaves me feeling strange. Maybe I feel apprehensive because my childhood was filled with GamePro previews, in-depth exposés by Next Generation, and other tentacles of the game industry hype monster.

It is great as a small-time developer to share my progress on a game that is not yet in a state to release. I still feel dirty doing it. At no point have I intentionally misled anyone as to what I’m making. However. Previews, by necessity, limit what they show. The human imagination is a wild place that is hard-wired to fill in the blanks. This combination leads to hype even when you aren’t trying to create it. I know because I’ve been on the other end. I’ve watched gameplay videos of works-in-progress and dreamed of the possibilities that lie outside the boundary of the frame. Hell, I imagine endless possibilities even as I’m playing a game whose constraints I know, as I did numerous times in my Let’s Play of Thief.

UFO currently has a 5/5 rating on GameJolt, and nobody’s even played it except for me. That 5/5 is the promise of a game, the idea of a game. If those ratings were given by traditional gamers who have rigid expectations of what games are supposed to be, they might hate the final product.

Whose fault is that? Whose fault is it when the reality of a game can’t possibly match the idea of the game? Is it the developer’s fault for posting videos that invite the player to imagine more? Is it the gamer’s fault for placing their hopes in something that exists only in their imagination? Is it the fault of an industry that has exploited the gamer imagination to push product in less-than-sincere ways? That has fostered the gamer imagination through promises of better hardware, better graphics, more, more, more? Are traditional gamers entitled, or have they been trained by marketers to expect more than can be delivered? Or are all of these things true? Perhaps the phenomenon is a combination of conscious manipulation, sincere joy, and coincidental interactions of socioevolutionary circumstances.

Whatever is going on, I’m going to keep posting video updates of my projects, and I’m going to keep feeling weird about it.

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