Okay, so Cameron’s article supposes (correctly, in my opinion) that the frontline of the video games ‘war’ is the preview cycle, in which speed is expressed through demonstrating the technology that is to come, whether it be a new console or a new video game. We then wage battles of prediction, guessing at what a game will be like, drawing conclusions and defending those conclusions before the game is even finished. In my observation of games discourse, it’s true: a large part of the conversation around a game is concluded before the game is released, and if a released game differs from conclusions drawn during the preview cycle, much of the conversation then becomes how the game is different now that it’s out. Think about the absurdity of that statement! We compare the game to before it even existed!
I am having a hard time writing “games preview coverage is ultimately meaningless”, though this is how I honestly feel. I get that press cycles are themselves interesting; however, they aren’t themselves the game. They’re some of the flavor around the game. For some, they don’t matter at all, while for others (myself included), they inform how we approach the game on release. Regardless: the game eventually exists, announcement or not. How the press cycle prior to its release affects our experience with the game is up to us. Sometimes, it’s worthwhile (Far Cry 5 is almost exclusively interesting because of its press cycle), but other times, it’s a total disservice to the game, to have it judged prior to being in a player’s hands. And (critically, not financially), to what end?
So I wonder: what would games be like if there was no pre-release press cycle? If the games industry only reacted after a ‘weapon’ was launched, rather than simply previewed, I feel that the attack/counter-attack cycle (sorry, trying to stick with the framing here) would be a more rewarding cycle to participate in as a fan, and as a critic. We’d spend less time expending emotional and psychic energy on a layer of a game that, once its released, has no bearing on the game any longer. We’d not enter game experiences with expectations of success or failure. And, personally, I would prefer it if press cycles were not considered part of the work itself. For one, they’re cynical and I don’t like them. More importantly, they aren’t considered part of the game’s canon once the game is released, and even the pre-release scandals are often eventually lost to time. If I am about to play Tomb Raider 2 on PSX, I don’t go look up preview coverage of the game in scans of Playstation Magazine. I just play the game as-is, which is the way it should be.
The press/release cycle is an interesting subject to cover, and should still be covered. However, with trailers, trailer breakdowns, longform preview articles, private alphas, public betas…coverage thereof is beginning to outweigh coverage of the games themselves. Whenever I see a 50-post thread debating the concerns raised by this trailer or whether or not what that developer said means this or that about how the game will play when it’s out in 2+ years, I read through 20 or 30 posts before thinking: yo why don’t we just wait for the fuckin game to come out? Is this argumentation always interesting, or fun? Sometimes it is, but sometimes it just feels mandatory, and it’s those times that I am truly exhausted.