Too Trusting, Dumb or Just Gullible? – What the Fake Phantom Pain Video Says about Gamers
The Phantom Pain: Project Deception video is fake. The person who created it has given it all up in the YouTube comments of their latest video. His last two submissions on N4G have been massively successful stories about his video (although there doesn’t seem to be a specific link between him and the writers who wrote those articles). He even took to IGN, defending the video and egging people on. This is a person who has deceived under the guise of some sort of social experiment.
It’s difficult to blame someone for making up stuff on the internet. Batzi wasn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last. No, the blame must be spread around, across publishers, press and even the gamers themselves.
In case you haven’t followed the story, a user called OnigawaraV uploaded a video to YouTube, in which he dressed as Joakim Mogren, claimed to be a Hollywood actor and would be voicing “the one you thought I would be from the start.” The video itself was very low-tech, with a computerized voice replacing Batzi’s real voice, a Phantom Pain t-shirt, bandages and little else, and yet it garnered 80,000 views on YouTube alone. It was linked, referenced or embedded on dozens of sites, including Neogaf, Reddit, 4Chan, Gamespot, Examiner and PlayStation Universe. It was even supposedly retweeted by David Hayter, although if it was, it has since been removed.
The reaction to this video, perhaps in a small way egged on by Batzi, was ridiculous. It was a perfect example of what seemed like relatively intelligent people not seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of calling out the low production values, they instead focussed on the name of the YouTube channel (Onigawara, a Japanese tile generally depicting Ogres).
“How would somebody not linked with the production of Project Ogre and Metal Gear Solid V know that?” That’s a genuine argument I’ve seen more than once.
Instead of being cautious because of a lack of evidence, people began to make up their own evidence. This, paired with a tweet from Hayter from the day before the video went live, spurred people on. Check out who posted Hayter’s tweet on the IGN boards, by the way.
Of course, Batzi was just doing what he could to promote his video and his ulterior motive. The minds of his viewers were already in a moldable state thanks to months of teasers for The Phantom Pain. I want to start this section by saying that I in no way think that Kojima and Co should have handled the reveal another way. It was a fun, if slightly trying advertising campaign and it worked. Instead, I want to take a look at Konami and at all the major and minor publishers, who keep such a lock on decent information about their games, that something like this really can take a hold on the community.
IF we ever managed to get clarification on anything, on a time scale that was beneficial to the press, to people who had more than a passing interest in a game, things like this wouldn’t happen. Instead of “we do not comment on rumours and speculation,” would it have killed Konami to say this was fake from the start? Would that have stopped the excitement that Hayter was, actually, to appear in the game? Has this caused problems for Hayter himself, problems that could have been avoided had Konami nipped it in the bud far sooner?
The truth of the matter is, this hasn’t hurt Konami in the slightest. Free publicity isn’t an easy thing to come across, and tens of thousands of people have been exposed to this mostly harmless video. Had they specifically said no, the story would have stopped there. Instead, they let it run, and it is now Batzi, the press, the gamers who look bad for believing something with no substance.
That level of excitement is only possible when fans of something are so hungry for facts or even further teases, and they’re not forthcoming. The industry as a whole is petrified of saying anything, knowing full well that the press and that gamers have a long memory, if not the power to do anything about it. Don’t just take my word for it, this is a problem that others have noticed as well, or rather, have noticed isn’t the issue it should be. From Kotaku article “Gaming’s Biggest Problem is that Nobody Wants to Talk” by Jason Schreier:
“Game makers are afraid to get our hopes up about projects that might be cancelled. They won’t talk about games they’ve spent months or years creating. They won’t show us prototypes or tell us about problems or even answer the most rudimentary questions, like “will this game be multiplatform?” or “can we use guns in this one?”
“Sometimes they won’t even confirm a video game’s existence. When asked by Kotaku last month if Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a game announced in 2006, was still under development, developer Square Enix refused to answer. They wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of a game they had already announced.”
If you’re especially sympathetic to the people who make games, you’ll almost certainly understand why this has to be the way it is. New games are still being announced for “other next-gen consoles” despite everybody knowing the only next-gen console left is the successor to the Xbox 360. Final Fantasy Versus XIII is still AWOL, although somebody pops up occasionally to say that Square Enix are still working on it and that they’re not allowed to say anything else. They don’t want to step on other people’s feet, they don’t want to step on their own feet and, in short, they don’t want their actions to have consequences. This is most obvious when you look at the wishy-washy answers given to difficult questions. Hideo Kojima’s answer to why David Hayter isn’t involved in Phantom Pain – “It’s a new type of Metal Gear game and we want to have this reflected in the voice actor as well.” – is PR bull, a non-answer designed to cover everything and to cover nothing. It does nothing but annoy people smart enough to see through it.
It does, however, lead to situations where Batzi’s video can outperform the average trailer, or where an anonymous prankster on a social network can cause the press to go wild.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Project Deception video got surprisingly little coverage from the bigger sites, and only a bit of coverage from over-excited mid-tier outlets. This has been a big story from a social interest perspective, but very few people seem to have wanted to take the risk on this story turning out false. That doesn’t mean that the press, and the way that we work, hasn’t contributed to this story. To truly understand why things are the way they are, you need to take a number of things into consideration, things that often require more effort to find out about than simply saying “the games press are a joke.”
In a few hours, Rockstar will be revealing a set of Grand Theft Auto V trailers. There have been two previous and a few sets of screenshots released, directly from the Rockstar website. After an incredibly slow April (I’ve had two press releases this morning), the press are going to go into a frenzy, fighting for the top spot on Google or N4G, attempting to speed through their analysis, their high-def screengrabs and their doom articles before anybody else gets the chance to beat them to the punch. When there’s relatively little to write about directly from the publisher, it’s easy for a member of the press to fall into the habit of writing up complaint stories or individual anecdotes from Reddit or Neogaf.
Let me say that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just how it is. If you want a more efficient press, you need to fix everything I’ve mentioned above in the Publisher section. We can’t ask questions, we can’t be 100% on anything we post that wasn’t directly from the publisher and when something is officially announced, the site it is announced on is cherry-picked for maximum impact. Even where you are in the world can effect your ability to write up a story. I was asked to remove a trailer from this site recently – despite it being available across the web – because it wasn’t an official EU trailer and I had to wait for another site to publish the official version first, as they had exclusivity. The trailer was more or less identical.
Some sites end up running opinion pieces or top 5 articles and others take to running every little story, every controversy, they take to twisting interviews because that’s what they have to do to keep afloat. In an industry where our readers take everything with a pinch of salt and where the most vocal group on whatever flavour-of-the-day topic is hitting headlines control the body of any given text, perhaps it’s understandable that it’s come to a point where people just don’t know what to believe.
People who look to the gaming press for their news literally cannot tell the difference between a made-up story and something original, and that’s partly because there are a lot of sites out there that rely on anonymous tipsters or who don’t bother to source the location of the original story. This is especially a problem for the bigger sites, who would rather link other bigger sites than look to rely on smaller sites as sources of news. You end up with a semi-incestuous circle of sourcing, where you must go through far too many different sites to make it to the original, if the original is sourced at all.
Gamers want big stories, they enjoy being angry, they enjoy being nonplussed, they enjoy calling out publishers and members of the press. More than that though, they rarely read a full story, instead relying on a headline or a snippet of video. This is understandable, thanks to the points mentioned above, but it’s also the reason why we write the things we write, why publishers release things in the way they do. You’re customers and everything is made with a mind of getting your attention. Thankfully, you’re really easy to judge.
In a fantastic article at GamesIndustry, Brendan Sinclair succinctly sums up the role that you, the end user, play in the problems of our industry:
“The gaming public is a bottomless well of wanting, and whatever they are given, a not insignificant number of them will be vocally unhappy. They are upset that not enough was changed for the sequel. They are upset that too much was changed. All post-release content should be free. It’s okay to vote with your wallet by pirating a game, because the company who made it is evil and what else are you expected to do? Not play it? This review score was too high; they must have been bought off. That review score was too low; I bet the incompetent and/or lazy reviewer didn’t even beat the game on Master Ninja difficulty. “These websites have no standards and post sensationalist click-baiting tripe,” they yell before clicking on the headline screaming “BREAKING: Miyamoto BLASTS rumored Xbox 720 specs!””
There are people that use scores to their advantage in the hopes of tricking you into clicking. There are people who make massive leaps of logic, ignoring the facts, to feed the beast over the latest controversy. They’re not terrible at their job, they’re not making games journalism look bad. The opposite, in fact. They’re providing the gaming public with what it wants. Controversy. The opportunity to vent. If you’ve read an article, it isn’t because that article is terribly good, but because something about the way the headline is written has made you want to read more, has made you want to get one up on the writer or on the developer/publisher the article is written about.
And so Project Deception came onto the scene. I’m not sure Batzi knew how perfect his post was, although it’s certainly possible. He created a video that appealed to just how intelligent some people think they are, while being easy enough to work out that a quick Google search revealed almost all the answers. He released a video that didn’t say anything, but that hinted at endless possibilities. He jumped on a bandwagon, calling to those angry that David Hayter may not be involved. He made mistakes and recorded a fairly crappy, low-tech video, which delighted those who were above that sort of thing. It was a video that defined everything that gamers love, and he was rewarded with attention and praise. Until he admitted it was a fake. It didn’t matter that it was always going to be a fake, that there was no reason to think it was real. The gaming public was hurt by their own intense love of the industry, of Metal Gear.
Is it possible that gamers are too close to their hobby? Like fans of fantasy novels and TV shows, and of games like Dungeons and Dragons, the gaming industry has spawned a group that thinks it knows better than everybody and everything, that hungers for failure while screaming for success, that calls for big announcements while picking the bones of smaller reveals. It has built this army of fanatics through its own close-guarded secrets. While these two groups seem to battle it out for a constant one-up, the press is caught in the middle, powerless, trying to feed off an ever increasing tide of drama.
We’re all to blame for letting the industry get to a state where a fake video can excite people more than a reveal for an awesome new indie game, but it is what it is. It’s not that we’re too trusting or even especially gullible, but that everybody is out for themselves and don’t want to talk or, more importantly, listen.