Ok, there might be a bit of hyperbole involved in that title–but goshgollydangit, it doesn’t feel like it.
New games are a bit of a tightrope walk for me. On the one hand, I want to know enough about the game to get a sense of whether or not I’ll enjoy it before I buy it. On the other hand, I want to avoid spoilers, because if I’m going to invest dozens of hours of my life in something, I want to come to it fresh. I want to be surprised. I want to experience things for myself, not read about them.
This makes franchises much easier to gauge. If I’ve already played two installments and enjoyed them, I don’t really need to research the third–I’m just going to trust that it’ll live up to my previous experiences. Sure, that means sometimes I’m disappointed, but mostly, things work out.
*Tiny spoilers for Watch_Dogs 2 ahead*
Take Watch_Dogs 2, for example. I enjoyed the heck out of the first one; there was never any question about buying the second one. I had it preordered the moment preorders were a thing. Since I had no questions to ask, I avoided articles about it like the plague. Because I avoided articles about it, I came to it completely fresh. Because I came to it completely fresh, the first time I saw a naked person walking down the street, I completely flipped my gourd.
I don’t even remember exactly what I was doing to begin with, but no shit, there I was, jogging down a sunny San Francisco street. I was looking for something (danged if I remember what) when suddenly I did a huge mental double take. Did I just jog by a naked guy a minute ago?!? I stopped and turned around: no naked guy. I jogged back the way I came, thinking, Did I hallucinate a naked guy? I got to the corner, looked around it–and sure enough, there was a naked guy, walking casually down the street.
At first, I thought it must be some kind of glitch. I followed the naked guy down the street for about a block, waiting for his clothes to pop back in. They kept not popping back in. I ran ahead of the guy, circled back and checked out his… umm… bits. (Yes, there are bits.) There doesn’t seem to be a glitch, there’s just a full-on naked guy walking down the street as if it’s no big deal. I kept following him, convinced that something was going to happen. If it wasn’t a glitch, and he wasn’t suddenly going to be clothed again, then this must mean something. You don’t just have a naked guy walking down the street. You don’t. So I kept following him, trying to fly casual.
Then I started to feel really, really dirty about it. I mean sure, this guy’s walking down the street naked… but I’m the one following him like a freaking creeper. I actually found myself looking over my shoulder in real life to make sure no one was watching me following this guy in the game like a perv. It was so unnerving that I decided I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next. I turned around and left the area, thoroughly freaked out by the whole thing.
Later, of course, I found the nudist colony and ran across more naked people–but that didn’t make things any better in my head. It just confirmed that I had, in fact, been creeping all over this guy who had just been innocently living his life. I’m not a big fan of nudity—when it comes to showing skin in public, I’ve always been pretty modest (if not a bit prudish). Mostly, I apply that sensibility only to myself. I choose not to wear low-cut stuff, because it makes me uncomfortable. What you wear is up to you. If you cross that weird line between taste and tackiness, though, chances are I’m just going to avoid looking at you as much as possible.
Yet Watch_Dogs 2 managed to make me feel like I was the one in the wrong. That guy was walking down the street naked, but who was he hurting? Nobody. I was the one who reacted to his nudity by engaging in sketchy behavior. I was the one turning it into a big deal. And I love that this happened, because this is exactly why I play games.
I read a lot. You can engage in all sorts of mind-play when you’re reading a story, but video games have that extra element of interactivity that lets you take it a step further. Neither the book world nor the game world are entirely defined by the writers; they’re also defined by what we bring to them in our heads, and what we make of them in our imaginations. I had a similar experience with a book, once. I was reading a novel by James Patterson on a bus, and got hit hard by a scene that I wasn’t expecting. I actually found myself looking around surreptitiously, thinking, Nobody saw me read that, right? (Followed immediately by, Nobody knows what you just read, you idiot.)
If I’d been reading about Watch_Dogs 2 beforehand, I probably would’ve run into at least one of the many OMGthere’snakedpeople!!! articles/posts/threads out there, and I would have seen that naked guy, yawned (or maybe giggled a little), and moved on. But because I came to it fresh, I had reactions and experiences that made the game even more memorable. I think I even gained some insight into myself and others. I’ve read about people going batshitcrazy over the thought of a nudist colony in their midst, rolled my eyes, and moved on–because my attitude has always been hey, if they’re not hurting anybody, leave ’em alone. But when confronted by it in a freaking game, I… well… freaked out a little. Food for thought. (I also have to wonder–how would my experience have differed if I’d run into a naked woman first, rather than a man?)
This is why I avoid spoilers like the plague. And it’s why, four years later, I’m still disappointed about how Saints Row IV was handled.