I’m trying to ignore the gaming media.
I’m doing this in an attempt to recapture what it was like when I was younger: oblivious to reviews, trailers and pretty much the internet as a whole since I didn’t have access to a PC until I was 12. Back then I used to approach a new game with no expectations or presumptions and this had a profound effect on my enjoyment of the game.
I fondly remember walking into a Woolworths store at the age of 9 or 10 and seeing among its tiny selection of N64 games a game called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I excitedly picked it up and took it to the counter. Why did I choose it? Not because it was a world renowned game which would later go down as one of the best gaming experiences in history. Not because I’d played a Zelda game before and liked it (I had never even heard of Zelda before). Not even because someone had told me it was good. No, I bought it because it was the cheapest game there and I liked the look of the box. Yes, I bought the celebrated ‘greatest game of all time’ brand new, from a small town shop… for a tenner. And I think my absolute obliviousness to the significance of this fateful purchase probably led to me enjoying it far more than I otherwise would.
From my first few minutes of play-time I had pretty much convinced myself that the entire game would take place in Kokiri forest (which was in actual fact, the first of many areas). But once the Great Deku tree sent my character on his quest to save Hyrule with his last dying words and I broke out into the vastness of Hyrule field, I was completely overwhelmed. I had no idea this would happen. I couldn’t decide what to do, which direction to go or where to even look. And these moments kept coming, right through the game.
Had I read reviews, looked at pictures, watched trailers and built expectations I can safely say none of the defining, spectacular moments would have had quite as profound an effect on me as they did.
The same thing happened with subsequent games on the N64: I wasn’t aware of the media, which followed games as they were nearing release and drip fed gamers info, images and videos as they eagerly awaited a release date. I had no idea when release dates were and basically picked up a game when I had enough pocket money and if the box looked nice.
Eventually though, things changed. A couple of years into the Gamecube era, the internet came crashing into my life. Suddenly all the information I could ever want about games was a quick search away. Was there another Zelda game? Yes. Oh! I like them. Oooh… Pictures! Videos! Previews! You get the idea.
I never really followed any of the media for Majora’s Mask or the Wind Waker so those games gave a similar sense of awe as Ocarina of Time, but before the release of Twilight Princess, I became near obsessed with following the latest updates on game. I’m pretty sure I watched every video, ogled every screen-shot and read every review and preview for that game.
When it came to actually playing it though, things were considerably less overwhelming than they were in the games before. That’s not to say it was underwhelming in any way; it’s still a fantastic game and little short of a masterpiece in design, scale and charm. But there was, without a doubt, a much less of a sense of surprise. I knew the village where Link would begin his adventure, I knew one of the first things you’d do was herding cattle, I knew the first temple was in the forest, that the second boss was a big guy on fire, that you could turn into a wolf, you’d meet an imp thing called Midna, what Hyrule town looked like, that there was a Twilight realm and that there was horse-back sword-fighting.
All of these moments would have instilled a sense of surprise, intrigue and awe had I not avidly followed the game from its announcement to its release, and yet not a single mention of spoilers did I see throughout my entire time following the game. The reason that game wasn’t as good as the others in the series wasn’t through any fault of Nintendo’s as such (though the wolf sections were a tad dull). The blame comes squarely down to me. I numbed myself to all the important moments mentioned above and when it came to actually playing the game only a little of it was left a mystery.
The same thing’s repeated itself for many games since then. I intimately knew about so many of the things that made these games special before I even played them.
What made me realise all this was Mass Effect.
Being primarily a PS3 gamer for the past few years I ignored Mass Effect because it wasn’t something I couldn’t play without first buying an XBOX360 or a decent PC… and then I got a nice high-end laptop for my university studies. During Christmas break in my first year I got myself a copy of Mass Effect for my laptop based purely on the fact I’d heard it was a good game. For the first time in a long time I was playing a fantastic game for which I had no preconceptions. Everything in it was new to me, the gameplay, story, universe, characters… everything.
Surprise, surprise: the Mass Effect series is the sole series of games which I consider to be on par with Zelda.
At this moment in time I’m enduring the difficult task of ignoring anything to do with the games I know I’ll love. I may check the odd review score on Metacritic but as trailers and previews go; you won’t see me anywhere near them. Of course, I won’t be ignoring all gaming media; I could easily miss out on some fantastic games and brilliantly written feature articles if I shut them out altogether.
It’s all about knowing when not to look. Moderation.