The self-publishing capability of the Internet and the concept of viral spread has definitely made this holiday more hazardous for credulous reader and skeptical newsman alike over the past 12 years. But video gaming, as a subject, has seen well more than its fair share of fakery, pranks, and outright bullshit, and it has as much to do with the culture of games as it does the exploitable nature of digital images and an industry so given to rumor.
Before you think this is another rant where I wholesale blame readers and gamers, no. We—the media, that is, and games' publicity machine—have largely brought it on ourselves. It's hard to gripe authentically about April Fool's when your own publication has attempted its own jokes, and we did as recently as two years ago.
But more importantly, the relationship between reader/consumer and press/publisher is often perceived as monolithic, and it's not getting any better. We in the press have done a superb job of taking ourselves very seriously. That, plus the use of a comment banhammer, stokes a lot of revenge fantasies, and it's partly why we see fakes in our tips box year-round. I've fallen for them before, and to those aggrieved by or disappointed in video games writing or publishing, the delight in such failure is palpable.
There's a nicer side to it, though. A lot of what you see on April Fool's is simply wishful thinking, abetted by image- and video-editing tools that are only becoming easier to use and more freely accessed. We're in sort of the Gutenberg Press age for the democratization of bullshit. And it helps that the source material is itself digital and often freely distributed.
You can stitch together an official-looking teaser trailer, with all of the key title cards—ESRB rating pending notice, publisher, studio, engine and what have you—from spare parts readily available on YouTube. Assemble that, then take a shakycam of it, like a source secretly recorded this on a cellphone at a studio, and someone will take the bait, for sure.
There may be no malevolent intent behind that fake countdown page for Half-Life 3 or a video for God of War 4. The originators may even be thinking that their work shows an enthusiasm that decisionmakers will recognize and reward, perhaps even pay a sly tribute when this hoped-for thing finally becomes a reality.
But that doesn't mean that April Fool's Day jokes in this subject are not, by now, regarded a total cliché and a thing to be dreaded. Especially when you have the ferment of controversies and rumors like Mass Effect 3, the next console from Sony or Microsoft, and the always-handy proximity to E3, just two months away. (BioWare's Chris Priestly offered a pre-emptive Tweet saying that any news about Mass Effect on April 1 is bogus.)
The upcoming announcement at E3 is an essential ingredient to this, the equivalent of the friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) in an urban myth. You can't prove the existence of the FOAF any more than you can prove this thing wasn't announced because of some dark corporate purpose.
The difference this year is April Fool's comes on a Sunday, its first weekend appearance in five years. It could be a quiet day as easily as it could be a disaster. On one hand, news operations are typically on a reduced publication schedule, and a good prank needs the megaphone of a full news cycle. The lack of one here may mean fakers and pranksters wait until Monday, when no one will care. On the other hand, it is a slow news day, which means b.s. could outweigh factual tips by 2-to-1.
Whatever happens, whether we're talking about Battlefront 3 or the return of NFL 2K, I promise I will only post about it if the rumor is
repeated confirmed by two other suckers sources.
Hey folks, Something Negative is a rant. Love it or hate it, we all need to blow off steam on Fridays. Let yours out in the comments.