The Allure of the Unknown - Cru Hunter Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Allure of the Unknown

Gamers know everything about their games. Press releases show us the game before we play it, demos let people understand the game before buying it, and developer interviews let the creators of the game share its behind-the-scenes secrets. The days of the store-bought strategy guide are close to an end: they're expensive, they gather dust, and why would you want to buy one anyways? You can easily find the answers you need online, found in the myriad of professional walkthroughs on YouTube or guides found on gaming websites like GI.com. Information is incredibly accessible these days.

It's simply easier to sell a game if people easily understand its mechanics and design, and it's also easier to craft believable characters and stories when you tell the gamer everything they would initially want to know. Witholding reveals from gamers, while keeping them intrigued and clearheaded, is a tricky art to master. Most developers don't even attempt it anymore. Just look at your gaming library and think about how many of the games you've played actually keep key information from you, even after you've completed the main story arch. When I look at my own library, which is spread across PC and 360, there are only a select few games that never gave me all the information I wanted.

Revealing everything to gamers could dilute their experience. Just look at Mass Effect 3: I wouldn't be surprised if people would be fine with not knowing why the Reapers kill of all sentient life in the galaxy every half millennium. In fact, there are a few YouTube videos out there where the author has erased the controversial part to the ending, and most viewers liked the result. Just look at Metal Gear Solid 4: so many plot points were explained in a short period of time that many gamers were agitated and confused, their brains unsure how to handle the tsunami of plot twists.

Telling us gamers everything about the story, about the characters, and about the setting is fine. However, looking closely at some of the most popular games, they're games whose stories remain unfinished. Halo: we don't know what exactly happened to the Forerunners (yes, there are some key explanations in Halo 3's terminals, but some of the facts displayed there are purposefully kept vague), we don't know what happened to the Covenant forces after their defeat, and we didn't know what happened to Master Chief. Bungie and Fans seemed to be perfectly fine with that. Half Life: who is the G-Man? Who are Freeman's "employers"? What is the Borealis?

Granted, Halo and Half Life are getting more sequels (eventually...in HL's case), and the above questions may or may not be explained. But the fact remains: the allure of finding the answers to these questions is immensely powerful: Valve hasn't released a Half Life sequel in almost six years, yet gamers still anxiously await any news.

Everyone's heard of Slender at this point. We know only a few things going in: we need to nab pages, The Slenderman is chasing us down, and if he does, we lose. We know nothing else. We don't know who wrote the pages, why they did so, why the Slenderman is interested in stopping the protagonist, or why we even climbed the fence to get to these pages in the first place.

We know practically nothing about the game's background. Yet the Internet is becoming obsessed with Slender's horrifying, uncanny, static-inducing antagonist. Steam's recently-launched Greenlight service places an indie game on the Slenderman at the top of its "publish" list, there are Slenderman Wikis popping up all over the internet, and tons of people are hopping onto this cult hit with much enthusiasm.

The examples I've given you prove that both triple-A titles and Indie games can successfully use the allure of the unknown to keep gamers playing, and wanting more.

TV shows have also used the unknown to great affect. Looking at the incredibly popular Dr. Who series might help. The longest-running Sci-Fi program in the history of television has been alive since the 1960s, with a period of comatose stasis from 1989 to 2005. How on earth has the show been so successful?

For one thing, the lore is crafted in such a way that allows fresh faces to be in constant supply, the acting is superb, and the script rarely takes itself seriously. Most of all however, the show doesn't hesitate to keep key details away from the audience. What happened in the Time War? What role did the Doctor play in locking his civilization away? Doctor...who? These questions have been asked since 1963 and still have yet to be answered.

Dr. Who's careful withholding of information further intrigues the target audience. Why don't games leave more to be desired? It's risky, so I can understand why most games are hesitant  to leave some things unexplained. But I do think there are more talented, well-funded developers who would do well to take the plunge into the allure of the unknown.  Leave "finding out" to the gaming community. Let them speculate and stew over it. Leave stories to be perpetually unexplained, worlds to be eternally unexplored, and ingenious mysteries to remain unsolved.

Happy Gaming! Do you like when games leave a mystery unsolved? Or do you prefer the truth to be revealed?

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