Hype culture can be weird. Let's remove "culture" from that and just say hype can be weird. Hype is a result of marketing, getting the consumer to identify with a product so much that they either don't realize or don't care that they're being marketed to. We all fall for it. We're enthusiasts, it's what we do. The right creator, a cool character, the perfect trailer, a magical gameplay snippet; these things make us excited for upcoming games.
Marketing wants to build that hype within us. It's made to cultivate intrigue, curiosity, and longing. To do this, publishers and developers try to come up with unique ways to hook us. Sometimes, this goes wrong. Sometimes it just gets odd.
Square Enix' latest reveal campaign is in the latter category. On Friday, the publisher tweeted about an impending interactive reveal for a new game from one of its Western studios. Yesterday on Twitter, they announced the hashtag for the reveal was #CantKillProgress with a Twitch channel under the same name.
Going to the Twitch channel gives you a constantly-running feed of a man trapped in a futuristic cell. He's tired and weary. Sometimes he yells at one of the cameras watching him, protesting that he's been unjustly jailed or begging for food and rest. The walls are electrified. Occasionally guards come in and beat him. He'll just lie there, or sleep, or meditate.
I've kept the Twitch channel open with the sound off. When I get bored, I check it. The video feed loops every now and then to keep up the effect. The prisoner has been interrogated once, so we know his name now: Tomas. Poor Tomas. Look at all the things that have happened to him so far! (Not much.)
CantKillProgress is an ARG, or alternate reality game. (Some may remember a similar ARG for Halo 2 called I Love Bees.) It's a campaign intended to go viral, an internet scavenger hunt. ARGs want people picking apart every detail, trying to find other websites and accounts to look at. For CantKillProgress, the Twitch account keeps things live and moving (slowly), while Twitter and Instagram accounts feed new clues. ARGs are all secret codes, internet handshakes, and fake skullduggery to make us feel cool.
The thing is, everyone assumes it's a reveal for another Deus Ex game. This has been the primary guess that I've found online, with a Hitman sequel as the far off second-place. If Square Enix delivers anywhere in the neighborhood of that collective guess, it'll be a lot of build up for nothing.
The thing that's struck me about the CantKillProgress campaign is how very, very odd it is when you step back for a moment. There is a man in a cell. We've seen him imprisoned, isolated, starved, tortured, and interrogated, all while unaffected Twitch chat scrolls by at blinding speed. Try explaining that to someone outside of our community. If you take away the knowledge that this is most definitely a paid actor, this campaign is frightening look at some dark, twisted entertainment. I binged on BBC's dystopic science fiction series Black Mirror a few months ago and what CantKillProgress looks like at a glance would fit right in.
It's odd. With distance, it's creepy. Up close? It's simply boring. There's simply not enough content to keep people entertained by a facsimile of an imprisoned person. It's a slow drip-feed, with moments of repetition and intense boredom punctuated by minutes that offer brief bits of information. The Twitch stream clearly lists the times that viewers can vote on what happens next, so there's little reason to stick around otherwise. Outside of the 1,000 - 2,000 people who are keeping this thing afloat mentally and the 25,000 or so that vote at the allotted time, the rest of the gaming community has checked out until the final reveal on Wednesday. A reveal they already have clear expectations for. I have no clue how Square Enix expects for this to pay off.
Theoretically, no matter how much we've all checked out of CantKillProgress, it's still working. (What does an unsuccessful ARG for an established product look like?) I'm confused by the implementation of the ARG to the point that I wrote this article, with the hashtag right there in the title. There's a Reddit thread and subReddit poring over every stray hint, text clue, or picture. And if at the end of this all, we simply have the reveal of a new Deus Ex game, they are still people like me who will be glad for the announcement. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a great revival of a classic series, so seeing more from Eidos is quite welcome. I would've been excited with just a press release and a trailer though.
As I said before, we're all enthusiasts. I think deep down, we all want to be hopeful and excited. We want to genuinely be happy when a game is revealed, announced, or released. That's a side effect of a culture based around consumption. So all this effort to end with just Deus Ex: Human Revolution 2 seems like a waste. It's a weird attempt to manufacturer hype that seemingly wasn't needed. So I'm hoping for more than just a Deus Ex sequel. Shock me, Square Enix. Surprise me. Show me something amazing at the end of this painful hype train.
Update: Square Enix isn't going to show me much more. GameInformer has revealed its May cover story: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. According to GI, the game takes two years after the event of Human Revolution, when the Illuminati caused every augmented human to attack anyone near them. Prior to the reveal, those at NeoGAF found leaked screenshots at a Russian website, showing Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen back at work. Those shots are below.
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is coming to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Release date is undisclosed.