The Myth of Representative Video Game Trailers

In the new special issue of the journal Kinephanos about the promotional context of video games, you can also find my own contribution about video game trailers. The article entitled Exploring the Myth of the Representative Trailer analyzes the widely spread notion of representativity of video game trailers, which often leads to dissapointment upon the release of a game.

Beyond dicsussing the origins of the video game trailer and its specificities, I present an empirical analysis of the reception of twelve trailers for eight mainstream games grounded in online dicussions on YouTube and three gaming news sites (Eurogamer.net, Kotaku, and Polygon). The fidings show different approches to trailer watching from information-driven perspective, which highlight the paratextual role of a trailer, to more cinematic ones, which appreciate the self-contained entertainment value of a video game trailer. Nonetheless, trailers are in many cases judged based on their perceived representativity. This means that trailers that are more detached from a given game, for example by not employing gameplay footage, are often criticized by their lack of direct (indexical) representational relationship. Even the knowledge about recent cases of misleading trailers does not stop viewers from basing their expectaions of a video game and its features purely on paratextual information. Notably, some video game fans believe that they are able to see through marketing ploys and accurately predict how the game is going to play like once it is released.

One of the analyzed trailers is the CGI commercial for BioShock Infinite, which shows a rather non-canonical narrative sequence from the fictional world of the game. For its departure from the source material, it has been criticized by many viewers. The main reasons was the (perceived) lack of representativity, which is also explicitly communicated by the trailer through its footage disclaimer.

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