Video game trailers are everything AAA video games want, and usually fail, to be


I love video game trailers.

Beautiful and concise, they can pry open my heart within a quick commercial break. They're ripe with drama, weaving together spectacular set-pieces with somber moments. And they know how to orchestrate our emotions with tight editing and a perfectly selected song.

But video game trailers are not video games.

In video games, you drive fast and kill faster. But rarely do you take the time, as The Division's E3 trailer does, to watch a family meet its end, struggling and ultimately failing to survive a plague. The trailer hones in on the death of a child and a parent's suicide, but these aren't things that happen in video games, or should I say these aren't thing we do in video games.

What happens in trailers happens before video games — or at best, is inserted into them — as table setting. The dead child is why we have to kill everyone with our friends online.

Video game trailers are motive. Video games are action. And that's not a knock on action or video games for that matter. Action is fun. Video game creators are masters of action; domestic dramas, not so much. Game designers can write drama, quite well these days, but we don't play that drama. We don't experience the drama through the medium. Instead, we experience the shield upgrades, the health packs, the action.

The gap between game trailers and games, is notable, but I'm not depressed by its existence. Today's trailers are publicly stated goals. This is what we want to capture, says the trailer. This is our ambition. Let's see how close we can get.

Sometimes the trailer as public dare works and EA releases the Mass Effect trilogy, which approaches the drama of its marketing material. Sometimes the dare fails and Dead Island isn't a game about grief on the cusp of the apocalypse, but about de-limbing the undead with a machete. Either way, game trailers show that, in some capacity, game publishers know what the audience wants, and they're trying to create that.

Maybe a game will be heavier on the shooting than the internal existential probing of its trailer, but we know what they're shooting for — pardon the pun. We know what a publisher wants its game to be.

As video game trailers become more dramatic, as they claw deeper and deeper into the human condition, we can count on developers trying to capture that feeling. And one day, hopefully soon, both will improve — good as The Division trailer is, we don't need another dead child as an emotional gut punch and clean motive.

So let's celebrate the game trailer. It's beautiful, it's pretty, and it's a marketing promise that I hope its publisher does its darndest to keep.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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