On The Next Exciting Episode

And now for something completely different: something that is not episodic. For your viewing pleasure, this article will not be broken up into parts, it will not distributed periodically, and it most certainly will not be released as part of a trilogy, a series, or a movement. In short: this article is virtually a complete divorce from the standard way in which you, as a gamer, have consumed virtually every other piece of media you have ever engaged with in your life.

So why do you people claim to be so pissed off with Hitman?

The latest episode in the “Hitman” franchise is set to end with a stunning season finale in Hokkaido, Japan, as Agent 47 draws the curtain on several more unsuspecting targets, as well as gamers everywhere. The season thus far has been phenomenal, with everyone’s favourite Armani-clad assassin visiting Paris, Italy, Morocco, Bangkok, and the United States, all in the name of honour, pride, vengeance, espionage: but mostly because the money is good. Yeah, it’s pretty much for the money. The man has a blind tailor: can you imagine what he must have to pay to get his suits made!?

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In the midst of 47’s amoral adventures, however, a sinister conglomerate has seemingly been hunting him from behind the scenes, attempting to reduce his efforts to nothing more than moves in their own game against the powers that be. I am of course talking about butt-hurt gamers who, for some reason, seem pissed off that Hitman was, and continues to be, released as an episodic experience.

Gamers everywhere, from the cesspool that is Reddit – if you use that worthless digital kermode of non-information then I have no sympathy for you and the utmost sympathy for those you inflict your wretched, sub-human existence upon – all the way to Hitman’s game hub on Xbox Live, are infuriated that the latest title in the “Hitman” franchise consists of periodically distributed episodes, as if the very concept of not getting everything you ever wanted right-away-right-now-or-else-gaming-is-dead-and-all-of-gaming-is-over-good-bye-forever is somehow a bad thing?

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Few things I think readers need to consider: Firstly, waiting is brilliant. This is coming from a man with virtually no patience. At all. I literally frequented my nearest Tesco superstore – often at night or in the early hours of the morning – just to get cans of energy drink (for legal reasons I can’t name the particular drink but here’s a hint: it lives under your bed and occasionally comes over the hill according to the band The Automatic) during my second year of university. I can’t wait for anything, and this trait seems to manifest itself at a cultural and psychological level too. We, as a capitalist culture, are so used to the ethos of ‘supply the demand’ that we can get virtually anything we want, whenever we want it. From fast food to Hillary Clinton’s emails: there is nothing that we can’t get within a few seconds – and what we usually end up with a hot mess that we immediately regret… or a bland Big Mac. Either way, waiting is just not cool according to the ego-centric, emotionally under-developed, didn’t get enough attention as a screaming child generation that has taken to gaming. The proof? Prepare to get Phoenix’d in the Wright:

  • Minecraft, a game that never got out of beta
  • Steam early access – this point speaks for itself.
  • The ‘pay-to-play-early’ culture that has arisen around virtually every game in the last few years, with such high profile examples as Gears of War 4 and Battlefield 1 to name but a couple of examples
  • Xbox Live’s early access scheme that gives gamers the ‘privilege’ of paying money to play games that are not fit to be sold for any price, at all.
  • A modding culture that sees consumers engineering changes into games months before any DLC even has the chance to be released in order to enhance the creative vision of the studio that worked so hard to produce the game that you are tearing apart simply because you cannot wait for the aforementioned DLC.
  • Near constant leaks of gaming news and information that ruins upcoming releases, such as the daily bombardment of leaks regarding Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. By the way: thanks a lot dickheads, I was hoping and praying for Shulk, and you Reddit pond-scum ‘journalists’ came and took that hype train off the track faster than a bomb scare on the London Underground. Fuck you Reddit
  • Actually, Reddit! There, a nice, sexy 7-point list.

I would go on, but I trust that you can’t wait any longer for me to get to my point, right? The simple truth is: waiting is an unfashionable practice in culture, never mind gaming. This is why so many people seemed to have such a nonsensical grievance with Hitman when it was released. The idea of a millennial being told ‘no’, or ‘wait’, is simply unthinkable! Why this is so is beyond me – I simply mustn’t have the patience for this line of reasoning. Waiting is great when it comes to games. The build-up, the hype, the excitement: there is something almost nostalgic about the whole process, yet simultaneously the excitement elicits within us something altogether unknown. The game we’re waiting for is an unknown entity, the truth beyond the event horizon, that intangible being that compels us to wonder and excitement. This build-up of excitement is often referred to as delayed gratification, a psychological aspect of the maturing of the mind from its post-infantile, immediate gratification programming, according to famed psychoanalyst and all-round oddball Sigmund Freud.

Freud discovered that waiting for things – delaying gratification – is the result of the mind accepting the ‘reality principle’, which fundamentally states that reality, constituted by socio-cultural norms and practices, is accepted by the mind and the adherence to appropriate, mature and expected behaviour is rewarded by a matured, developed ego. Taking this in the context of gaming, is it any wonder that sites like Reddit are full of arseholes and trolls who just cannot wait to leak and spoil and ruin games?

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Have you ever noticed how immature those types seem? How hyperbolic those retrograde specimens are? How irrational those personalities always seem to be? Yeah, Freud might have said some weird stuff about you and your mother, but when the man was right, he was right! On our fascination with the unknown and our compulsion to pursue it, we need only look to Freud again. His articulation of our need to know beyond ourselves, even if that knowledge means engaging in destructive practices, is what Freud calls the ‘death drive’. This drive compels people to seek out harmful or unpleasurable experiences in order to ultimately achieve a sense of pleasure. Once again, you ever wonder what people get out of data-mining games, thereby ruining the potential surprises in store for them? Ever wonder why you just couldn’t help looking at you presents the night before [redacted because it’s waaaaaay too early to be talking about that damn holiday now]?

So waiting for stuff means you’re a mentally stable, healthy individual, and the waiting is its own reward, because you get to enjoy that waiting at your own pace. The hype for a game is brilliant, and only really gets spoiled by the douche bags online who cannot wait, and will not let you enjoy the excruciating excitement of waiting for that game you love so much. Breath of the Wild guys – can’t wait!? Another fact you simply have to bow to regarding episodic distribution is this: it’s been happening in all media since the invention of the ‘act’ in a play, or the ‘chapter’ in every book you’ve ever read. In drama, an ‘act’ is not simply an arbitrary distinction made to separate one set of scenes from another. Acts are deliberate acts, designed to orient the audience in an entirely new setting, scene or circumstance.

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Without such distinctions, a play would seemingly leap like Frogger on acid, bounding around all over the place, with the ensuing car crash seemingly inevitable. The utter dislocation of characters from context and the traffic jam of time and space within a drama would meet in a medley of confusion were it not for the diffusion of dramatic pieces into scenes and acts. Even its intermission is a deliberate act: yes, if your internal cup runneth’ over, you gotta take a piss, but an intermission also has another, much more vital function. The pause in between large sections of a play allows the audience the proper time to actually take in what they are watching, and process the consequences of what has happened thus far, as well as speculate on what might happen in the future. This division of distribution regarding the ‘episodes’ of the performance is vital insofar that the audience can speculate, postulate, wonder and worry about the performance. The audience is virtually invited to get hyped for the upcoming episode, and have their expectations challenged, confronted or even confirmed.

This concept of deliberate division is also true of novels. Novels aren’t just done in chapters ‘cause it’s what you do, innit? On the contrary, dividing a story into chapters is a tactical exercise, and is never done superfluously. I mean, consider the idea of the cliffhanger. Getting to the end of the chapter of your favourite book, only to have the entire premise be derailed or threatened leads to a build-up of tension and drama. This build-up then has to be physically chased onto the next page by the reader turning the page over (there is a reason great books are often referred to as ‘page-turners’) and entering into a new chapter, wherein everything we know so far might come crashing down. The hero might fail, the battle might end, the writer might keep saying might: we just don’t know. The delaying of our knowledge, by way of chapters or acts or intermissions, preys upon our inherent need to seek the truth, to learn, and to conquer the ‘unknowns’ in our lives. This fundamentally existential pursuit has allowed humanity to achieve great things: from interstellar travel to medical breakthroughs, and even the creation of ice cream with caramel in the middle!

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You might be thinking at this point, and to that I say good for you! If your thoughts are somewhat specific, however, then I can only speculate that they are primarily concerned with the relevance of the latter section of this diatribe with regards to my initial thesis. Episodic distribution is not some gross violation of our rights as consumers, nor is it an abuse perpetrated unto us by evil corporations. Gaming companies are abusing you when they sell you ‘early access’ experiences, or make you pay full price for games that should have been delayed but were rushed out. In fact, games have been and will continue to be, episodically released. Remember Half Life 2: Episode 1? Or the sequel, Half Life 2: Episode 2? What about the entirety of Telltale’s recent back catalogue of games? Every single one of them has been released episodically and to the celebration of gamers and critics alike. What about the final chapter of the critically acclaimed Bioshock series? Irrational Games chose to conclude the phenomenal Bioshock: Infinite with two poignant episodes comprising the “Burial at Sea” DLC – and we all know how moving that was.  

Even classic games such as Final Fantasy VII, Sonic the Hedgehog, The Secret of Monkey Island and many others have embraced this powerful means of distribution. The idea that episodic releases are just unpalatable and unethical in gaming is simply hilarious… and intellectually devoid. Furthermore, episodic releases have been welcomed by the consumer for eons in other mediums, such as cinema – Kill Bill, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings: take any two examples and call me in the morning. There is nothing wrong with episodic releases, which brings me back to Hitman.

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Hitman stands alone as a shining testament to the power of episodic releases in the video game arena. Releasing Hitman episodically means that each perfectly-crafted episode must have a depth of replay value and fluidity regarding the player’s approach to it that the developers cannot simply churn out mediocre helpings with each episode. The variety on offer in a single episode of Hitman trumps that of a ‘finished’ game, like Destiny or Overwatch. The form of episodic distribution also means that the developer must create new ways to compel its users to continue to interact with the product without abandoning it due to a lack of constant content. Destiny laughably failed to do this – and I’m being nice here. I could knock down any reader right now if I wanted by reminding them that some of the biggest games of the year have all been episodic. Yes, Destiny is an episodic experience, with the ‘DLC’ being nothing more than the next chapter of the book that is Destiny. Tom Clancy’s The Division is another example of this pseudo-episodic model of distribution, so if I were you I’d stop trying to assert that episodic distribution is a simply unheard of and unethical practice: that statement is patently false, and doubly so in the case of a game that does it right, like Hitman does.

From the irresistible “Elusive Contract” mode to the meta-game, player-generated “Contracts”, Hitman delivers a wealth of fluid and fantastic experiences in-between the captivating chapters that make up its core. Once again, I cannot overstate how alone this title is at the top of the episodic release mountain – a mountain made up of every other game you’ve been playing over the last several months, lest you forget. Episodic releasing is the reason why “Game of Thrones” is a bigger t.v entity than it is a pile of worthless books no one read in the 90’s. Episodic releasing is the reason why The Lord of The Rings is as successful as it is. Episodic releasing is the reason why Star Wars was such a breath of fresh air when it was released. Episodic release is exactly that: a release of our fears, excitement, wonder, and scepticism in one profound, powerful and personal episode visa-avis our experience with the title in question.

The opinions in this featured editorial are that of the author and do not represent PressA2Join as a company.

About Adam Kheroua

Profile photo of Adam Kheroua
From J-pop to Nintendo, Adam’s daily battle with his inner otaku is one he enjoys losing. Since playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in 1998, he’s been a gamer ever since. Currently studying English at university, Adam has the silly ambition of one day becoming a paid writer – a guy can dream, right?

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