Black Smoke: The power of suggestion & the art of self-trolling

In 1938, Orson Welles narrated and directed a radio adaptation of H.G Wells’ classic sci-fi novel, The War of the Worlds. Using the book as the basis of a simulated news broadcast, Welles and his cast members detailed the invasion of Earth by a race of malevolent Martians.

While much of what happened after is more suited for the subject of urban legends, there are still reports of panic and hysteria following the broadcast. It took only a little suggestion before people could smell the black smoke of the Martian war machines and felt the need to flee their homes. 

The War of the Worlds broadcast is one of the more famous examples of mass hysteria and the frighteningly powerful delusions of a crowd mentality. In contemporary times, we too have our own example of humanity’s “herding instinct” going into overdrive. We have console fanboys, and their increasingly paranoid delusions. 

While they sometimes have had reason to be upset (though only the most tenuous of reasons), the fanboy set has quite clearly fallen into the self-sustaining fantasies of collective obsessional behavior. Very much like War of the Worlds, it has taken very little suggestion, but they now believe fiction as fact. They can smell the black smoke of their enemies. 

Yet just like those who found themselves terrified by Orson Welles that dark October night, these poor lost souls are only trolling themselves now.

Killzone 2 has received intense amounts of press in the month leading up to its release. While much of the focus has quite rightly been on its blazing hot critical reception, a significant amount of time has also been given over to the incredible “controversy” surrounding the game. Of course, as with all crowd delusions, there is no controversy outside of what the pack mentality has invented for itself. Let’s look at some examples. 

First of all, we have the famous Totalvideogames review, which our own Jonathan Ross highlighted in his Fanboy Friday column. The Web site gave Killzone 2 an 8/10, and the 400+ comment thread that followed was so full of bile, outrage and unacceptably evil-minded nastiness that even I, someone who has received a fair bit of hate mail over the years, was actually shocked. 

From claims that the reviewer should lose his job, to accusations of him being a “microshitting fagtart,” the spiteful commentary flew thick and fast, and why? Because he dared to give Killzone 2 a great score and not a perfect score? Yes … apparently that’s exactly what the problem is. 

“hey jon you obviously jerk off too xbox 360 so if you were here in front of me i would roundhouse ki[#@!?] in your tiny microsoft loving balls,” explains one brave and anonymous commenter. “also if you think halo is even good your a retard… it was a mirror of the first two and sucked even harder than the first two… so dont talk about weak story lines your gayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”

This is because the reviewer said the game was great and not perfect. Yeah. It’s astounding to see how often that famous “bias” word comes up, often in multiple times during one post. This is not because the word has any relevance to the argument, and certainly isn’t because the person using it knows what it means. Most of these trolls use the word “bias” because one of the other members of the herd used it. This is evidenced by the sheer amount of times the word is thrown around, often in the completely wrong context. Most of the people accusing others of “bias” have no idea of what the word even means anymore. They simply use it because it’s used. 

Moving on, it’s amazing to find that even G4TV’s 5/5 review garnered hatred from the fanboys, and this is where we see a clear example of how the trolls have begun to troll themselves, to feed their own paranoid fantasies when there’s nothing really there. G4’s Adam Sessler has famously bitten back, answering some of the most ludicrous accusations, but the one I want to linger on a couple that truly show what an Ouroborus this whole situation has become. 

“Wow, bias toward the 360 much?” claims one person, after watching this 5/5 review. “No-one mentioned the post launch co-op that was already announced, nooooo. It’s just a bad thing that there’s no co-op, right? I really thought Xplay gave honest reviews. Sure it’s a 5/5 but it killed you guys a little on the inside, didn’t it?”

If you don’t think that’s a clear enough example of the crowd seeing only what the crowd wishes to see, then this one will get you:

“No matter what it’s never enough,” the comment ironically opens with. “5/5 huh yet no matter how badass it looks you can hear it in Adam and Morgan’s voice that they were almost upset that the game is as good as it is.”

This comment, this comment right here is what struck me with the epiphany that we are now living through our own War of the Worlds panic. When you can watch a glowing review of a game given a perfect score and then start hearing secret bias in the voices of the reviewers, then you have gone beyond. You have truly started climbing Jacob’s Ladder. 

Finally, we have an example from the pages of Destructoid itself. Just this Friday, we posted a video of a supposed “glitch” in Killzone 2 that someone struggled incredibly hard to find in the game’s demo. The maker of the video, with ridiculous amounts of effort, was able to jump up to a spot in the map not intended for travel, and break out of the map itself. To call it a glitch as if it exposed some huge problem with Killzone 2 was ridiculous, and we mocked such effort. 

I wish I could say that the post was some great experiment to “trap” fanboys into betraying their own paranoia, that it was a big prank in order to get an example of a truly indoctrinated herd member, but it was genuinely posted with the goal of entertaining everyone, and nothing more. There was no attempt at trickery, no clever ploy at work. I just honestly didn’t think someone could be that deluded. I was wrong.

The post was very clearly sarcastic in its tone, declaring as it did that Sony was doomed by a buggy, glitchy, broken Killzone 2. Apparently, however, the whole post betrayed my obvious love of Microsoft and all things Xbox 360.

“Yup. Jim is a Xbot Fatboy who is clueless about videogames and the concept of playing more than one console,” helpfully explained one user. “Lame.”

Of course, when it was explained to this confused individual that he might have missed the sarcasm (after all, an article called “OMG Killzone 2 is TOTALLY broken OMG actually” just has to be genuine, right?), he responded with yet another beautiful example of herd delusion:

“His sarcasm is just a cover for his actual and true feelings. The video didn’t show a glitch. It showed some dude hopping around.”

Yes … my sarcasm is a cover-up for my actual feelings that Killzone 2 really is a buggy piece of shit, apparently. He then, almost as if to accentuate the self-parody, explained the entire point of my article, as if nobody else had even realized that it wasn’t a true glitch.

When it gets to the point where people are going into high-scoring reviews and posts that actually defend their precious exclusive games, dreaming up things to be miserable about, perhaps it’s time certain individuals re-evaluated their priorities, and perhaps took up a hobby that doesn’t cause them so much grief and sorrow. People are becoming emotionally absorbed, and at a time when PS3 fans should be overjoyed that they have a fantastic videogame coming their way, that fact that all they can focus on is the stuff that upsets them is truly fucking sad. 

Xbox fans are no better, somehow feeling threatened by the presence of a great PS3 game and trying to attack it. Killzone 2 itself has become their Martian invader, the Black Smoke, and they whip themselves up into a frenzy about it just like the PS3 fanboys who have become so paranoid that they can hear voices and see sarcasm as sinister cover-ups. 

Nobody has actually done anything though. Nobody in the press has gone out of their way to hurt Killzone 2, and nobody has any reason to “harm” the PS3. Nobody choked up and died inside when they gave the game full marks, and nobody is hiding their true hatred of Sony exclusives in the tone of their voice or strength of their sarcasm. In short — the people in the press are nowhere near as interested in the downfall of the PS3 as PS3 fanboys themselves. Nobody wants the PS3 to die, but PS3 lovers seem to want people to want it to die. That’s fucked up.

If all the fanboys and trolls who have made these accusations and spat their bile for the past week actually came together and truly shared a collective mentality in one body, if their obsession, imagination and deluded inability to ever be satisfied came to represent the mind of just one person, that person would have the psychological profile of a serial killer. These people have lost their minds. Driven by compulsion, fueled by their dreams of conspiracy. Trolling themselves, because nobody else cares enough to troll them.

Learn to be happy.

Jim Sterling