The Five Stages Of Video Game Disappointment

The Five Stages Of Video Game Disappointment

I didn't want to believe that Fallout 4, the sequel to one of my favourite games of all time, wasn't really doing it for me. So, like any rational person, I made myself miserable trying to convince myself that I was having A Really Great Time. I think it's happened to us all at some point or another: a game you've idolised from afar finally comes out, and you're ready to make sloppy, unfettered love to it with your eyes and hands and hopefully only those things. You boot it up and brace yourself for magic.

Hours pass. Magic still hasn't happened. This is... unexpected. That is when you begin your Dante-esque multi-stage descent into a very unique sort of madness: disappointment.

Stage One: The Sinking Feeling

You are playing what should be the game of the century. You watched, you waited. In spite of yourself and your best efforts, you bought into the egregiously over-manufactured hype. (YOU DIDN'T PREORDER, THOUGH.)

But it's just not clicking. This stage can best be summed up as, "Something's wrong" or perhaps, "I feel a disturbance in The Force." The second one is especially apt if you were disappointed by the new Star Wars movie.

Stage Two: It's Not You, It's Me

This stage is pretty similar to bargaining, one of the five stages of grief — you know, that thing people experience when somebody dies.

When I first realised that Fallout 4 didn't have its hooks in my very essence, I figured that, you know, maybe I was just doing something wrong. Surely I'd managed to bungle my way right past all the interesting stuff and into the game's (comparatively small, I hoped) handful of generic, predictable locations. Of course that's what happened. Classic Nathan, am I right? What a buffoon.

The Five Stages Of Video Game Disappointment

Know what else? I probably built my character poorly. I mean, obviously. A focus on strength and melee combat, for my first character in a new Bethesda Fallout game? I was clearly asking for it — even though on some level I knew that Fallout 4 would eventually let me spec my character build into every specialisation, and that lack of consequence (or indeed, authentic weakness) was one of the things that made me experience the sinking feeling in the first place.

So yeah, it was my bad. Obviously. Re-rolling my character and exploring new locations would fix everything. Of this, I was certain.

Stage Three: Fooling Yourself

Everything I did in stage two worked! I am now satisfied with my decision to sink upwards of 40 hours into this game and not play numerous other, smaller games or finally finish The Witcher 3. Thank goodness.

I mean, sure, maybe Fallout 4's factions are kinda boring and there are no characters as interesting as Fallout 3's Tenpenny or Fallout: New Vegas' House or Caesar's Legion or really any of the tribes (let alone anyone from Fallout 2), and yeah, the interface is godawful, and OK, the main story ending could've been way better, and fine, it's littered with the blanched bones of a far more interesting game, and alright, the dialogue system is needlessly vague and renders persuasion nearly useless, and yes, it's full of stressful junk, and fair enough, there's I guess a chance I could get hit by a car while playing it.

The combat's way, way better, though. So much better. So it's all good. Everything is good. I am not wading into another random factory and bracing myself for yet another terminal story that doesn't really go anywhere, and I'm certainly not emerging from a vault thinking, "Goddamn it, that was so close to being a heartbreaking story of human passion and scientific distance clashing like dysfunctional lovers, but it rushed to conclusion that wasn't really, well, conclusive." Go away, rising wellspring of negative feelings. Go!

Stage Four: Reluctant Acknowledgement

Shit, I'm pretty disappointed, aren't I? And yet, every spare second I have, I keep booting this game up hoping to find some small, almost intangible spark — something that will reignite the torch I carried for so long.

The Five Stages Of Video Game Disappointment

Maybe I'll just... maybe I'll just go stay at my mum's for a weekend. Or a whole week. No, video game, this isn't the end. Calm down, calm down. I just need to think for a bit, is all.

Stage Five: Acceptance OR Rejection

The final stage can go one of two ways: either you accept the game for what it is — despite the fact that it didn't live up to what you wanted it to be — or you give up and lower your expectations associated with every future feeling of childlike excitement accordingly. Sometimes it comes down to exactly how much the game disappointed you. Other times, it's a matter of taking a long, hard look at what you're playing and asking yourself, "Am I having fun? Is this game, despite the broken heart it's given me, at least decent?"

The disappointment probably won't go away, but you can still accept a game (or anything else, for that matter) on its own terms. For what it's worth, I'm finding Fallout 4 to be a fun post-apocalyptic action romp — a series of intriguing combat encounters that I can approach with an increasingly Pentagon-esque arsenal of gadgets and tactics. I've taken to attempting to punch every enemy in the game off the top of some sort of building. I laugh every time it happens.

But let's say you find a disappointing game that you simply can't accept, not even on its own terms. Plenty of other games (not to mention movies, albums, events and even people) disappointed me last year. It was, unfortunately, an unusually fertile year in disappointment's sordid soils. Seeking similar thrills from similar games and events and things ultimately yields diminishing returns. I remember listening to new albums from bands that were once formative — fucking foundational — for me and thinking, "What happened?" I remember visiting longtime friends and family only to find that we'd grown apart, that reminiscing about old gags and escapades just left me longing for new ones. That in mind, though, disappointment is an opportunity. Find new stuff. Love it more than you ever loved the thing that ultimately disappointed you. There are tons of weird, interesting games out there. Try them. Sleep less. Stop eating. Teach your dog to take care of itself, then you. TRY THEM ALL. Eventually, you'll find a winner.

The Five Stages Of Video Game Disappointment

Bonus Stage: Pray For Mods To Make Everything Amazing

Modders are crazy. They have already added a million things (including longtime Skyrim BFFs Macho Man Randy Savage and Thomas The Tank Engine) to Fallout 4, and they don't even have Bethesda's official creation kit yet. In a year or two, it will probably be a totally different game. Is this hope I'm feeling, or is it self-delusion ? It's tough to say. I've found that both spring eternal.


    It's still a good game, just not a good Fallout game.

    That said, I played the thing through hoping that the main story would reveal one more twist, or explain the motives of the institute in just a bit more detail and tie everything together. That hope was never rewarded though, ending just left everything open. Didn't even feel like and ending, too many questions left unanswered. The game didn't even give me a chance to ask the questions I had or to discover the answers in some dark, hidden corner.

    So after one play through and skipping a lot of the side content I'm burned out on it from 63hrs gmeplay. I'll probably go back at some point and try a different build from the start for kicks but doubt that I'd finish it again.

    Real shame, hope they learn from this if they ever make a Fallout 5.

      Still stuck at stage three I see! :D

        Not really, how am I fooling myself? I've finished the game, accepted it for what it is and moved on. Hoping that the game would answer my questions at the end isn't the same as fooling myself, it's perfectly reasonable to expect a story to have an ending...the one I got was just worse than what I was hoping for.

    Or just get over yourself and not buy into the hype train and go in completely media blacked out

      Media black outs are a little hard (read: impossible) when you work in the media!

        Very good point :) I'll just back out now. Still boarding the hype train is never a good idea

          This is exactly what I did before playing the game, didn't even know you could craft and I was still very disappointed. I think you'd have to never of played FO3 to really enjoy 4.

      You could alternatively educate yourself in advertising and promotional media conventions whilst living your life like normal.

    Going in with big expectations will always lead to disappointment.

    The problem with sequels .... should they go for something that just regurgitates the same formula their fans love or do they try something different? Seems to me, someone will be disappointed either way.

      I didn't go into Fallout 4 with expectations, I just expected something on par with FO3. Not to the heights of 2 or New Vegas.

      I didn't even get that unfortunately. The game reeked of made by design committee, to merely tick a bunch of check boxes and that was it. There was no real 'vision' here, no 'daring moments', hell, it fails at the very core of Fallouts soul, the ability to actually play as a pacifist and talk your way out of situations.

      It just isn't a Fallout game.

      Yes, I reject the game in all its un-glory. :)

        I'm just not that into the previous games so don't really know or care what a Fallout game is supposed to be. I'm enjoying Fallout 4 for itself, though agree it would be good to be able to talk your way out of things more often.

        I feel the same way you do (my favourite game of all time is Fallout 2 and of the recent games, NV was easily by far the best), but with one major difference. I still think the game is a very fun game. I've played over 260 hours of it. I've had a great time exploring, I've had a great time shooting things, I've had a great time building a settlement and an awesome house, and I've had a great time listening to the music.

        In no way is it a Fallout game though. This is as much of a Fallout game as Brotherhood of Steel was.

        This game feels more like what I'd expect from a Mad Max game (original, not the reboot) rather than Fallout.

        If this was a Fallout game I'd be able to bet on the robot racing/build and enter my own robot/fix the race. If this was a Fallout game I would have been able to bet in the combat zone/enter as a bareknuckle fighter (and maybe even wear boxing gloves with weights slipped into them). If this was a Fallout game, my dialogue choices would have been more varied than "Yes","Yes (sarcastic)", "Ask for a definition (but don't progress the dialogue)" or "No (until you talk to the person again to say 'yes')". If this was a Fallout game what I'd done during the game would have mattered at the end. I wouldn't have gotten the same generic cutscene no matter which faction I'd sided with.

        Fallout 1, 2 and NV left me feeling like I'd actually lived in and impacted a real world which was struggling to come to grips with the true nature of humanity. This game felt like I was at an amusement park touring a shooting gallery. A *really* fun shooting gallery, but certainly not what I'd expected.

        Nah. Bunch of generalisations, everything based on subjective "feeling", not really formidable as an argument to others. I could say it feels like Mario to me but that doesn't make it true nor does it absolve the statement from fitting the conventions of extreme hyperbole. It was a Fallout game, it just changed. People have this entitled mentality that THEY define franchises, THEY define a game's identity despite being entirely unable to communicate it. How many people feel so damn precious about, say Warcraft - that they would claim WoW "wasn't a Warcraft game" because it eschewed basic strategy conventions for RPG ones? That the jovial tone was darkened to focus on a more dramatic story?

        No one, really, because it's kind of unreasonable criteria. Franchises change and have for decades; why have the plethora of other franchises like Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Battlefield, Doom, Diablo (the list is limited to what's stacked in front of me, lol) somehow been spared from this perspective, despite arguably greater changes exhibited from one entry to another? Is it time? We had to question and consider to even understand, before. Now, so much is "assumed" knowledge, it's almost like we feel every arbitrary statement we make is inherently supported.

        I love the old Fallout games; going through 2 again right now and I've even spent more time playing Wasteland 2 on my PS4 than F4. That being said, I try to work out what game has to offer and whether that's what I want - if Fallout 4 doesn't offer what you want, don't be so excessively ignorant to try and define the entire thing to other people based on nothing but your own uneducated perspective. Face reality - you don't like it, assuming you have some kind of infalliable knowledge of Fallout narrative, design, RPG and presentation conventions doesn't help your argument, actually exhibiting those skills does. Have you noticed the way writers develop arguments on a number of game elements and bring them all together into a conclusion and not simply have a checklist of criteria and say "NOT A GAME!" at the end?

        Fallout 4 had a bunch of design choices that either helped or hindered the narrative, I can definitely see how one could be disappointed with the dialogue options and system - it's partly why I go back to that buggy piece of shit Wasteland 2 (It is awesome, though). But those are individual criticisms which don't even make up a fraction of what the Fallout franchise has historically contained. It might be a Fallout game, just a crap one.

      The problem with sequels .... should they go for something that just regurgitates the same formula their fans love or do they try something different? Seems to me, someone will be disappointed either way.

      Why bother doing a sequel if you're not going to use the core of the original game? The Oddworld games are a great example of this. They're all in the same universe, but very different mechanically. No one has a problem though, because they're not all sequels to the "Abe" games. They're "Oddworld" games.

      If this was marketed as "COD in the Fallout world" then I doubt people would have the same issues. But it was marketed as "A sequel to Fallout 3/NV". This means that people have certain expectations; a strong RPG core, varied dialogue options, skills and abilities impacting (and limiting) your playstyle to encourage experimentation, and a focus on player choice and agency.

      You mention in another post that you don't really know or care what a Fallout game is supposed to be to which I'd try to explain; imagine you're a huge LOTR fan and find out that a new book is being released which ties into the original books. It's 100% canon. Except that it's now about a cop with a brain injury who can't make new memories who has to infiltrate a crew of car thieves who surf in their spare time while tending to their large marijuana crop in the Brazilian rainforest. Also, they're in the middle of a gang war with themed gangs (such as the 'Shorties', the 'Point-Ears', the 'Hairy-Toes', etc). It doesn't matter how good that book is, it's not LOTR. It could be amazing on its own. But it's got no place being called LOTR just because some loose parallels have been made to the setting of the original.

        By that reasoning, Fallout 3 shouldn't be fallout 3 as it is nothing like the original game.

          I still don't think it's Fallout 3. In much the same way that Fallout Tactics isn't Fallout 3

    I'm about to start stage 3 with Battlefront, I should stop, but I won't.

      I went through the entire process in about 2 days during the Battlefront beta, which at least saved me from buying it at launch. Picked it up last week on PSN now that it's dropped below $50. The fact the price is dropping so fast suggests a lot of other people found it to be not as awesome as hoped, too. It's not a comletely shit game or anything, just a bit lightweight - I'll probably squeeze my $48 dollars worth out of it from time to time, but won't be hammering it for hundreds of hours like BF4.

      Regardless of its failings as a game, it is still a great piece of Star Wars merchandise :)

    I think it's official that I'm the only person not disappointed with F4.

      Nope, I fckin love it. I can see it's failings, but they haven't been anywhere near enough for me to reject it. 150 hours in and I'm already looking forward to second playthrough.

      No, at least 4 of us.

        Five! Yes, its not FO 1,2 or 3. But im fine with that. I can play them anytime i want (and still do quite often). I wouldnt want exact duplicates of them and yes i can see why some people are disappointed. But the new features are the parts ive truly embraced. Wasteland settlement simulator for the win (despite being as clunky as it is).

      288 hours here, one playthrough complete.

      Absolutely love it, despite some frustrations with the standard Bethesda third person camera and some settlement keybinding issues (which can be patched I hope, or maybe fixed when the mod tools are released).

      All I wanted was a large world to explore and a decent storyline, which I got. The "endless" character progression is icing on the cake for me, and I ended up having to stop myself from playing it so that I had time to check out some other games and go back to work =D

      It could have been better, sure. It's not without problems.. but it's still great!

    Civilization: Beyond Earth. I wanted to like it. I really did. But it just felt like a death by 1000 disappointments.

    It's obviously a matter of personal taste, but I've found F4 to be way more entertaining than the last two games.

    The negatives and how disappointing this game is is brought up quite a bit, here's what I really like about F4:
    + Perk system
    + No attribute / secondary stats (ie: small guns, etc)
    + No level cap. Being able to max out every stat and perk means... no need for rerolls or additional playthroughs. (I must of played the beginning of every Bethesda game since Morrowind a thousand times before I finally chose the stats/class that worked for me...
    + SPRINT button!
    + No gun durability.

      What you've written sounds, to me, like: "I'd like COD much better if it weren't for all the guns, shooting and the fact that it's in first person view".

      By taking out the secondary stats, removing the way the SPECIAL system defines your character (partially due to no level cap, mainly by being able to increase your SPECIAL stats whenever you want), and gutting the dialogue they've removed the "Fallout" part of the game.

      While I agree it's a fun game, it really should have been anything BUT a Fallout game.

    yeah i was pretty disappointed in it. i pumped like.. idk 120 hours into it now? i got annoyed since there wasn't a lot to do from a story perspective outside of the main quests/factions. I know there's plenty of side quests, but they're so few and far between and a lot of them seem to be placed in really obscure locations; I get wanting to involve exploration, especially after Skyrim basically being Questception, but I just lost patience with trying to find something to actually do.

    And Battlefront or THPS is not a better example for this article?

    Last edited 08/01/16 11:58 am

    This happened to me completely even down to the re-roll. I eventually gave up (glad i didnt buy season pass) and bought Witcher 3. Its a much happier marriage.

    What about stage 6: where so many people are disappointed that Kotaku finally writes something negative about it ;)

      Isn't that one of the '5 stages of video game journalism disappointment'?

    I do this with TV series as well. It's how I got 2.5 seasons into Arrow before calling it quits. "This could get good... There's promise here".

    The real culprit here is buying into hype. Coming in with gratuitous expectations only ever leads to disappointment.
    I generally enjoyed playing Fo4 because I didn't start it up hoping for a masterpiece to fulfil nostalgia fueled dreams of games made ages prior by different people.
    I just wanted a big open world game to mess around in while I was on holidays. Which I got.

    I'm pretty disappointed in gaming last year in general. I loved raid mode in RE revelations, super meat boy (I only played it recently) and bloodborne. I had 20 great hours with metal gear 5 and I have little urge to play any of the other blockbuster games.. A bit depressing

    I didn't tell anyone that I thought it wss boring for a month because I was sure it was me.

    No, I do not own nor have played Fallout 4. I did see the "demonstration" of FO4 from the EB Games expo last year. By demonstration I mean collection of videos for half an hour which were already released on YouTube and often times repeated itself.

    I thought to myself... 2-3 months out from publishing, and they cannot do even a live demonstration of the game? Either it must be terribly buggy to the point of uselessness *cough AC: Unity cough cough* or else it's just really a terrible game once you actually play it. Plus all the things they were highlighting, crafting, settlement building and better combat were all detractions for me. The Bethesda open world games are often murder simulations or stealing everything fests, and that just is not my style of game at all. The points they highlighted reinforced those stereotypes. :-(

    So I complain about it before release at Kotaku, and almost everyone howls me down. "It's the best game ever!" cry the fans, even before they have played it.

    Now, I feel vindicated. My concerns were valid. My points have stood up to the actual hands on experience of many. I'm glad I did not buy into the hype train. I just wish more people would stop, listen, and maybe even think critically for themselves. :-S

    My experience of Fallout 4 was very similar to you Nathan. I kept making myself sit down to play it, convinced it was my attitude or expectations preventing me from enjoying it. Eventually I just realised it just wasn't that amazing. I've played Fallout 3 and New Vegas to death so couldn't retreat there, instead I brushed the dust off my Skyrim case (before realising the majority of the data was via steam download, not the CD), installed a couple of mods to bring it into 2016 and let me tell you.. It is very comforting and satisfying being back with an old flame.
    It's familiar and I know my way around, and yet enough time has passed that I have to rediscover some things and indeed discover some totally new things. I look at it with a fresh appreciation after Fallout 4. It's definitely scratching the itch I couldn't get to with Fallout, even though they're very different worlds.
    You appreciate how rich and diverse the Skyrim design is and how there are so many tiny details that are all significant. They don't spoon feed you any puzzles or directions and the quests are often surprising and unpredictable. I'll be sinking another 200 hours into it I think.

    I've come to the conclusion that too many people spend far too much time buying into the subjective views of others and nitpicking. I think it stems from gamers playing too many games and having unrealistic expectations. Perhaps you are burnt out with games in general.

    Basically, the more you do something the more prone you are to seeing every little flaw & problem. Sometimes I can't help but think the media and other players essentially brainwash you into holding a certain opinion.

    No matter how good a game is, I always see people moaning and complaining that its a disappointment. You can't please everyone. Games aren't tailored to every single persons expectations and subjective desires. It's different to Fallout 4, get over it. People said the same rubbish about MGSV "good game, not a good MGS game".

    Always the same old "my opinion defines all and represents the entire player base" arrogance. I loved F3 and am still loving F4 after 130hrs - use your imagination and create your own fun.

    According to gamers, every game is a bitter disappointment. So why are you even still playing video games? Every single game ever released gets bitched about.

    Just install a crap tonne of Fallout 4 mods, seems to do the trick. I will however be ecstatic once someone releases a AI and Story mod to fix the horribly annoying and stupid AI along with the VERY on rails ending paths to the game.

    There are allot of skills that appear to have limited effect such as charisma serving no other purpose than to get extra info from people which has no significance in the storyline whatsoever.

      Spelling "a lot" as "alot" is one thing, but that might be the first time I've seen someone double down and spell it as "allot." Autocorrect up to its old tricks?

      Why do people spell it as one word, anyway? Nobody says atree or acar, why alot?

      Sorry... pet peeve.

    I like Fallout 4, but the dialogue system disappoints me. One of my favorite dialogue options in any Fallout game was in the New Vegas DLC Old World Blues. With the Science skill maxed to 100 you could out mad science the Think Tank, and it was glorious. In Fallout 4, with 10 intelligence and max ranks in Science, Robotic Expert and Nuclear Physicist I've come across (maybe) one conversation option that acknowledged my character's scientific knowledge. The rest of the time the game treats the Sole Survivor like some illiterate bumpkin. WTH, I've been building home made nuclear reactors for my settlements since forever.

    This was almost like what I felt with HL2. Half-Life was my favourite game prior to playing HL2 and I thought, what with the huge jump in graphical fidelity, updated graphics, refined gameplay, actual characters etc. the second would be a better game than the first. Objectively it was, but the one area it lacked in was the one area that made HL1 my favourite game (at the time), and that was the cohesive atmosphere.

    HL1 felt like a singular game that flowed from beginning to end, leaving behind the comparatively clunky systems of distinctly separate levels and HL2, in an attempt to diversify locations and gameplay fell right back into that older form of game design and the atmosphere was lost. Of course there are individual moments in HL2 that nailed the atmosphere I was looking for (such as the thoroughly excellent bridge segment in highway 17) but they always felt jammed in as individual moments rather than as parts of a larger game (Ravenholm felt like a horror game, which would be fine if the rest of the game was a horror game etc.).

    So HL1 remained my favourite game until I played HL2:E2, the last 30 minutes of which in particular blew everything else out of the water. Now I think HL2:E2 has been trumped by Undertale, almost the complete opposite to HL2:E2 in style, genre and story, but so damn good.

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