Surprise Surprise

“Don’t look at anything about it before, just trust me.” Whatever moves you to these mysteriously murmured words, enjoys a high significance with me. After all, is there anything better than being surprised? In a positive sense, of course. When I get birthday money from my family, I give it to my husband so he can buy me something weird with it. That’s how much I love surprises.

Our daily lives are crammed with calculated predictability. Calendar appointments dictate the daily schedule, coupons are considered the safest gift option, and why shouldn’t I order the same dish for the third day in a row from the same Asian-burger-pizza-place that tastes as reliably okay as all the similarly positioned delivery services in town? In media, trailers and previews prepare us with kid gloves for the experience that awaits us. And that’s all totally mature and sensible, no doubt. Because with so many titles to choose from, how else are you supposed to decide which ones to sacrifice time and money for?

However, I enjoy it all the more when one of these very special moments unexpectedly occurs. At first a short startle or petrified pause. Maybe I laugh out loud, giggle hysterically or at least grin widely. I respectfully tip my hat to the creativity I have just witnessed, and which I would not have expected in this form. You have just surprised me, congratulations! Immediately after that, the next phase is the urge to let others experience the same. I would love to watch to see their reaction. And yet there is a difference between a successful surprise effect and a beautiful location, an innovative game mechanic or polished dialogues, as one could still appreciate the same on the umpteenth playthrough. Comparable to a legacy board game, the first viewing or play through is in fact a unique experience that offers so much added value that it can never be replicated again. A surprise inevitably self-destructs afterwards. Poof – gone! For me, that makes it something particularly worth protecting. If one is spoiled, one will never be able to relate to how it would have been if that had not been the case. And that’s exactly why I feel nothing but contempt for deliberately spoiling this fun for others.

But what characterizes a successful moment of surprise anyway? In movies and series, unexpected deaths are a classic spoiler theme. Or the horror variant, that someone was dead all along. But you can do better than that. The top class is the twist that turns everything seen before upside down and puts everything that comes afterwards in a new perspective. Something you would never have expected because you’ve never seen it like that before. When the beginning of a film starts like a found footage flick and you suddenly find yourself in a clever meta-comedy. When you think you’re looking at a blunt browser game, and suddenly a whole world unfolds before you. Of course, a simple change of genre is not enough, and above all, games bring with them the challenge that they are usually longer than a movie. A single twist is easily lost. That’s why those games that successfully played with my expectations have in common that they threw a lot of hooks, and made me gasp in wonder at more than one point. I may eventually forget the names and locations of the plot, the level design, or which boss was the one that had me biting the controller for hours… but I remember successful surprises.

Play Inscryption. Don’t look at anything about it before, just trust me.

This post is also available in: German