I don't know how much of Fallout 3's hypothetical audience I represent as someone who's read multiple previews of the game over the last year and a half and has a reasonable idea of what to expect from the game's content. Fallout 3 is a major title of interest to a lot of people, so there will be a lot of stories written about it, and because journalists can only write about what Bethesda's ready to show them, these stories are mostly going to cover the same ground. I'm wondering now how many people besides myself are a little too well-versed in the Fallout 3 level called Megaton.
Megaton has been Bethesda's vertical slice for a while now to illustrate how choices and consequence work in the world of Fallout 3. Megaton is a small town built around the site of an unexploded atomic bomb. Exploring Megaton, players are approached by a mysterious businessman who wants you to help him detonate the bomb. This will permanently obliterate the town, its characters and its quest lines. Alternatively, you can decide to save Megaton and refuse.
I think about journalists at Bethesda press events being given another Megaton demo and wondering how to put a new spin on it. Each of them thinking about how they can possibly retell the Megaton story in an interesting way. The moral dilemma of Megaton has been pretty thoroughly explained, and I imagine that everyone at this point knows how they will respond to it before the choice is even presented. It will be an odd experience to finally play it because the experience will be on terms unanticipated by the game's design. Players are going to be walking in with preview-derived extra awareness, already knowing exactly what to look for and how to behave.
I've compared game developers to travel agents before, and it's not the worst metaphor. What the developer and the publisher do in the pre-release press cycle is educate the potential consumer about a foreign place, towards the eventual goal of selling a plane ticket. They make sure to promote the most attractive qualities and the kinds of activities the game world exemplifies, while providing advice about how to act vis-à-vis cultural rules and customs, so that people will feel secure and confident about visiting a strange land. Bethesda have been good travel agents in the case of Megaton; informed players are indeed well-equipped for that trip. However, that can't help but create an unfortunate information gap between the player and his representation in the game, and undermine Bethesda's design strengths, which are mainly to facilitate daring adventures in unknown territory.
The way that this business works, it's inevitable that we will know things about the game before we play it and that they may spoil our experience. That's not going to change, but think about the possibilities that arise from games putting the player in that position: imagine that Bethesda have set the player's expectations of the Megaton level, and can now retroactively subvert them. As in, the player arrives in Megaton and the first thing that happens is that he is arrested for plotting to blow up the town. You can't really argue the point; what do we usually think about a stranger who walks into our city weighing whether or not he wants to make it explode today? If Bethesda had deliberately set this trap for players, what a shock that would be. We assume that we have this shield of privacy stemming from in-game anonymity. We don't expect to be "caught" like that.
I'd like to see some game developers try their hand at being secretive and opportunist travel agents. For a change.