I’m writing this before my favorite holiday on the Internet has happened, but you’ll be reading it afterwards. Yes, Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year by far, but my favorite time to be online is April Fools’ Day. I absolutely adore seeing people be creative with elaborate, amusing, and entirely absurd jokes centered around games, online culture, and our general tendency to take everything far more seriously than is entirely healthy.
I especially like all of the various gags put forth by MMO companies, but you probably would guess that.
Oddly, I also see a lot of people posting about how much they hate the day, which strikes me as counterproductive. Literally all of the skills you acquire on April 1st are applicable to the online environment year-round. Part of the fun of the day, I find, is the fact that almost everything you’ll see online is explicitly a joke… but it’s never a joke you can just outright ignore, because it has elements of truth. It forces you to do a critical reading of everything you see, which is something you should be doing anyhow.
Now, it’s 2015. I don’t need to still tell anyone in the world that you should never blindly trust what you read on Wikipedia, right? You need to double-check and verify things. And I’ve seen people argue that this is the shame of the Internet, that before this happened you would never think that an encyclopedia might have information that was wrong or biased.
To which I can only wonder – what sort of infallible divine encyclopedias were you reading back in the day? Because I’ve seen lots of books with bracingly false information out there that were published with a straight face. I’ve seen books written on the Loch Ness monster with a scholarly air, volumes that were marketed and solid with the idea that these were official texts about a monster that does not and did not ever exist. Trusting everything you read has always been a mug’s game.
Even if you want to move on beyond that, encyclopedias are still written by biased human beings who aren’t going to give you the whole story about anything (I remember reading an encyclopedia when I was younger that told me racism was over). Being online has not increased the need for verifying the shit you read. Being online has simply made it much easier to do so, because when I came across something that seemed wrong in an encyclopedia when I was a kid, my options were limited to asking a teacher or just re-reading the passage again, because that was all the information available to me.
If I read back in the day that Australia was full of spiders the size of dinner plates, I had no other sources. Now I can look it up elsewhere, or just mail one of my friends who lives in Australia. At which point I’ll be told it’s true, but it’s being verified elsewhere.
This is, then, the central joke of April Fools’ Day on the internet. Literally every single fake news bit you’ll see produced by companies is put forth with the tone of being completely serious, but it’s also all done with an eye toward letting you know it’s a joke. The people telling these jokes want you to laugh just as much! It’s not fun if you all think they’re serious, next thing you know you’ll have people asking for humanoid pandas in World of Warcraft and taking that whole briefly amusing gag to its extremely obnoxious logical conclusion.
Yes, Pandaria was actually sort of cool, that’s not the point here.
Being online during this day means spot-checking things. Not just looking for other sources, although that helps, but examining what’s being claimed with a critical eye. Heck, you’ve already been given a big part of the key by being told right away what day it is and what sort of things happen on that day. You know that crazy announcement on the forums is less likely to be legit on this day. If you start falling for it, whose fault is that?
This isn’t counting people who think that screamers or similar crap is funny. That’s not funny. That doesn’t require a bit of thought, it just turns into the same sort of cheap boredom that you get from having something unexpected shown to you. Calling that an April Fools’ Day prank is like mailing a picture of your junk to your grandmother while labeling it as a baby photo. Which it technically is, since you’re apparently a baby and you think sudden loud noises are funny.
No, the best gags make you think. They poke fun with vigor, but they do so with affection and understanding, really speaking to some underlying elements of the game. They understand why people would care about the joke at all. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV usually get some amusingly encompassing jokes mixed up for each year, and a lot of other companies roll out something equally silly when the development time is there. Google likes to do something weird for the day.
It’s not meant to trick you, at least not beyond a moment or two of “wait, really… oh, no, not really.” But it’s honestly more fun that way. I love seeing developers come up with interesting new things that someone would want in the game or would emphatically never want, all the different visual gags, a giant burst of clever humor that asks you to be a bit more engaged with analyzing what’s going on around you.
That being said, time has prevented me from doing anything for the past two days that I’ve had the opportunity for an April Fools’ gag. Alas. Maybe next year… or maybe I already did something so subtle that you didn’t notice it at the time. Something quietly insidious that no one would think twice about.
Probably not, though.