Earlier this week, amid turmoil in the world markets and unprecedented upheaval of the British political system, Microsoft dropped a bomb of its own: that it would be ceasing its Xbox Fitness program for Xbox One. A shocking move, I'm sure you'll agree, and a cruel blow for those of you still holding out hope of using Kinect (RIP) as anything other than a QR code reader or Thing To Be Shouted At when you can't navigate the labyrinthine front end.
Not content with the decision itself - and with the awkward questions it raises regarding games as services, DLC, and people paying money for stuff they then can't use - Microsoft decided to announce the death of Xbox Fitness with one of the most eye-rollingly egregious instances of corporate doublespeak I've ever heard. It was not 'shutting down' Xbox Fitness; it was not 'withdrawing' it; it was not - shudder - 'shuttering it'. It was to sunset it.
Sunset. Say it out loud; let it roll around and then out of your mouth, like a panicked fish, desperate to flee yet utterly useless once it does so. Sunset. Of all the nonsense euphemisms in the business and military worlds (and there is a frequent and deliberate overlap between them), it is a doozy, up there with 'collateral damage' or 'downsizing'. Sunset: it sounds so nice, so appealing, so quaint.
That, of course, is exactly the point. But - and I don't wish to put too fine a point on this one - 'sunsetting' is shit. Unlike the two other examples listed above, it has no finer points, no cute obfuscation like they do. It's not just Microsoft which uses it, of course: Google has used it, and it's referenced in various legal contexts when discussing the cessation of certain products or services. I'm fairly sure every organisation with a C-suite and a product roster has uttered it at some point.
Still: imagine using it to describe other things that you're forcibly ending, or have been forcibly ended: 'Your dad's sunsetting was lovely, Gary, it's what he would have wanted.' 'Sorry, girls, it appears your pet hamster has been sunsetted.' ' Your honour, the defendant would like to say a few words in his defence, mainly that he apologises to the families of the people that he has brutally sunsetted. If he could have his time again, he would have not sunsetted them, but sunrised them. That will be all.'
In the video games industry we like to rail against certain words, due the fact that they have lost their original meanings, or that that they don't actually make sense in context, or that their use is so hackneyed they fail to convey anything other than 'shit, what's the word count on this again?' 'Visceral', 'charming', 'stunning'; even 'gameplay' has its detractors.
I'm fine with people taking potshots at those, because they are overused, and worse still they are often dropped into copy in place of, rather than in support of, actual constructive criticism. But 'sunsetting' is something else entirely: perhaps the most pointedly manufactured way of delivering bad news in the history of the field. Incredible, really, considering humanity is just one big bad news generator. Yes, games get canned, and that's unfortunate if understandable. But does anyone really feel better about their job, their project, or their service going under when it's announced as being sunsetted? No, it's the opposite, because sunsetting, for all its supposed conjuring of positive association, only really brings one thing to mind: a group of executives sitting around high-fiving each other, thinking up new and better ways to avoid any sort of responsibility whatsoever. Run that up the fucking flagpole.