The Hype Train: Fun or Damaging?
I am guilty. As a lifelong gamer, I should know better, but I repeat: I am guilty. Guilty of succumbing to the hype train of future video games over and over again. But is this necessarily a bad thing? I’m starting to believe it is. Following the year of No Man’s Sky, I have to say that I recently stepped back and looked at how I have been approaching video games. After pre-ordering Horizon: Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7, and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, all of which I am incredibly excited for, it suddenly hit me. This can’t be good. Why? Because as I contemplated the last decade or so of being a consistent gaming consumer, I realized that the vast majority of my all-time favorite games were those that I simply took a chance on. Not the ones I was counting down the days for. Not the ones that I was on the hype train for. But the ones I gave a chance, hoping to simply like it. Let me get into just some of those…
Back in the mid 2000s, a co-worker, and fellow gamer, was telling me that I had to play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I had never touched an open world game before, and I hadn’t yet seen the appeal of the GTA series. I was very hesitant to believe I could possibly like this game, but on a whim, I bought it. This purchase forever changed me as a gamer. In fact, it is THE game that transitioned me from being a casual fan of the industry, into a full-fledged “gamer” at heart. This has never wavered or disappeared. In fact, it has only grown. To this day, I adore open world games like no other, and it is a key tag that sparks my interest before anything else. The fact that I didn’t expect anything out of it allowed it to introduce me to a whole new world (no pun intended) of gaming possibilities, without any expectations on my side to get in the way. As I rode my “Freeway” bike from San Andreas, to San Fierro, or through the desert outside of Las Venturas while listening to my favorite rock song of all time (Free Bird) I felt like my eyes were finally opened to what a game can spark in you. A sense of adventure, a desire to just get lost in a game world while listening to amazing songs and finding new places that you missed during the last 100 hours of playtime. It was completely unexpected, and I’ll repeat, it changed me as a gamer.
A few years later, Grand Theft Auto IV was released, and while I enjoyed it for a few months, even going so far as to getting the Key to the City achievement (100%) I left it feeling somewhat disappointed. Overall, it didn’t spark that same adoration. I had literally counted down the days, expecting to feel the way San Andreas made me feel, and in hindsight there was no way it could have lived up to that. It doesn’t help that they ruined some of the mechanics, the radio stations were lackluster, and the map was small and unvaried. My expectations were sky high, and it fell way short. I know that I will never play this game again.
Following this disappointment, I gave a post-apocalyptic game called Fallout 3 a chance. I had spent months searching the internet for open world games, trying to recapture what I felt with San Andreas. I placed the order for Fallout 3, and when it arrived I wasn’t expecting much. However, I was sorely wrong, and it became possibly an even better and more wonderful experience. I played it over and over, sinking hundreds of hours into the game for months on end. It is still, easily, one of my top 5 all-time favorites, and I’m sure it always will be. Years later, New Vegas, and then Fallout 4, would prove to be great games to play, but they wouldn’t capture that same love I had for the 3rd installment. I won’t go through all of my big favorites and disappointments in detail, because this would be the longest article we’ve ever seen on the site, but I want to run down these titles that mean the most to me.
These are the games that I absolutely fell in love with, and had zero expectations of: Mass Effect, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Skyrim, Assassins Creed II, The Division (mind you, I just got it recently after all of the fixes/additions) are all just some of the greatest games I have played for various reasons. None of which I expected to fall in love with.
Now, what games actually lived up to the hype train expectations that I was steaming ahead on? Well, Red Dead Redemption is the only one that comes to mind that gave me the experience I was both hoping for, and expecting. Grand Theft Auto V is a close second, but it still wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. So, let’s talk more about hype. While I was debating writing this article, I decided to google the word to read the most basic definition:
1. extravagant or intensive publicity or promotion.
“she relied on hype and headlines to stoke up interest in her music”
1. promote or publicize (a product or idea) intensively, often exaggerating its importance or benefits.
“an industry quick to hype its products”
Let’s read those again. Does it say “a great excitement or anticipation to experience something”? No. Basically, the very definition of the word is all about them (developers/publishers) getting us (consumers) to get excited. It even states “often exaggerating its importance or benefits.” And yet we (myself included) have allowed ourselves to be caught up in the hype time and time again. I know that I am guilty of riding that hype train, and pre-ordering games left and right when, after Mass Effect 3 failed, I swore I never would again.
I am not trying to preach to anybody here, and I am a huge supporter of getting excited about gaming. Am I saying that I’ll cancel my orders for Horizon: Zero Dawn, Resident Evil 7, or Ghost Recon Wildlands? No. Am I saying I’ll never pre-order again? No. Because there are often collectibles or bonuses that I choose to spend my money on. Pre-ordering is always a risk that you’ll be wasting your money, and it is up to each of us whether we see that as acceptable sometimes, often, or never. There is nothing wrong with that as long as you accept that it is, in fact, a gamble, and not expecting every new release to be the best new version of whatever genre it is. Be excited, but stay grounded and realistic.
Ultimately what it comes down to is excitement vs. hype. I believe that looking forward to things like a new release are good for us. It’s nice to be happy and excited, and there’s something fun about knowing your very own copy will be sitting in the store with your name on it. But hype is what the bottom line is after. Hype uses buzzwords and key phrases like “Biggest open world ever created! Countless side quests!” or “hundreds of customization options!” Those, and others like them, are used against us to try and get us as excited as possible so we will throw our money at them before the game is even released. (Again, guilty.)
I seriously need to stop allowing myself to get caught up in, or believing, too much of it. I refuse to not get excited for new games. I will still expect good things from companies that have given us fantastic games in the past. However, there is something to be said for not allowing your very natural, human, excitement to turn into hype. They are different things, and it is best to have realistic expectations, and try our best to see through the hype.
After all, in the words of my dear friend, Vega Goose: Hype… hype never changes.