Here's the Thing

Derailing the Hype Train

A monthly glimpse into whatever gaming bugaboo Rob’s got on his mind.

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This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #90. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Videogame hype has been a problem for quite some time – and still is, obviously. It encourages zealotry. It convinces people to spend absurd sums on preorders. It sets up unreasonable expectations that lead to disappointment and, sometimes, even hostility. In short, hype only benefits the people selling the game. But this isn’t about our messed up hype culture. This is about how I’ve managed to stay as far away from the hype circus as possible; and how I’ve been all the happier for it.

Once upon a time, I would catch wind of a game that seemed awesome and I’d consume every piece of media about it that I could up until its release. Trailers, gameplay videos, previews, hands-on impressions, speculative lists – everything was fair game. This created two problems: I’d mentally build the game up so much that I’d find the actual product lacking (thus lessening my general enjoyment) and it made the wait unbearable.

I got tired of having my emotions played with on a regular basis, so I stopped paying attention. Now when I see a game I know I’ll want to get, I stop paying attention to it. I don’t look up any videos for it and I don’t click on any articles about it; I go cold turkey. At least I try to. Sometimes I’ll sneak a peek at one or two bits of coverage because I’m only human, dammit!

This has noticeably improved both the wait for the games I’m looking forward to and my ability to enjoy them once they’re out. I’ll often still have the game in the back of my mind pre-release, but it’s so much nicer to have “Oh wow, that’s coming out next week!” moments than “Ugh, I’ve been waiting for months and it just got pushed back again?!” ones. Then, of course, there’s the fact that I can experience and (hopefully) enjoy the game in question for what it is rather than what I expect it to be.

When No Man’s Sky finally came out, I had no expectations other than “I’m going to get my own space ship and travel to a bunch of random planets.” That’s exactly what I got from the game. 

I’m going to bring up No Man’s Sky again, because how could I not when talking about game hype? Just don’t expect a breakdown of that particular garbage fire of a launch. I saw the early videos for it and knew it would be a day-one purchase. That level of free-roaming space exploration, coupled with the game’s colorful visual style, had me convinced of that, but once I knew I wanted it, I filed it away in my mind and went on with my life. Every now and then, I noticed that people were still maligning the lack of a confirmed release date. Then it was that the release date was pushed back. That was the extent of my pre-launch exposure. So, when it finally came out, I had no expectations other than “I’m going to get my own space ship and travel to a bunch of random planets.” That’s exactly what I got from the game. I was perfectly happy with that. I didn’t build it up to the point where I thought it would be The One and Only Game Ever; I didn’t expect perfection; I just wanted a game where I could fly to a bunch of different planets and walk around, which is exactly what was provided.

A more recent example is Horizon: Zero Dawn, which I love very much by the way. I saw hunting robot monsters with a bow and arrow and immediately put the game into my Must Have folder. Then I mostly forgot about it until January, when everybody started tweeting about it because of the following month’s launch. It made the wait so much easier. On top of that, I hadn’t realized it was open-world or that it pulled from so many other games (successfully, might I add) until maybe the week before it came out. So not only were my expectations of murdering machine animals in a post-apocalyptic wilderness met, they were greatly exceeded.

I understand the temptation of getting excited about upcoming games all too well. However, I firmly believe that by not taking part in the hype, or at least not playing as big a role in it, we can all enjoy our videogames a lot more. Think about it the next time an E3 trailer gets your heart racing, won’t you?

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Rob Rich has loved videogames since the 80s and has the good fortune to be able to write about them. Catch his rants on Twitter at @RobsteinOne

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