I don't usually like standing on a soapbox as I prefer keeping things chill on this humble gaming site. However, I've been thinking a lot about hype lately and how manipulative and perpetual it is when it comes to games so here are my thoughts.
What is hype? Baby, don't hurt me
Hype is not excitement or anticipation; it's an exaggerated and manufactured version of those emotions. With that out of the way, let me just say that I love looking forward to playing new video games. I spend the majority of my life gaming so of course I can't wait to get my hands on the latest titles that catch my eye. With that being said, I rarely get excited at trailers or announcements, especially when they don't feature actual gameplay. What a strange thing to say for someone who runs a gaming site, isn't it? Well, no. At least; it shouldn't be. When "game journalists" (can we stop using that term?) and "influencers" or "content creators" are closely intertwined with gaming companies while eagerly regurgitating whatever industry hype they're fed onto their unsuspecting audience, that's a bad thing. Obviously. But, these folks are simply cogs in the video game hype machine so let's take a closer look at what hype actually is.
Many gamers have a perpetual thirst for something new. After thinking a lot about why, I wonder if it's because they've fallen victim to the constant noise, flashiness, and manipulative nature of the gaming industry or perhaps it's because gamers are used to a consistent level of dopamine which hype helps sustain. Whether it's most influenced by media or chemicals, it doesn't really matter. My point is; desperate thirst is what hype preys on. I'm not sure if hype originates from a carefully-crafted corporate strategy (probably), manipulative media mouthpieces (most likely), or gamers themselves (probably not) but one thing's for sure; it's a cycle that preys on hope only to later disappoint then denial allows the cycle to continue yet again. It's exhausting.
To reiterate, I'm not saying it's bad to look forward to playing a game but it might be a bit unhealthy to assume that something you've never actually played before will be the greatest game ever created. That's exactly what hype is: an exaggerated feeling of excitement. Take the exaggeratedness out of the equation and add a pinch of skepticism then it's fine.
With all of that bullpucky out of the way, let's explore the 3 stages of the video game hype machine then look at what we can do to make this crazy, crazy business we call the gaming industry a little more reasonable and ultimately, much more enjoyable.
I guarantee that every single press event, live demo, trailer, or whatever that's shown of a game before it's actually in gamers' hands has some degree of lying attached to it. Whether it's as seemingly innocuous as showcasing a well-rehearsed live demo of the best part of a game or as deceptive as refusing to show gameplay footage until launch day, a lot of work goes into answering the question, "How can we make our game look as good as possible?" Invite some celebrities, take part in a scripted interview, insinuate that a prerendered clip is gameplay footage, pay a popular band to perform a song, announce a game that will release a decade from now, only show gameplay running on a top-of-the-line PC; why not? It's all fair game. Needless to say, I appreciate game companies that avoid such tactics.
Frequently, I even see fellow gamers fabricate hype about upcoming games by saying things like "It's by the same developers as Demon Journey: The Reckoning; it has to be awesome!" or a streamer overreacting after seeing a simple logo of a game series that hasn't been around in 20 years. I get it; it's cool to think that it's returning but it could end up being an underwhelming game. Call me when they actually show some gameplay and once they do, I'll be skeptical even if it looks incredible; excited but skeptical nonetheless.
On a smaller scale, I receive about 50 to 100 emails every single day from all sorts of game companies and many of these emails try to make the game in question sound like the most epically awesome thing you can play via lengthy walls of text, flashy gifs, questionable comparisons, and deceptive talking points. So, you can imagine my delight whenever someone humbly sends me a personal message simply asking if we can check their game out which I almost always say yes to. The rest will likely just get a quick glance. Yes, I do look at it all because I appreciate the opportunity to get a general sense of what's on the horizon.
Nothing on the planet creates more disappointment than hype. In fact, I can't think of a single game that has received an absurd amount of hype actually live up to it when it releases. Of course, I've played plenty of awesome games that had ridiculous hype levels but none of them were truly worth waiting on pins and needles for until they finally arrived months or even years down the road.
That actually leads me to my next point: when game companies are humble and show an amazing game in a realistic fashion without all of the usual manipulative tactics in place, that actually makes me more excited for their game than if they made a big deal about it. Then, when I actually play the game, my expectations aren't soaring in the heavens so I have way less of a chance of being disappointed while being much more likely to be impressed. I love experiencing games that exceed my expectations and I'm sure you do, too.
All of this comes together in a simple concept which is that if gamers set their expectations realistically, they'll end up having more fun with the games that they look forward to as opposed to expecting the best then being disappointed with a less-than-stellar product. Plus, not knowing what to expect before playing a game almost always makes the experience of finally playing it more fulfilling.
On a similar note, if game companies marketed their games in a realistic manner, the best games would end up selling the most but they don't want to do that because if they can sell mediocrity to 10 million people as opposed to something unique and amazing to 1 million, they'll gladly deceive and manipulate. It's understandable, sure, but a real shame nonetheless.
After a game releases to poor reception, most game companies handle it well but there are some that don't and may even blame gamers themselves for their expectations. How silly is that? Generating hype for months only to disappoint then blame your audience? What? 🤯 Similarly, it makes me disappointed seeing a developer make excuses for their game. They take valid criticism and respond with something like, "Well, that wasn't in my vision for the game." If it's legitimate criticism and it wasn't in your vision then may I be so bold as to ask; why wasn't it? I've even seen directors of huge AAA games respond to trolls on Twitter as if they're in middle school. What a bad look for a public figure. Not everyone is going to enjoy your game so please, learn some humility and get over yourself.
Petty industry folks aside, some gamers also make excuses. I can't tell you how many times I've seen people pretending to enjoy a game that they've been personally hyping up for months even though they're obviously not enjoying it at all. Your peers would actually think more of you if you said, "You know, this game isn't as good as I thought it would be." A more extreme example is gamers who actively defend game companies. In other words, these multi-millionaires get an unpaid online army of dedicated hardcore fans. For free! Allow me to say something to these fans: some people don't like a game and you do; so what? Enjoy it and let others bicker about it. You're not going to change their minds so why stoop to their level? They'll also shut up if you ignore them which is a nice bonus.
While I'm at it, some gamers even go so far as to threaten developers which is beyond my comprehension. Wouldn't offering constructive feedback be the best approach? Then again, perhaps the combination of certain unreceptive game developers and their hardcore defensive fans sometimes makes constructive criticism impossible. Maybe that's why these unhinged people think it's okay to resort to such extreme measures? 🤔 Either way, we could all benefit from being more reasonable. In the end, every game has its fans and haters and that will never change. Just have fun, be reasonable, and avoid contributing to toxic discourse; life is too short for that.
Anyway, after the excuses are made and the fan armies have nobly slain their vile adversaries (who are ironically exactly the same as them), the cycle begins anew with even more emotionally-exhausting anticipation for the next big game announcement.
What I do
What can be done to break this unhealthy loop that the video game hype machine perpetuates? For starters, I run Video Chums on many core principles that I feel very strongly about. One of them is that we do not hype games that we haven't actually played. For example, 100% of our previews are hands-on. The fact that I refuse to publish thin content about a simple trailer, tell our visitors to donate to a Kickstarter, copy/paste announcements insinuating that a game will be the next big thing, and discuss industry-fed rumours has actually made a few game companies rather annoyed at me (although I should mention that most are understanding). Anyway, do I care what they think? No. Do I work for game PR companies or do I work for our visitors? Obviously, the latter because I'm not a mere corporate mouthpiece and making our visitors happy with our laidback approach to gaming has always been my top priority.
Although I refuse to hype a game without playing it, I will gladly play it when it's ready, review it fairly, and if it happens to be awesome, I may even give it an award, include it in a top 10 list, reference it in other reviews, and all that jazz. Wouldn't you prefer that if you were a game developer? Well, if you were a hard-working one who created something great then yes. If you just want to sell substanceless schlock based on hype then no. Needless to say, I'd much rather shine the spotlight on devs who care more about the quality of their games than how many copies they sell. In the end, folks like that will likely be more successful anyway and deservedly so.
What you can do
This is simple. Enjoy the present and cautiously look forward to the future. If you see a game on the horizon that you might enjoy, keep it on your radar, mark its release date on your calendar, only preorder it if you're fully confident that it'll be worth it, and if it turns out to actually be good, cherish every second that you play it. If nothing has come out recently that sparks your interest, pick something from your backlog, re-play a beloved classic, browse some indies, or dig up a buried treasure from the retro days.
After all is said and done, there will always be a ton of excellent games to experience so why waste time contributing to toxic discourse and desperately thirsting for something new thus continuing to shovel fuel into the video game hype machine? Gaming should be an enjoyable hobby and if you're not enjoying yourself in the present then why even bother? 🎮😄