There are certain moments in games that stick with you forever. They stand out and define your experience, while the rest of the game fades into history. It doesn’t matter if you’re the kind of person who only buys Call Of Duty and FIFA every year, or the kind who devours every downloadable indie game immediately upon release. If there’s one thing we can say we all have in common as people who enjoy video games, it is these moments. We all have our personal memories.
Let me share one with you.
There’s a section in Dead Space 2 when Isaac Clarke has to align a set of solar arrays on the very top of Titan Station. They are massive columns that need to be moved manually, but their location is on the very outer edge of the station’s roof. The only way to reach them is to ‘fly’, using your suits mini jet thrusters. Beyond the arrays themselves, there is nothing except the vast expanse of outer space. Before now, even in Dead Space 1, there hadn’t been a moment to interact this closely with deep space. To actually launch yourself into it with no apparent boundaries or safety nets. Prepared with my boot thrusters, I looked out over the ledge and felt a very real sense of vertigo. There was nothing out there. Above, below and beyond – just a void.
I completed the mission but during every second, I felt tense. I’m sure the game’s artificial boundaries were there somewhere and would either block me from moving any further into the blackness or start to constrict my flow of oxygen. Either way, they were hidden and hidden well. I was completely convinced that I was in some danger on a level I had not encountered before in these games.
The countless number of Necromorphs I killed are now forgotten. Every one of them joined in some hazy blur of groans, flesh and blood. But the simple task of realigning these solar arrays will always stay with me. Its impact will never fade.
Of course, we all have our own moments in countless other games. Figuring out that I need the plank of wood to defeat the Cavefish. The constant, overbearing sight of Dr. Breen’s tower in City 17. Discovering that Rikimaru can stand on the branches of trees to get a better viewpoint. My fondness of these video game moments cannot be lessened as the years pass.
Catch the hype train to Dubai
Recently I finished playing Spec Ops: The Line, which was a brutal and interesting experience. I won’t spoil any story points here, but I will say the gruesome events in Dubai and how Captain Walker and his squad react is what made this game worth playing. The gameplay itself was mostly irrelevant, something I felt I had played in numerous other third-person, cover-based shooters.
Initially, my plan was to let this game pass me by. Everything I had seen about it didn’t excite me. It looked painfully generic, bursting at the seams with Unreal Engine military types yelling while shooting and shooting while yelling. Leading up to its release however, a murmur started. People started talking about Specs Ops: The Line in surprised tones. It had quickly gone from something that spent years in development hell with mediocre showing to the press, to an absolute must-play. What was happening?
Hype. That’s what.
Early rave reviews started to flow in. People began to discuss the game’s story in great length and calling it groundbreaking. Some players were downright shocked by the events in some sections and felt it necessary to stop playing. As a result of all this attention, I had to suddenly find out what was so arresting about this game. It was here that the hype grabbed hold of me, convincing me to hand over my money and start playing.
An empty response
A little over halfway through the single-player campaign, I reached a section of the game that was quite obviously a talking point. It was indeed shocking and for a shooter, quite interesting. My actions had caused an event that rarely comes up in video games — epecially military shooters, which are typically happy to solider on (pardon the pun) with shooting wave after wave of enemies while being surrounded by totally sweet explosions.
This was the moment. The first of many in Spec Ops: The Line. In what was designed to get an emotional response from the player, and my pre-primed reaction was all set to be shock and horror. Except a strange thing happened to me.
Something I’m sure I had experienced in other games but I felt it with surprising force in this one. When the moment finally happened, my internal monologue was supposed to be something along the lines of “Oh My God!”. It was clear as day that this was what I was meant to feel. But I didn’t. If I can explain it better, if was something more like “Oh, that’s what everyone is talking about.”
The emotional response that I was meant to have was present to be sure, but it wasn’t alone. Hell, it wasn’t even equally shared. It was overpowered by recognition of other people’s opinions. As such, the ‘shock’ of the moment was lessened. The hype of Spec Ops: The Line had crept in without me realizing and directly affected a part of the game. As I said, I’m positive this had happened on some level before, but not like this. Not to this extent.
Moving on in the story, the same thing happened throughout the rest of the campaign. Another moment was dulled. Yet another moment wasn’t as shocking as it could have been. By the time I had finished the game, it was as if I was having an out of body experience. I felt unable to correctly judge whether the story had actually been any good. To this day, I still can’t really say for sure. It is an extremely strange sensation.
The silent victims
I was a victim of hype. But unaware of just how badly it had affected me before it was too late. Do I wish I hadn’t played Specs Ops: The Line? I’m shocked to say I honestly don’t know. The more I think about it, the more confused I feel. Thinking back to when I didn’t care about the game, I know that without the word of mouth from people raving about it, I probably would never had played it. But upon playing it, that same word of mouth had a negative effect on my enjoyment of the game.
Why do we play games at all? Whether it’s for escape, simple entertainment or review, we are all subject to hype. It’s natural that we want to be part of something that other people are excited about. I have even jumped headlong into franchises and genres with no prior experience solely because of other people’s excitement. Everyone is talking about this game, so it must be something special, right? Yeah, let’s do this!
But hype can be important
Every year, the Evolution Championship Series (better known as EVO) takes place in Las Vegas. It is a fighting game tournament inviting players from around the world to compete in Street Fighter, Marvel Vs Capcom and others to see who reigns supreme in the field of dragon punches and ultra-finishers. Every year without fail, hype drives the excitement for this tournament into overdrive. Even if you aren’t present in Las Vegas, you can watch all the matches live on the internet and get caught up in the magic like everyone else.
Something else happens around this time. Thousands of people who own fighting games that may not have played them for a while, suddenly get excited for them again. They see the best-of-the-best fight each other with top-tier skills and make each and every match seem like the most thrilling event in the world. These thousands of people suddenly jump from their chairs, grab whatever copy of fighting games they own and start playing. Their eagerness to reach the dizzying heights of the greatest players in the world pushes them past any sort of apathy for these games that they previously may have had. It’s obvious their skills won’t reach these expert levels, but the fun is in just being part of it. On average, it lasts a couple of weeks. I know because I speak from experience.
This is probably the most crystal clear example of the positive effects of hype. Especially in video games, it can be a wonderful feeling that gives us exhilaration for what we already loved. It shows us just how important hype can be. You don’t have to go far to reach a colossal wall of negativity in the video game industry but no matter how high this wall might tower over us, hype breaks right through it every time. It is a powerful and essential part of video games. And that is what I’m most afraid of.
Dealing with hype
Let me put forth a hypothetical for a moment. Say someone out there is having the same experience I had with Spec Ops: The Line. The apparent shocking moments in that game were sullied by hype. Now, what if this same person had experienced it more than once? The hype has crept into their other games and dulled the impact of the moments that should otherwise be stored fondly in their memory banks. And if that’s the case, they may reach a point where most video games they play start to produce this effect. A point where no game produces the same level of excitement for them and as a result, they stop playing. Subconsciously, they are convinced video games no longer hold any allure for them and put them down forever. Considering the stark and confusing experience I have been through, I don’t think this hypothetical is too unrealistic.
When does hype begin to have an expense? Whether it be reviews, mentions on Twitter or a friend telling you “You have to play this game!”, I have realized that there may come a point where I need to wary of hype. That I need to balance it somehow. Is this even possible? Can I completely divorce myself from it?
All I know is that if I want more memories like Dead Space 2 and others, I need to keep a close eye on the cost of hype.