It’s not easy being a gamer, you know. We have an awful lot of stuff to deal with. We’ve got the world pointing fingers at us for a full spectrum of crimes, shady dealings, and misogyny. We had a sort of representative gamer tv channel once, with smart voices like Adam Sessler, who stood up for us and our hobby in the face of the constant scape-goating by people who just don’t understand. But sadly, that went away.
Games get delayed, or cancelled; the rug gets pulled out from under us all the time. Take Silent Hills, the Hideo Kojima/Guillermo del Toro/NORMAN FREAKING REEDUS dream team effort that disappeared in a sad puff of smoke last week. Or the many buggy releases of rushed AAA titles that make pre-ordering sting sometimes. You kids get off that hype train! Don’t you know those things are dangerous?
I have a confession to make: I’m a fan of hype trains. I ride them all the time. I enjoy riding them. And I firmly believe, hype trains are as much a part of gaming as console wars and frame rates.
So what is a hype train, you ask? Know Your Meme defines it as, “a slang term used to describe the high level of anticipation surrounding an upcoming release of a popular media franchise or an announcement of a new project, especially for video games, movies and TV series.”
Hype trains are fueled by a combination of two factors:
1. The internet
Hype trains weren’t really a thing before the internet, because their scale was limited. You could talk about the new Atari game in the lunchroom at school, or hanging out with friends, and while the sentiments were all pretty much there, the dynamic was different. People were hyped about things back then, believe me, but they were in smaller cars. The internet provided a visible place for EVERYONE to start talking, and social networks not only helped people find larger numbers of like-minded riders, they let other people see what all these like-minded riders were talking about. The internet also gave people the tools to endlessly search for every little detail, monitor Google alerts and news sites, and so forth. The internet provided rails for the hype train.
Take the Google trends report for the phrase itself. It’s actually quite interesting. You see the relative recency of the use of “hype train” as a term (2012 or so), but of greater interest is the MASSIVE spike in usage right about now. As the gaming industry grows, so too does the hype.
2. Basic Human Psychology
Like I said, hype existed prior to the hype train phenomenon. That’s because anticipation is something we as a species enjoy. Take vacations. A study in 2010 found that the anticipation and planning of a vacation results in a much longer happiness boost than the actual vacation itself. The happiness derived from planning and looking forward to a vacation was found to last an average of 8 weeks, while the happiness boost from the actual vacation lasted a mere 2 weeks. This rings true to me, and probably to anyone who has planned a Disney vacation. The fun you imagine having is always, ALWAYS going to be superior to the actual event. The only reason we don’t call that a hype train is that people aren’t all taking vacations at the same time, in the same place.
So to me, it’s just human nature to get excited about an event, and to anticipate it. Because dreaming and looking forward to things is just FUN. And yes, the actual thing, or event, will likely not live up to the “hype” of your imagination. The only real danger here is not realizing and accepting that fact. The way I look at it, the hype train is a value-add for the enjoyment I get from a video game. It’s part of the experience, and so I embrace it whole-heartedly.
Here are some of my memorable trips, both good and bad.
This may have been my first hype train ever, and we all know it didn’t end well. I’m a glass half full kind of person, and I really enjoyed about half of Spore, so for me it wasn’t the full-out wreck it was for some people. But I had been completely swept away by the vision of what Wil Wright was trying to do with Spore, so I felt the impact.
Black & White
Like many starry-eyed gamers, I have learned a harsh life lesson over time: if Peter Molyneux is the conductor of your hype train, temper your expectations, for he is a reckless driver indeed. Bring carry-on luggage only, and don’t expect a great dinner service. I stopped riding this one altogether by Fable 2. It was sad for me, because Dungeon Keeper remains one of my favorite games of all times, and I know in his heart, Molyneux is a dreamer. He wants all these beautiful things to be. He doesn’t mean to drive like a maniac, straight towards a glorious rainbow, and off the cliff. But he does it. Consistently.
The Lord of the Rings
The Peter Jackson trilogy. Not a game, I know, but I wanted to include it anyway. I was on board for this one from the start. I joined the charter fanclub, and my name is on the credits roll for all three films. I went with my Mom to Hollywood for the Two Towers Oscar Party (which was badass, by the way; Sean Astin, John Rhys-Davies, and a number of the cast showed up). I also donned some rubber elf ears and won a look-a-like competition as Arwen. We bought sword replicas and statues aplenty. For me, this hype train delivered; all the faith I put in Jackson was well-founded, and he brought The Lord of the Rings to life in a way that it’s hard now to imagine us being without. I look back on the journey even more fondly than the destination, though, because I rode that hype train like a boss.
Fallout: New Vegas
I tried really hard to ride this hype train, though I didn’t truly belong there. I’d never played the Fallout series prior, but I do have a thing for the post-apocalyptic, and I’d really fallen for Bethesda via Oblivion. It turns out, New Vegas, as much as I wanted it to be my kind of game, wasn’t. I pre-ordered the deluxe edition, and watched each behind the scenes documentary short eagerly, but in the end, the game itself just wasn’t quite my style. I wouldn’t call it a wreck, exactly, because I did enjoy following its development. But I guess in this case I did get caught up in the hype train when I shouldn’t have. Don’t think for one minute, though, that I will learn from the experience if/when Fallout: Boston is announced. I will love Fallout: Boston!
I know, right now Skyrim’s got some controversy swirling around it regarding paid mods, but think back to a more innocent time. I still remember the moment I was casually scrolling Twitter on my phone, and saw that a new Elder Scrolls had just been announced. I freaked out. I texted friends, and lept aboard the hype train immediately. Deluxe edition pre-ordered, obviously. I took my kids to the Skyrim Food Truck, and bid for the coveted fleece Dovahkin hat they’d given away at E3. I played Dan Bull’s Dovakhin rap countless times, and you better believe I was there in line at the midnight launch. And the game did not disappoint. I still have the framed game map hanging on my wall.
7 Days to Die
This one was my first Kickstarter hype train. I was never big on Minecraft, but I sure as heck am big on zombies, so when this voxel-based zombie survival game was announced, I backed it, and backed it big. I was there during the campaign’s final minutes, hanging out in the comments section, watching with other fans as it sailed past a whopping $500,000 stretch goal. And since then? It’s now almost 2 years later, and the developers continue to release updates at a rate that puts AAA titles to shame. I’m still playing it.
Tips for a Pleasant Trip
Making hype trains (or vacations) a pleasurable part of your life experience hinges on your own expectations. Be mindful of the fact that anticipation is always going to be more exciting than the actual delivery. The cynical might call this, “lowered expectations” or “settling” but I call it being real. We’re talking about video games here.
Know yourself. One man’s hype train is sometimes another man’s meh. Ride the ones that are right for you. Seems obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up when a lot of other people you know seem excited about something. Like that time I line-camped overnight outsite Target to get the Wii. I’m not sorry I did that, mind you, but I never did take to the Wii’s non-traditional controls.
Seek moderation, too. You can literally burn yourself out on a game before it even releases by obsessing over every little detail, and by learning too much about it in advance. Human nature, again, wants to do this, so you have to fight that to a degree. Don’t let your focus on a single thing (game, movie, whatever) become all-consuming. It’s natural to say, “GAH! If only 11-11-11 were here NOW! I hope this summer goes by as quickly as possible so we can get to that launch date.” Spend 6 months obsessing about one thing, and when it finally gets here, you have to realize that you purposefully put a Rip Van Winkle on half a year of your life.