I am, admittedly, more into video games and gaming culture than the average 28-year-old man. I own that.
I’ve played video games in some form or fashion since before I could read. I remember going across the street to my cousins’ house to play Super Dodge Ball on the NES before I owned a Sega Genesis and eventually an N64 in early elementary school.
This Christmas season, I have had a number of friends five or 10 years older than me inquiring about the Nintendo Switch what all needs to be purchased for a family to enjoy the games together.
I watch other adults play video games on Twitch pretty regularly.
I watch YouTubers whose primary content revolves around games and gaming culture.
For a long time, until the last couple of years, gaming culture has been a fringe culture. Only nerds played video games when I was growing up.
This is no longer the case.
Video game culture is blending into mainstream pop culture in unprecedented ways. But that’s another post for another day.
The Hype Train
When I get time to play video games these days, which is usually a couple of hours on the weekends, I am spending most of my time on the Nintendo Switch. I think it’s the greatest video game platform of all time (also another post for another day), and I love a number of the games available on it right now.
In the months leading up to a video game release, there is what is called “the hype train.” This phrase should be pretty self-explanatory, but, in short, it is the anticipatory build-up and conversation among fans of a game in the months (or even years) leading up to its launch.
In video game culture today, the primary corner of the internet through which the hype train chugs is Reddit.
As a social media platform, Reddit has always been more gamer-friendly, and the ability to create subreddits around various games is unmatched when it comes to building community and fueling the hype train for a video game.
Game developers watch subreddits of the games they are producing before and after release to get feedback from Redditors about what they want added to or changed in the game.
It’s a powerful system of communication between fans and game developers and among fans themselves.
It is in these subreddits, like this one for Super Smash Bros. which has a new game releasing this week, that the hype train is fueled.
The last couple of years, as I have joined the subreddits of a few highly-anticipated games I’ve purchased, I’ve noticed a common thread that runs between all of the games, no matter the platform or genre.
It’s sad, but every single time it has proven true:
The Game Never Fully Satisfies
Watching the hype train rev up and speed into the station is astounding. It truly is a cool experience.
A community of thousands of fans who have spent the better part of a year theorizing, sharing strategies, reviewing trailers, and more all coming together around the shared love for something truly is special. It is fun to experience and neat to watch.
Leading up to the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game releasing later this week, I have participated in the subreddit a good bit and it has been cool to build community with others.
But, sadly, I know what is going to happen as soon as the hype train pulls into the station and the anticipation disappears because the game has arrived.
It will just be a game.
It will be fun.
It will blow away some expectations.
It will not live up to some expectations.
But eventually, whether it be two weeks or two years down the road, the game will go away. And another one will take its place.
Now, some of the people aboard the hype train are probably fine with that. They understand that video games come and go and aren’t meant to be around forever.
But I read some of the anticipation and fervor around the release of some of these games and I just have to think to myself, “It cannot provide that for you. This game will not fulfill you!”
It’s almost as if many rabid fans of these games are looking to find meaning in some of these games. Looking for purpose. Fulfillment.
And don’t think I’m pointing a judge-y finger. It’s not like I haven’t been there before—I certainly have.
But as I’ve watched this phenomenon the last couple of years, it never goes away. It’s always the same.
It’s because a lot of folks are expecting more out of the game than it can give them.
It’s More Than Just Video Games
I’ve used video games as an example throughout because its where I’ve seen this phenomenon most present in my own life.
But the eager anticipation of a hype train pulling into the station and the ultimate dissatisfaction of our souls isn’t limited to video games. We’d be foolish to think that.
We do it with marriage.
We do it with careers.
We do it with children.
Throughout countless areas of our lives, we fuel up hype trains of various kinds with the desperate hope that when the train pulls into the station our lives will have more purpose, more meaning, more value.
It’s just idolatry. That’s all it is.
We expect the things of this world to be something they can’t.
Enjoy the hype. Lean into anticipation. Just don’t put your hope in it.