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Hype: or, Hypenosis

It is thanklessly easy to buy into hype: the tickets are cheap, and the acts almost always popular. Even when the presumed product is a can't miss, real-deal, guaranteed thing, the hype can be easy to run away with. When Marge Simpson is seduced by an exotic bowling partner (back when the Simpsons was actually good), some universal truth is uttered. "To the most beautiful moment in life, Better than the deed, better than the memory, the moment... of anticipation!" Jacques nails that particularly on the head. The anticipation can be a sweet, delicious thing, and when the delivery falls short, the resulting bittersweet twang can be hard to rinse out.

My most vivid experience with hype comes only recently. For most of my fanboy career, the idea of looking forward to an impending release is couched more in mythology than immediate expectation. I still remember buying Final Fantasy III at a Toys R' Us, giddy at the prospect of playing the follow-up to one of my most unexpectedly treasured games (Final Fantasy II, a gift from my Aunt, who had no idea what to make of it) ... but I wasn't really expecting it. I was only able to enjoy it, in a generally wordless ecstasy, the masterpiece flickering on a tiny cathode ray television in my grandmother's humble home. I remember waiting impatiently for Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, pacing the floodlit aisles of a Walmart for the appointed hour, but it wasn't something I had obsessed over. The advent of HYPE - the waiting, the jockeying, the bantering on internet forums and the sharing of seemingly worn-out Youtube videos announcing some imminent feature - seems to me a recent development, something that makes the following generation from mine. Like dubstep. Or emotional availability.

Now, the background: I'm not a big FPS guy. I love Half-Life, but am still stuck on Nova Prospekt, a good decade after the fact. I remember Duke Nukem 3D; that makes me old-school. I played Halo, but it didn't call to me. I played other games. Until a good friend bought Battlefield: Bad Company 2 for me one Christmas. I had already announced a great affinity for the game: playing it in stolen sessions at his apartment, I was delighted by the tactile response afforded when stabbing a faceless foe in the chest. I declared the more thoughtful, squad-based mechanics of the game to be a superior approach for the thinking man (or at least, for the thinking man inclined to exploding shit and stabbing fools). I clearly enjoyed the hell out of the thing, and my good friend delivered. We quickly formed a clan, signed up any willing friends, and took the endless fight online, where our squad always seemed to turn the battle, where our teamwork lifted all allies, where our real-world friendships seemed forged in virtual fire.

I loved it. And I was immediately hyped for Battlefield 3.

Really, what wasn't to love? More vehicles, more terrain, more destruction, more battlefield. Yes, we lamented our communal inability to afford the sort of computing rig required to run the game on PC. We were cordoned off onto the relatively lowly PS3 - devout in our adherence, sure, but well aware the 64-player mayhem the game was designed for would remain beyond our grasp. But we had full faith in DICE. We had total confidence in the spectacular Frostbite 2.0 engine. We were certain the violent entertainments of Bad Company 2 would easily transfer onto a new, even better platform.

We anticipated.

And for the first time I found myself waiting at a game vendor at 11:30pm, long passed any reasonable consumer-oriented hour, hyped up for the new Battlefield. I will gloss over the silly fanboy antics that marked the preceding months: the CoD vs. BF arguments, the eye-glazing previews, the desperately-sought announcements from the wizards at DICE. That was all static. Now was the appointed hour, and I was ready. I was >anticipatory<.

Don't get me wrong, Battlefield 3 is undeniably a fun game. I had some exciting firefights, my squad fought valiantly across the many servers (at least, as often as we could, struggling to line ourselves up into a single unit, getting booted out of sessions and screaming obscenities at the dumb television). But it didn't last that long. Our fights through Bad Company 2 lasted a year, until the Vietnam expansion came out, and then they last some more. A few months into Battlefield 3, I found my squadmates frustratingly unresponsive to Invites, and I found myself inexplicably uninterested in grinding through the ranks to an ever-higher level.

The Hype was dead, and I was left with disappointment.

But its not like it was some crucial, life-or-death circumstance. True, if I had spent the hours taken salivating over the impending release of what is ultimately a silly game and instead willed my effort into, I dunno, whittling ... well, I would have some mighty find wooden sculpture to show for it. But I was left with disappointment, which seems to be the most prevalent result when anticipating something beyond the normal bounds. Disappointment almost always seems to follow the hype, to the point that we are required (by law) to exclaim upon some thing actually living up to the torrential noise preceding it that "IT LIVES UP TO THE HYPE!!!"

But things rarely live up to the hype. Because once the deed is done, and the memory is rusting, few things can compete with that sort of sustained level of anticipation. That's what made my experience with Bad Company 2 so special: it was unexpected. I never presumed to be sucked into an online FPS war, I never imagined obsessing over the particulars of a Kill/Death ratio, I never saw myself as barking orders at friends about suppressing fire directed over at that outhouse.

And so I still play Bad Company 2, at least with a few of those original squadmates. I don't begrudge DICE or Battlefield 3 for letting me down: really, it would have been hard for any game to attain the imagined heights we projected onto it. I suppose I just really like plunging my combat knife into some poor saps chest with a vigorous inclination of the R2 bumper, and none of the more whiz-bang elements in BF3 can compete with that.

Of course, if they announce a Bad Company 3, I am liable to lose my bloody mind.
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About Zhukovone of us since 8:51 PM on 09.15.2010