Waiting to Die (Consumerism, Hype and Elden Ring)
My brain has an unfortunate habit of fixating on a game I’m excited about, so much so that it actively lessens my enjoyment of anything I’m attempting to play in the meantime. I’ll be the first to admit that this kind of reaction is a little childish, akin to a five-year-old unable to sleep the night before Christmas — in this case, a twenty-six-year-old man unable to enjoy Deathloop because a high fantasy game about big monsters is right around the corner. Elden Ring looks great, more than great, it looks to be an excellent amalgamation of old and new mechanics slapped with a fresh, interesting coat of paint. Admittedly, I have my reservations about FromSoftware’s decision to take their Souls series open world, but I am willing to put my faith in their artistic vision. The personal hype I feel is a strange mix of nostalgia and collective excitement — the former due to my own relationship with the series, which all started with reading an import review of Demon’s Souls in a (now ancient) copy of GamesTM (I was convinced that the game would never be localised and begged my dad to import a copy for me from Japan) and the latter stemming from the general sense of high anticipation that has permeated the video game culture-sphere since Elden Ring’s announcement back in 2019. Despite all this, I still can’t even call myself a superfan. While it’s true I have played and completed all the games in the Souls series (some even a couple of times), I don’t consider any of them to be all-time favourites. A lot of them just happened to arrive in my life at the right time and act as catalysing agents for powerful memories. Any mention of vanilla Dark Souls II, for example, transports me straight back to my tiny first-year University room, playing well into the night, bundled up in blankets and fighting its menagerie of armoured ghouls. I guess I’m looking forward, mostly, to seeing what kind of long-lasting memories Elden Ring will manage to create.
Of course, booking a first-class ticket on the hype train is a risky business; once you’ve boarded then you’re on it for good, even if it ends up coming straight off the rails. I’ve suffered quite a few wrecks myself including, most recently, the personal disappointment of Tales of Arise. Usually, the real let-downs come in the form of games I’m absolutely certain will be great, titles that, along with their developer pedigree, receive universal critical acclaim. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was one such game and perhaps the most bitter pill I have had to swallow in the past decade. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent game in most aspects and even exceptional in some, but it couldn’t live up to the MGSV living in my head. I envisioned the dense, layered cutscenes from previous series entries deftly combined with the technical capability of the Fox Engine — a sort of linear Metal Gear Solid experience afforded all the bells and whistles of current technology. This heavenly vision was further bolstered by the insanely good Ground Zeroes which, despite the dubious nature of its release (essentially a demo with a fat price tag attached) was a stunning realisation of what (at the time) next-gen MGS could be. Elden Ring could very well end up a similar experience, the critical darling that falls short on a personal level. Faced with the ever-present danger of this kind of gaming let-down, many seem to adopt the adage of ‘expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed’. While this attitude can end up being sensible, it is certainly not any fun, and while you’ll probably play a great many games that end up being better than you thought they might, that satisfaction of experiencing a game that truly lives up to your expectations slowly fades away. You should, within reason, allow yourself to get pumped up about the things you love — even if it means heartbreak at the end of the day.
There is certainly a push within video game discourse at the moment to act as a responsible consumer and to demand a more positive, critical space to occupy. There is clearly a strong desire amongst a certain subset of gamers to move away from infighting, console wars (which, believe it or not, still very much exist on social media sites) and outdated, anti-consumer practices like console exclusivity. Video games, as a medium, are constantly evolving and still very much maturing; as they are taken more seriously as an art form these questions will become even more important than they already are. Events and conferences designed to sell you a product like E3, or Geoff Keighley’s yearly ceremony, The Game Awards, are equally as celebrated as they are vilified. It can be difficult to maintain a balance, in these cases, between genuine excitement and an understanding that these multi-billion-dollar corporations are looking to get their hands in your pockets. I myself am guilty of getting worked up over these events, watching them with friends and cheering for big announcements, laughing at the stilted, out-of-date stage presentations and faux-nerd hype men trying to sell you the latest downloadable content for a Tom Clancy game you forgot existed. I guess what I’m trying to say is to be passionate, but to temper said excitement when necessary. No one is going to make fun of you for being excited for Elden Ring (well, that’s not true, but said people aren’t worth giving the time of day), but there’s also no need to jump into random online conversations to defend its honour. Elden Ring is Elden Ring my friend, where it’s going it doesn’t need backup. To ruminate on the state of hype within the video game industry is to ruminate on the industry itself — the questions raised encompassing consumerism, company practice and everything in-between. Like most things in life, the nebulous grey areas seek to overwhelm the conversation entirely and there is plenty of fence-sitting to be done, should you choose to take that uncomfortable position. Love what you love, but keep your attitude understanding, savvy and respectable; in other words, be a normal human being.