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Hype as a obstacle

Hype can work in mysterious ways. It’s frequently associated with the upcoming and the new, but it has a funny way of putting me off something as old as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

This is a frequent concern as someone who often looks back to see what they’ve missed rather than forward to see what games are coming. Can a game really be as good as the hype makes out?

Symphony of the Night

I last experienced Symphony of the Night in the summer of 1999. I had never played a Castlevania game before (largely due to my affinity with Sega in the early 1990s). Castlevania and I didn’t exactly get on. I was drawn to the game by numerous friends and strangers who were convinced it would be perfect for me. Only it wasn’t.

The introduction to the game (where you’re Richter fighting against Dracula) was clearly the end of another game and left me feeling like I’d stumbled into something halfway. I struggled with the intricacies of the combat and narrative that would have been effortless to anyone familiar with the series. It left me feeling out in the cold, rather than embraced and involved with the world.

It took me 13 years to come back to the game and give it another go. Partly because of that bad initial attempt at the game, but mostly because that first attempt had been inspired by the fevered praise of others. Their desire for me to enjoy the game as they had, their anticipation of my potential excitement.

It made me confirm something I’ve always realised about how I play games. The decision to play a game (particularly one that is out of your normal comfort zone) should be yours alone.

Alucard ducks from some dragon riders.A Gaibon attacks near the wolf head door.

Let me count the ways

So my experience of Symphony of the Night was not meant to be. My second attempt at coming back to Castlevania has not only been successful, but I’ve fallen in love with it completely. The game is no different than it was all that time ago, with its powerful but almost baffling start. Most importantly I have a broader and more open mind and I was ready to embrace the game, to battle on through my past difficulties until I could understand why Symphony of the Night is so well-regarded. In laymans terms I was very late to the party, but I’d arrived on my own terms and in my own time, that’s a big part of the reason why I succeeded.

A great game has a way of making you feel extremely privileged about discovering it, almost as if you’re playing something precious and rare. This is the feeling that Symphony of the Night invokes in me. As a result I can appreciate what Symphony of the Night does far better now than I would have 13 years ago. I am in the cusp of passionate adoration that all players go through when experiencing a good game, regardless of when it is played. So why the reluctance both then and now?

The second form of Death attempts to make his mark.A large golden boss knocks Alucard back.

Disassembling hype

Hype is a dangerous thing, it can successfully highlight experiences that are worth playing to someone that would never have thought twice about a game, however it can also taint an experience, raising your expectations far above where they would be if you had come to the game naturally.

This is the problem I have with the marketing of many modern games and in fairness this stated expectation of greatness doesn’t just come from the developer and publisher alone, but it’s audience and fans, who have the ability to expand anticipation with its feverish devotion to reading, watching and discussing every detail of a games development cycle.

These days I prefer to learn enough about a game for me to establish whether I’m likely to enjoy it and then I’ll play it after a patient wait devoid of marketing pizazz. In shifting to the shadows with Alucard I have become enraptured with Castlevania’s masterful combat, score and setting, this quieter approach to choosing my games has empowered me in turn.


A lack of gaming conversation

Every so often I’ll bump into someone that clearly enjoys games more than the average person. There are little clues about their person, a gaming-related badge, an outfit, a particular sentence overheard.

Gaming is slowly but surely making it’s way into the mainstream, and it’s doing so ever so slowly and quietly that many people don’t even realise it. As video games become a little more popular. I’m finding it harder to come across like-minded gamers who are happy to talk and identify themselves as video game players.

We’re in the background

There’s a huge perception that gaming is heavily niche pasttime. Anyone active in the gaming community knows that this simply isn’t true, internet culture and video gaming culture is so heavily intertwined, because of that precise need for video games players to find each other forced by the ongoing stigma of playing or discussing video games in public.

I suspect this is a large part of the reason gaming exhibitions and trade shows are so popular, there are fewer occasions where gamers are likely to collect together in one place. Many years ago before gaming shops became solely about sales that was that easiest place for gamers to congregate. In reality large, specialist shows are one of the few occasions where this still happens.

I’m quietly comforted by each person I see who is obviously a gamer. I talk about it to them when it’s appropriate to do so, despite being the huge gaming advocate that I am, I’m also deeply aware that other gamers are not comfortable with their hobby being publicly known. It’s a sad fact, but one I think we can all relate to.

So over time, this quiet contingency of gamers are slipping around in the background of public life, enjoying the mastery and beauty of video games as a medium, promoting it’s social aspects over it’s well discussed negative aspects as best they can, or perhaps more realistically as much as they dare to. Over time perceptions are slowly improving, one step forwards, two steps back.

Pushing back

The result of our gaming interest being pushed underground is we all collectively miss out on that effortless banter that only really happens in person. Despite there being more people playing games, it seems to be getting harder to openly chat about a love of video games in public. It’s easy for someone with a passing interest in sport to do so, similarly for fashion, television, films or books. Talk about games though and a distinct atmosphere fills the room, as if it’s something you shouldn’t do.

So there’s an underlying quandary here about the ability to be yourself in a public sphere. Unfortunately (as is the case for many gamers I suspect) I don’t get to do this as often as I’d like. In vocalising our love of video games we do so mindful of the risk of stigma. Talk about video games too much (even to someone as equally appreciative as you are) and you may get a response from another in the room in jokey, but negative tones. Even when this happens playfully there are few other hobbies where it would be socially acceptable for people to respond in such a mocking tone. It would be deemed rude if anything else.

Passing judgements

These judgements usually come from people who have hardly played any video games. This has always puzzled me. I wouldn’t be in a position to judge past-times that don’t suit my taste, I simply haven’t experienced enough of them to be able to comment on them, or understand why someone else might enjoy them. I believe the same is true for video games. Although games developers are making an apparent effort to make video games more simple for people who play games less to simply pick up and play them. Very few interests can be understood or mastered within minutes and for the most part gaming is the same.

We’ve also started to depend far too much on our communities online to meet other gamers. The internet has become the de-facto place to gather socially, as gamers find fewer occasions to meet up and play something in person. It’s become a bit of a double-edged sword as the availability and popularity of online games has soared we’ve found less need to venture out to find gamers in our locality.

It’s enough to put you off talking about video games altogether. These days I don’t tend to talk about video games to non-gamers at all unless directly questioned about it. Given how long this sea change is going to take. It’s no wonder than going online has become this communities preferred method of conversation.

Nothing is going to stop me from enjoying video games though. With any luck I plan to do so so indefinitely, I’m a firm believer that improvement in our ability to start gaming conversations will come. So we’ll have plenty of time to share our passion with the rest of the world as gaming becomes even more heavily intertwined with popular culture.