Hype can be insidious. Companies rely on it to sell their wares.
They develop massive marketing and advertising campaigns, sometimes even creating fake accounts, for the express purpose of making the average person think what they’re providing is so big and awesome and important that you absolutely must pick it up immediately.
They poke fandoms for buy-in in various ways. Appealing to them with particular language. “We’re bringing this franchise you love back to its former glory!” “Now with the return of this historically fan-beloved writer!” Or offering slick images. The underlying intent of it all is to build and maintain a consumer base which will simultaneously buy whatever gets put in front of them with the company brand, and defend that brand eagerly even in the face of any evidence that says it’s unearned.
I know this from experience. I used to be a hardcore Squaresoft fan, whose fandom carried me into Square-Enix content until the mistakes and insults became so many and egregious that I learned.
I’m not immune to the effects of hype. It can still influence how I think and feel. Even if I don’t fall into the trap of rushing to buy something due to hype, I may still get mentally absorbed into thought patterns encouraged by hype culture. In certain circumstances, it can still make me think what I’m seeing is far more important and not-to-be-denied than it really is until I reorient myself.
How do I reorient myself?
I think of what I’ve seen. Instances where excessive marketing and corporate talk or the appearance of fan support turned out in the end to not be anywhere near what hype made it look like. Where “You must support this, everyone’s into it, it’s the company’s direction for maybe even decades” fizzled out. Sometimes spectacularly.
These are just a few cases I’ve seen over the years.
One of the first, most memorable instances was 3rd Birthday. I could technically start with FFX-2 because I dove into it without thought from brand, but 3rd Birthday was where I saw and remember the entire landscape from start to years after release.
The game was announced for Japan. Initially as a mobile phone game, later as a PSP game. It was to be the return of Aya Brea after nearly a decade of nothing. Fans of the character and the original Parasite Eve games were excited. Most of the more vocal people continued to hype up the game all the way up to and slightly past launch.
But… it was bad. And a vivid example of people working at a company saying things they know people want to hear but not really meaning it.
Motomu Toriyama, who wrote the script for the game, said he was going to write Aya as a “cool mature woman in her 30s.” What the game actually did was have “Aya” act like a scared, submissive sex object who lets people sexually harass her repeatedly, before the final reveal that it was really the spirit of Eve (a younger girl) in Aya’s body… and you kill Aya’s spirit in the ending, leaving Eve in her body.
Yoshinori Kitase, the game’s producer, responded to criticism of the game’s clothes-ripping-away-from-damage game mechanic by claiming it was for “realism.” Which is not only flimsy for games, but in the specific mechanics of 3rd Birthday, is complete BS. “Aya” possesses a person’s body for missions in 3rd Birthday. What you’re seeing is her spirit, hence why what she wears differs from the character she possesses.
Originally, 3rd Birthday wasn’t going to have a shower scene. Then, at the last minute, they decided to add one… which was pretty much on the verge of softcore porn with its angles, sounds and visuals. Completely different from the far more tasteful shower scene from Parasite Eve 2.
In Famitsu (Japanese video game magazine), the biggest image for articles about the game was whatever fetish outfit they had for Aya that month. For Japan, they had special lines tailored to each costume, such as submissive server talk when she’s in the maid costume.
That’s the company… and then there were the fans. Who supported all of this. Most places you looked, people were hyping the game up, saying it would be amazing.
Years later, you ask the average person and if they even know the game happened, they say it was bad.
Squeenix to this day has done nothing to fix the damage they did to the character. They went from saying Parasite Eve would be one of their major returning franchises, to quietly shelving it and hoping people forget as they do other things.
That’s a common company response, by the way. To either kill a franchise they ruined, or double down and try to force people into accepting what they did as if it was somehow good. Companies rarely admit when they make mistakes, only doing so if what they did was so bad that not admitting fault and trying to make amends poses an existential threat. As seen when Squeenix went for a complete overhaul of Final Fantasy XIV and offered free access until the game was “good enough.”
Yet for Aya Brea, Squeenix can’t be bothered to admit and fix what they did. They’re responsible for one of the most atrociously sexist cases of character assassination in video games out there, but because the franchise and character are “obscure,” they think they can just pretend it never happened and hope people buy into a non-sexist perception of them from other games like Life is Strange.
People talk about how bad Metroid: Other M was. 3rd Birthday was worse. Much, much worse.
Soul Calibur V
The Soul Calibur franchise had been retired with SCIV. Bandai Namco felt they only needed Tekken. When Daishi brought a campaign to revive it, fans were ecstatic and eager to support him. The campaign itself was a success.
Then Daishi made the game.
He decided SCV’s story should have a time skip. The reason was so a majority of the roster could be purged and replaced with brand new characters.
It was primarily the existing female roster that got purged. Not even Sophitia and Taki got to be in the game, despite having been mainstays since the very first game, while characters like Siegfried and Mitsurugi and Raphael got to return. And Ivy, of course.
In the specific case of Taki, Daishi teased with the idea of her before explaining her exclusion as that she was “too old to be a ninja.”
Mitsurugi, a man, was the same age. He was included in SCV. Taki, a woman, wasn’t. It’s pretty blatant to me that behind the scenes, Daishi and/or the team thought that female characters have to be young and attractive in the ways they perceived attractiveness to get in the game. And that they’d been around too long, even conceptually (hence timeskip), to be appealing to them.
Again, like 3rd Birthday, a majority of fans were all in favor of SCV’s timeskip. I even talked to someone that insisted if the next game brought Sophitia back, they’d stop buying Soul Calibur games, just as I didn’t buy SCV.
Soul Calibur V sold half of what SCIV did. The most common complaint for the game was the new roster of characters, and purging of the old roster. It’s only recently that Bandai Namco released a new Soul Calibur game with Soul Calibur VI, meant to act as a reset for the franchise in a similar way to how Netherrealm Studios reset Mortal Kombat.
Some will disagree on this. I think I’m very justified.
The 2013 “reboot” presented “Lara” getting shipwrecked on an island. Everything about the game plays from what I’ve seen like “Lara” is the final girl in a horror movie. She gets traumatized, constantly attacked and pursued, and over the course of the string of “reboot” games suffers from PTSD. The underlying idea proposed being that it’s her journey toward becoming the icon.
Here’s the problem. The “reboot” destroys any notion that Lara had good qualities prior to 2013. Yes, it got rid of the bad elements like sexual objectification, but in the process it also threw away her status as a heroic icon and acted like “sex object” was all she had going for her for nearly 20 years.
That flies in the face of the character’s real worth. Lara Croft was created in 1996. At that time, games with female characters as the main protagonist were few. Lara’s arrival spawned Jill Valentine, Aya Brea, Regina in Dino Crisis, and many others as female stars for franchises.
Again, sexual objectification of Lara was bad – and it got worse as games went on, and games became worse in quality. But she had a personality, and had a positive impact on representation, that attitudes surrounding the 2013 “reboot” pretended never existed. They essentially wiped out that cultural memory in pretending the “reboot” was the first time anyone wrote a “real story” with Lara as an “actual character.”
What does this have to do with hype? Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix were very, very successful at creating hype toward the ends.
They had advertising literally everywhere. That’s not exaggeration. Every site I visited except for hentai sites had ads. They also deftly covered up one of the game’s producers saying “Lara almost gets raped” and “players will feel for Lara cause they want to protect her” by very quickly announcing how they had Rhianna Pratchett writing the script. Nobody talks about that, may not even be aware of or remember it, and that’s how successful the move was. They were able to patch over comments that would’ve hurt sales by showing off how they have creative representation.
I also want to note that I don’t hold the “Tomb Raider” “reboot” or Crystal Dynamics’ actions against Rhianna Pratchett. Female writers need their gigs. She had few video game writing credits at the time, closest of note before that being Mirror’s Edge. People higher up on the project said what they wanted, her job was to do what she could with it.
Unfortunately, there’s only so much that can be done with a bad premise. And honestly, I don’t know where the line exists between what the higher-ups expected from her and what she decided to do on her own. So I err on the side of assuming the higher-ups are responsible given a) they have more power, and b) they could’ve stepped in if it was her plans and they didn’t.
Nowadays, people seem to be more discerning of the “reboot,” how it presented the character and franchise, and the effect it had. We’re out of the hype period. Culture is becoming more cognizant of issues they didn’t see before. But for its time, the “reboot” managed to convince a lot of people that it was making great advances for the character even as it gutted her and insisted she had nothing good to her pre-2013.
Man of Steel
I tend to talk a lot about how female characters are treated, because I’m more interested in them. Here’s one of two examples I have concerning male characters.
Snyder’s idea of “Superman” in films was through the lens of Batman. Blatantly. It was very Batman-colored lenses. Everything was grim, people died for Superman’s failures, etc.
Where things differ here compared to my prior examples is that a majority of consumers seemed to immediately acknowledge and condemn Snyder’s films for this. I didn’t see any hesitation. Yet the films still had their fans, and DC still carried this idea of Superman into Batman vs Superman in spite of people not wanting it.
My view of this (and for my next example) is that people in general are far quicker to care about when male characters are treated poorly than when female characters are. Which is incredibly sad. Hopefully it’s changing to where people care about how female characters are treated just as much, if not more than, male characters.
I can’t say DC’s attempts at hype were successful. They weren’t. Both films that Snyder’s “Superman” were in bombed. But a hype culture still existed, promoting the idea that you must see this film because it’s a big blockbuster film and part of this new expanded film universe like Marvel has. Plus you can see how dogged Snyder’s fans are with how vocally they’ve demanded the “Snyder cut” of Justice League.
Like Snyder’s “Superman,” people almost were immediately against DmC – a “reimagining” of the Devil May Cry franchise and Dante. The game’s writer and director, Tameem, certainly didn’t help himself as he responded to complaints by saying Dante sucked and he’d be “laughed out of bars” if he were real (which… we play games about demons for the realism now?).
Yet in spite of pretty common consensus against the game, it did have its fans and defenders who rode along for the hype. And this is where I have more reason to talk about it than Man of Steel.
The most notable situation here is hair color. Many people who were opposed to DmC talked about how its idea of Dante had black hair, unlike the franchise’s traditional Dante who had silver/white hair. Fans on the hype train eagerly jumped on the hair complaints and ONLY the hair complaints, while also ignoring the larger point to ridicule it as a miniscule aesthetic whine. “Look, they’re complaining about hair color!”
Such talk deliberately ignored two things. For one, hair color wasn’t the only complaint. It was merely the most visibly obvious change that people could call out. Most of the other problems with it were harder to explain well for anyone not really into the franchise and character. For another, the hair color was more a matter of what the change represented rather than the color itself. Some people like to be dismissive of visual indicators, but they really are a window into the attitudes of people behind those visuals.
Once again, like Man of Steel, majority noticed the problem in advance, and hype failed to win them over. But the fandom created a certain culture that tried to deter criticism all the same.
Let me preface: by the end, in general I liked All-New X-Factor. I laud All-New X-Factor #14, which had Lorna and Wanda spending time together as sisters, and I often encourage reading it on my Polaris reading list.
But not all of the issues. I always say people should skip ANXF #4-6, and sometimes include #3 in that.
Here’s where hype culture comes in. I was reading every issue as it came out back then. I liked #1-2. But as we got to #6, I didn’t mince words on problems with its treatment of Lorna.
Peter David has fans. His fans didn’t like my raising complaints. So at the time, they were dismissive of everything I said, and often tried to shut me down and get me to keep quiet to maintain the “sanctity” of their favorite writer’s image. I didn’t back down, of course. Now, I don’t know what really happened with that creative team, but I suspect the criticism given by Lorna fans (not just me) led to some major improvements in the book so that it got much better from ANXF #7 on after.
Years later, you do see people speaking positively of the book. I like to think that talk is thanks to said improvements above. But you also don’t see those fans going around attacking anyone who levels a complaint. Because that’s how hype culture works most of the time. Once the thing being hyped is no longer happening, there’s less sense of urgency to be protective of it.
House of X/Powers of X/Dawn of X
My urge to write this may change from day to day, but lately, the biggest reason is House of X/Powers of X/Dawn of X.
This event is current. We don’t have the retrospective glasses I was able to use for cases outlined above. But through the cases above, it’s possible to weigh what’s really happening against the hype.
Marvel hyped up HoX/PoX/DoX as a huge return of the X-Men franchise to its “proper place” of glory after a decade put down. Fans see it as some sort of second coming, like it’s the be-all end-all of our times. It must be worshiped. It must be coddled. To go against it is tantamount to treason, and it’s supposedly going to decide the direction of the franchise and various elements of it for generations to come in all forms of media.
… That’s just what Marvel wants people to think.
It’s not the reality.
Marvel has an incentive to convince people that anything they make is revolutionary and you must must must buy into it. They make money. They get support. Acquire power. And absolute hardcore fans have an incentive to encourage such thinking, because it leads to what they love getting more resources devoted to it.
Here’s the thing. HoX/PoX/DoX offers nothing to me.
They’re not doing anything with Lorna’s history with Genosha or Krakoa (unless Empyre changes that; we’ll see). They’re not acknowledging how she’s the second woman to join the X-Men, leaving her off a female X-Men variant cover that includes other characters like Dani Moonstar, Magik and Mystique. They don’t have Lorna spending time with Jean or Iceman to take advantage of how she was with them way back in the beginning.
All Marvel’s done is make her a supporting character (not even leading it) of a book that has the same title she was on 30 years ago, use her for Magneto to mansplain at her or for Cyclops to talk about his family at her (with no input of her own), and bring up Havok.
Marvel would like for me to think that I must purchase what they make that has her in it, no matter how it treats her, because their word is law and hype culture says everything is perfect. But really, I don’t need to buy anything they make that doesn’t treat Lorna with the long overdue appreciation and respect she deserves. And in fact, if my only choices are mistreatment or hiatus, I’d gladly take hiatus and wait for a future Marvel that’s infinitely better for Lorna than current Marvel.
That won’t stop me from calling Marvel out where appropriate. Like how Marvel’s decided Storm should get to be outraged about the Genoshan genocide even though she wasn’t there while Lorna, an actual survivor or suffered immense PTSD from it, is written as if it never happened and she doesn’t even know what it is. Lorna on hiatus doesn’t give them a pass on all the things they should be doing and aren’t. It just means they’re not also getting called out for doing bad things they shouldn’t, and Lorna’s better preserved for future writers that will care enough about stories and characters to do right by her.
In recent months, I’ve started to see some people questioning HoX/PoX/DoX. And hardcore fans upset that people are questioning it. It’s really only the beginning, as the newness and hype culture wear off and people are able to take a look without being influenced by marketing efforts and fans’ attitudes.
And again, I’m not immune. The marketing and hype culture of HoX and PoX did get to me until roughly halfway through. I had trouble seeing it objectively during that period. I started to fall into thinking about the franchise and characters in ways Marvel wanted me to, and started to think it just might really have the level of importance Marvel wanted everyone to think it had. But since halfway through the event and up to right now, I’ve been able to see it a lot more clearly.
Remembering the cases I’ve shared here helped me toward that clarity. They’ll continue to help me every time a company announces something new. Past experiences educate me for future experiences. Sometimes, it even helps me in simpler ways, such as to delay purchasing something that seems urgent because there’s a sale or everyone’s talking about it.
This is a long post, so I’m wrapping it up. Maybe I’ll have another post sooner than the last few times!