Attending a midnight launch for a video game is a ritual for me - I've been doing it since I was in high school and, more importantly, since the town 20 miles over got a GameStop. I still remember my very first one: Halo 2 in 2004. People had tents set up on the sidewalk, with portable generators and heaters to keep themselves warm in the northwest Iowa winter. Posters of Master Chief standing heroically, twin SMGs in hand, covered the store's windows. Flashy action figures and collectibles lined the shelves. I was in awe. Anticipation had reached its apex, and I was giddy. Here, in 2015, launch events are bigger than ever (in Australia, Halo 5 is being played from a helicopter (opens in new tab)), but we wonder if it's all just too outlandish or wasteful.
I fear the day there are no more midnight launches. That’s not because digital distribution makes getting your game and playing it more convenient than ever, or because online retailers have taken too much business away from local shops. I fear the day the midnight launch dies, because it means we've lost our enthusiasm.
There's an undercurrent of cynicism to gamer culture these days. Everyone's arguing about who's ruining games the most, and the angriest voices bubble to the top. "Angry nerd" style video series attack big games from all angles, "why ____ actually sucks" op-eds clutter RSS feeds, death threats get issued over Twitter ad nauseum, and more than a handful of developers have decided that enough is enough and left the industry.
I'll be bluntly honest with you: when I publicly express an opinion of a game, I'm more afraid of the reactions I'll get if I'm enthusiastic, than if I'm negative. I don't like that, and I want to be proud of who I am, what I like. But being proud of yourself is harder than being dismissive of others. And that's why attending a midnight launch is important to me.
See, sometimes the grumpy part of my brain might try to get me down. "Who cares?" it says. "Those naysayers are right, this game is going to suck." But how could I possibly agree with such sentiments, surrounded by smiling faces of brave souls who also weathered the storm to show their love for whatever game it is we're waiting for?
These people aren't complaining about waiting in line, they're stoked to get their hands on a game they've been waiting months, maybe even years for. People entertain themselves and each other with stories, music, and chants. I still remember the line of patrons singing the Halo theme as we waited for Halo 2 - try to do that anywhere else, at any time other than a midnight launch. You can't. (Okay you can, but you're not going to get a line of fans to join in.)
How could I not feel anything but acceptance - something every human desires - when strangers greet me as a friend, just because we're in this together? We could be elsewhere - pre-loading, even - but we chose to be out here and come together in a social display. That's right, CNN (opens in new tab), I said "social."
Attending a midnight launch is a mark of pride as much as it is a reminder. A reminder that despite the negativity, despite the cynicism, it's okay to be excited about a game. It's okay to be proud of that. It's okay to like something, even if other voices say you shouldn't.
Tonight, I'll be going to a midnight launch event for Halo 5: Guardians (opens in new tab). I'll be standing in the cold for three hours, surrounded by others who also gave up their comfort for the evening. I'll eventually get my copy of the game, which I paid for months ago. I'll go home, pop it in, and install it. It will probably take a long time. So long, in fact, that I probably won't even play it tonight. And that's okay, because I wasn't really there for the disc anyway.
Remember that feeling I described experiencing at my first midnight launch? 11 years later, I'm feeling that emotional high come rolling back into my brain. I'm ready. I never want that feeling to go away. I hope the day never comes where I can't find one game, any game, that I can't just be out-and-out hyped for. I hope I never lose that sense of wonder and excitement that video games instilled in me growing up.
I hope you don't either.