I picked up Rocket League on a whim. It was one of the greatest whims I’ve ever had, especially game related. Some whims don’t work out. I decided to play Final Fantasy XIII on a whim, and that was a very poor decision. If you respect yourself, do not play that game. Some whims do work out. Twelve year-old me decided Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance just ‘looked cool,’ and then I became a Fire Emblem junkie.
But Rocket League? That was whim—whim powered by hype.
The internet has enabled some games to thrive in a way that could not be possible without it; it has a way of turning the knob from “success” to “hit” in a unique way. Flappy Bird the phenomenon exists because of the internet, for example, and there are countless other games that become sensations because of Youtube, streaming, or memeification. The internet collectively mourned a gorilla for six whole months last year.
Rocket League, developed by Psyonix, was one of those games. Its predecessor, also developed by Psyonix, was the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-esque mouthfull called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. That game, whose acronym of SARPBC sounds more like a devastating supervirus than a game acronym, came out in 2008 to cricket noises. It received mediocre reviews, but mediocre games can certainly gain traction—this one didn’t. It had fans. But if you remembered SARPBC as something super special, you were in the minority.
I did not play SARPBC. I didn’t even hear about it. But the internet hype machine, the one that makes games into Events and gorillas into Martyrs, had gripped Rocket League and would not let go.
And so my whim came into play. I convinced a few of my friends to buy it with me, and we spent the $20 to access the game. In the year and a half since the game was released July 2015, we’ve gleefully dumped hundreds of hours into the game like thousands, millions, of others.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Rocket League, and wondering why I just like it so darn much, and I think it comes down to two things.
The first thing is the hype. The internet doesn’t turn every game into a Game, but when it does there’s an allure to players, an allure that is from and through community. Games themselves are often discovery in and of themselves, and if you participate in a game that the internet chooses to be the Game, then you’re a part of something special. That’s why Pokemon Go was so big, and why it was so fun for the few weeks after its release. It wasn’t a game. It was a Game.
But there’s another thing at play here, the driver (no pun intended (I lied-pun intended)) of the hype. I was interested in Rocket League because everyone was enjoying it, sure, but I was primarily drawn to it because it looked fun.
Games are ultimately different than television or film because there is an interactive element. You play games, actively, which cannot be replicated by any other medium. Yes, the interactivity of games can yield impressive depth and immersion for a story. But modern video games came from Pong, from Mario Brothers, from Pac Man, where the only thing about the game was how you play it.
And, ultimately, Rocket League is just a blast to play. It could not be more simple, and yet its physics engine yields infinite creativity and possibility for those who have the skill or drive (AGAIN WITH THE PUNS) to utilize it. It can be enjoyed by on any skill level.
At its simplest, a game is supposed to be easy, fun, and accessible. Rocket League, a game about rocket-powered car soccer, is the video game’s video game. You either like it because you like the game it is, or you dislike it because you don’t have fun with it. It’s refreshingly pure. The internet is impossibly perceptive and staggeringly knowledgeable, and it chose Rocket League to be the Thing because it was special. And though Rocket League isn’t the Thing anymore, it’s still special.
Rocket League is a triumph. Long may its servers prosper. Long may I say aloud “Calculated” after doing something I did not, in fact, mean to do. Long may we enjoy the ridiculous bounty of backwards turtle goals. The game and its creators deserve it all.