Why am I crying because of a damn video game commercial?

Why am I crying because of a damn video game commercial?

I woke up this morning thinking I would be a normal, composed adult. Instead, I find myself crumpled over my keyboard, misty-eyed, compulsively texting friends I haven’t spoken to in years about a trailer for a football video game.

Is this how my parents felt when they watched coffee commercials in the ’90s? Am I having a midlife crisis? Maybe!

That won’t stop me from turning inward and answering a question I haven’t been able to shake since breakfast. Why is the trailer for EA Sports College Football 25 so effective? I don’t have one definitive answer, but I do have three guesses:

This trailer had to be excellent. A lot has changed since NCAA Football 14 paused the series over a decade ago. The willingness of the NCAA (and Electronic Arts, as a partner) to exploit unpaid college athletes became a common and effective talking point across popular culture, from episodes of South Park to congressional hearings. EA’s other football series, Madden, theoretically well positioned with the exclusive rights to make NFL simulation video games, became a shadow of its past inventive self. And the reputation of EA — following years of creative misfires and studio mismanagement — now stands somewhere between the DMV and the dentist.

The EA marketing team wasn’t going to let this rare, ultra-positive opportunity — bringing back a long-requested series, involving college athletes — go to waste.

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They borrowed from the best. Something about this trailer felt uncannily familiar, but it took a few viewings to pin that something down. It’s this: EA used the Grand Theft Auto trailer template. Quite literally. Take a moment to watch the College Football 25 trailer alongside the trailer for GTA 6, embedded above.

When Rockstar announces a new GTA game, its goal isn’t to show the experience of playing the game, but to produce the bubbly brain chemical feeling of being in the studio’s latest open world. GTA reveal trailers are, in the most skeletal form, montages of locals expressing themselves in big and emotional ways, interspersed with shots of beautiful landscapes and iconic architecture.

The format is a natural fit for EA’s College Football series, which places the pageantry of the sport right alongside the actual playing of football. Players tap lucky charms on the way to the field. Live animal mascots buck on the sideline. A dude in a Trojan outfit stabs a football field with a sword as if to say, “Fuck off, this is my turf! I have a fucking sword!”

When the Houser brothers founded Rockstar, they wanted to borrow from record labels, which knew that one thing mattered above all else: the right vibes. I don’t think it’s an accident that the College Football 25 trailer uses a version of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” the song Rockstar used to reveal Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

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It’s been too long. NCAA Football 14, the previous entry in the franchise, was released more than a decade ago — around the time my connection with the series was on the wane.

Years before that, in the mid-2000s, the NCAA Football games had been the glue that bonded me and my college roommates. We never got the traditional American college football experience — the NYU Violets last played in 1952 — so we built increasingly intense allegiances to our favorite teams in the game, and then, gradually, outside the game, too. By senior year, we regularly hounded one another about the superiority of USC, The Ohio State University, and the University of Texas, none of which we attended. Or had even visited.

As we left college and our lives became busy in the way all adult lives do, we shed our ironic-but-not-ironic fandoms. And with little connection to the teams, and less time on our hands, our NCAA Football matchups faded, too. I was sad when EA put the kibosh on the series in 2014, perhaps less because I missed the game than because I missed my friends.

So now, seeing this trailer, I’m flooded with all the good memories spent on a filthy couch that we took from the trash of a neighboring apartment building. That’s probably the real reason a video game trailer can make me cry.