E3: A Kid’s Game Conference Without the Kids
Idly skimming Twitter in the days after E3 2014, I start to see the inevitable feature stories that almost feel ironic.
“Who won E3 2014? Was it Nintendo? What about Sony?”
“Was this the best E3 ever?”
“All the greatest E3 things you missed!”
It’s hard to suppress a laugh, but I do. My recollection of much of E3 2014 is of lines; waiting quietly in lines under strobes and thumping trailers playing on loops so that I can watch tired people demo their games and read from scripts about those games. It was not the “best E3 ever.”
Of course, as I idly skim Twitter I also see a number of stories like this one. Those first-person accounts of the open sewer hype machine hellscape that is gaming’s biggest convention. In the center of Los Angeles (the city I live in, the City of Angels […sorry.] [full disclosure: I do kinda love this town]) comes a convention that’s surrounded in its own advertising, that’s constantly clapping itself on the back in congratulations with crazily expensive open-bar satellite parties and parking lots filled with game stations under dubstep and free energy drinks and massive billboards adorning the city for whichever games inevitably will have the biggest budget and the least amount to say come holiday.
Yeah, that’s E3.
At some point in the last few years, it became cool to rag on E3. I can’t help but do it as well, honestly. The Monday before the event, “Day Zero,” the one with all the major press conferences from Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Sony (in that order), is also a Twitter explosion of snarky greatness if you follow games journalism feeds like I do.
Everybody’s got the jokes. There’s plenty to say about four nearly identical dudebro-looking assassins (surely we can think of some kind of Unity pun); there’s plenty to say about Microsoft almost never uttering the word “Kinect” during its conference, as if it might summon some supernatural motion-controlled fiend to steal all their money; there’s plenty to say about the fact that EA chose to show documentaries about its games without actually showing off anything interesting about those games. There was a whole hilarious half-hour during Sony’s conference when the company started talking about Playstation 4 TV features that became a mix between half the viewers simultaneously falling asleep and the others preparing to stage a riot.
I wanted to go into this E3 a little less cynical, although it must be said that the convention is a soul-numbing fire hose of marketing schlock. At some point, we all became metaphorical high school kids, too cool to watch the movie with the rest of the class and instead sitting in the back ragging on the bad acting. Frankly, it gets a bit tiresome to be a part of that.
Not that E3 makes it easy to turn off the cynicism for, like, even a moment. The very first thing I did at this year’s convention was stand in a 45-minute line at the EA booth, which is easily the worst place in the convention. EA makes appointments for its booth that don’t mean anything; journalists pick up “VIP” badges and then are left to wander the multi-game space of their own accord to figure out interviews. The badge is good for getting into the occasional “VIP line,” and the VIP moniker is also useless. EA is the cattle line at the slaughterhouse and it reminds you perfectly of why you hate this convention. It is not helped by the 30-minute Dragon Age: Inquisition presentation at the end of the line that sounds more like a pitch to investors than journalists, and which makes Dragon Age sound exactly like every other RPG coming out in the next 12 to 18 months. It’ll probably sell real well, though.