Why I Can’t Take E3 [Or Any Trade Convention] Seriously

It happens every year.  Every year, without fail, at around this time, "real" news [and I use the word in inverted commas, because really - game releases and hints at game releases aren't really "news" at all.  They're - at best - terrible product placement] drops right off the radar.

Why?  Because some PR drone way up on high has decided that nothing can leak out prior to E3.  And that results in what fans generally call "lots of slow news days."  While that's a problem, E3 - and shows like it - have a far bigger issue that I want to tackle.

They're pageants.

In the same way we trot out beautiful gowns and wonderful looking people for beauty pageants, so our conventions have become nothing but hollow-seeming displays of "beautiful games." There's no rawness to any of it. Just the intent to engender some kind of "wow" factor. And, frankly, it's dull.

All games are beautiful if you're showing pre-rendered footage that constitutes "game play."

Every year at E3, the giants get together for what has become a fundamentally bland spectacle that attempts to let us know about stuff that's going to happen in the next year or so for those companies.  So, for example, Ubisoft will regale us will bullshot video of it's latest Watch_Dogs and/or Assassin's Creed and/or next bland open world game.

Then, Microsoft will trundle themselves out in khaki and attempt to whip us into a frenzy of TRANSMEDIA SYNERGY!  A word that's as dumb and boring as it sounds.  I didn't count, but last year's Microsoft statement featured the word TV so many times, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were at a convention about the latest blockbuster TV thrillers and not games.

At this point, Sony might decide to try and steal Microsoft's thunder by saying "how good they are for gamers" by "not enforcing crazy drm!  Hahaha!"

It's all terrible and scripted and bland.

Last year, the most exciting thing that happened at E3 itself was when the developer for Unravel got onto the stage and very nearly cried, he was so glad to be there.  This man had something all the other PR people completely lacked.  He had passion.  He loved his game.  He wanted people to get ahold of it and enjoy it.  In short, he was one of the only people in that room at that moment who understood what gaming was all about.

As we've gone along, our games have kind of turned out a lot like our E3's.  They're scripted and formulaic, which makes it very easy to sell them to the masses at a convention like this:  You simply find the most cinematic moments in the game, string them together as a teaser and attach a whole lot of buzzwords to the result.  Instant E3 fodder.

And it isn't just the way E3 gets trotted out that's the problem.  It's everything surrounding the event, too.  Whatever happens to come out on blogs is mostly PR-spin press releases.  Yes.  That's in part because the press hasn't had hands-on time with the games, but it's also because this is the way we're drip-fed now.  Everything has to be sanitized and clean and without an opinion until later.

So, I can't take E3 very seriously.

I think I'd take E3 more seriously if the event were smaller.  If the people were genuine.  If the product placement and glib bullshots and rendered video were more interesting.  Oh.  It'd probably help if the preponderance of he-man shooters went down and we saw more game diversity.  And it'd probably help more if there were anything other than bland males presenting the shows - seriously - why can't there be a presentation by an interested individual that's older than 25?

The other problem for me is that none of these conventions - really - is consumer facing/fan facing.  They're all aimed squarely at the media machine.  And as a result, any actual enthusiasm for anything seems to be tempered by a desire to be PR-perfect.  It's so bland it almost hurts.  Here you have the most amazing medium with the most potential for engrossing storytelling and you want to tell me that the way to develop interest in your product is to be pitch-perfect all the time?

Wrong.

I totally wanted to play Unravel right there, after the reveal of the game on the E3 stage.  Shall I tell you why?  Because that man seemed like a human making a thing that he cared deeply for.  Unravel wasn't designed by committee to fit into the bunch of checkboxes that [seemingly] all game designs have to tick, now.

I'd like to see smaller conventions again. With gamers being able to attend and conversations actually being sparked by games-journalists looking for interesting stories. Not just "New Game Due Soon."

MakeConventionsGreatAgain - by making them smaller and more accessible and about actual, interesting games.

So, what do I think we can do about this?  I think we can start by making the conventions smaller.  I think that we should [kind of] leave the PR people at home. It will possibly create PR disasters [Hi, Phil Fish, I hope you're doing well] - but it'll also create more of a bond between creator and actual, interested fans.  It'll bring actual reporting about the games back to the forefront, because in a smaller venue with fewer people around, the journalists will actually be able to do "journalism" [of a sort, anyway] and be able to sit down with the creators and really talk to them, as opposed to having five minute sound-byte sessions where all they get is the mandated PR-spin on the current game they're making.

I also think we can inject more life and spontaneity into the presentations at these big events.  Bring out the little developers.  Bring out interested fans.  Show actual game-play, not doctored footage.  All of this has associated risks [the game might crash very dramatically since it's in alpha or the like] but this is, at least, gaming as gaming.  Not gaming as pageantry.

That's the last word that we should be associating with sometimes fun, sometimes thoughtful entertainment:  pageantry.


Some images courtesy of Pixabay.

Video embedded from the Gamespot YouTube Channel.