E3 is, when all the booth babes, big screens, and sword and shield wielding Miyamatos are taken out of the equation, is essentially a platform for game developers to announce new stuff. So why must they feel the need to be so… theatrical?
For every new game announced, and for every new peripheral pushed upon us, there is always one moment where a marketing official, a dev, or a guest star manages to make themselves look like... well, an idiot. There’s at least one of the moments every year, and there’s undoubtedly always at least one remix on YouTube later that day. It’d be impossible to list them all, as we reach a strange plateau where companies almost seem determined to out-zany each other. No company is exempt from the histrionic and the plain weird. I’ll give three examples from “The Big Three” that show that often, gameplay showcases and announcements can take a back seat to goodness knows what fuelled madness.
Firstly, you have Nintendo’s infamous 2008 E3 press conference, where out of a bevy of Cammie Dunnaway fuelled tragic hilarity, one moment rings the most profoundly crazy in my head.
Now no matter how well the Wii emulated a drum-kit, that man looks silly. Had it been 1:1 with a drum-kit, it would’ve looked silly. Had it been an actual drum-kit, I dare say Mr. Ravi would still look fairly damn silly.
Sony have a cavalcade of E3 goofy moments from a few years back; the “Giant Enemy Crab” and “Ridge Racer” moment have come to levels of meme-dom and become overused so much that we’re annoyed as much at their overuse as their initial “performance” in the first place. Microsoft’s newfound crazy streak seems to have peaked with the advent of the Kinect. Right from the out-set of their Cirque Du Soleil event in 2010, they’ve left themselves open to a bevy of parodies and remixes. And of course, it made us all wonder, have we ever wondered what the bottom of an avatar's foot looks like?
Now there is a tendency to take these moments out of context. In the fast paced style of YouTube editing, perhaps these moments can seem more ridiculous then they actually are. Perhaps that game developer who has no history in public speaking didn’t just say something totally out of the ordinary, and infinitely quotable. But if you watch the entire conferences again, and in the case of Nintendo 2008, this can at times be utterly painful; it’s not. Sometimes it’s just the way that someone is put in a bad position, has to work with malfunctioning hardware, and has to make the best of it. But you have to feel like, with Kudo wearing sunglasses indoors, he thoroughly deserves any ridicule directed at him.
Desperately trying to drum up excitement for Ridge Racer with yells of faux enthusiasm however, or frantically trying to play faux drums on what frighteningly is considered by Miyamato as some of his best work? There seesm little excuse for that, and when it happens, live, and we as gamers are watching in anticipation for the new Playstation, or that new 2D Metroid we’ve been waiting goodness knows how long for, we tend to find it humorous, or get just plain frustrated.
It can be taken all in good fun of course. Reggie Fils-Aime’s, at times, startlingly awkward turns of phrases have been turned by the Nintendo fanbase into catchphrases, “my body is ready”, “I’m all about kicking ass and taking names,” and this in turn has helped him cement a fanbase that means he is better received and better remembered than a faceless EA executive, even though their jobs are basically the same.
But of course there is the adverse of this, the abundance of twee, preposterous phrases becoming coarse and irritating. You probably have guessed of whom I speak; I didn’t actually watch the Ubisoft conference live last year, but I was sure to catch it afterwards when the internet erupted with criticism. If you haven’t had a chance, check out the video below, and shake your head in unison with the rest of us.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecffZBdhAUU “Shit that only happens in videogamessss, right?” Compared to Reggie’s similar efforts to try and appear “hip”, Mr. Caffeine (born Aaron Priceman), comes off as way more coarse, and umpteen times more irritating. Why is this? Is it is pronunciation of “Clancy” as “Cuh-lanc-ee”? Is it his constant pondering as to what a certain game would have looked like twenty years ago, followed by an annoying self-produced sound effect?
There is a very easy response to those who are annoyed at acts of theatricality like this; surely we’re taking ourselves too seriously. We are grooming the “hardcore, serious” gamer image that we criticise Reggie and Mr. Caffeine so much for trying desperately to appeal to. And, if E3 were just a series of PowerPoint presentations with the new games out for the fiscal year on them, it would be very boring, and could easily be a virtual event. It’s a fun way of looking back at various E3s; seeing which company made the biggest ass of themselves through sales pitches, weird cinematic events, and the things you have to feel they deliberately say to gain infamy.
So in summary, I feel like there has to be a balance struck. I don’t mind the weirdness of certain E3 conferences; if Reggie doesn’t say at least one thing that makes everyone physically uncomfortable, I don’t consider it a successful E3 for Nintendo. But should the majority of your show consist of, oh I don’t know, an awkward child actor pretending to be licked by a virtual tiger, an overuse of the word “hardcore”, or motion controlled drumming followed by awkward silences, I might go ahead and join the cynics.
QUICK LIST OF PREDICTIONS FOR E3 2012’s “Mr. Caffeine” Moments
- Microsoft will welcome upon the stage at least one celebrity who has never touched an Xbox 360 controller in their life. I’m thinking Justin Bieber, considering his cameo at last year’s Microsoft conference. More like “Xbox 360 KILL”, amirite..?
- Ubisoft may wheel out Priceman in a Hannibal Lecter style cart, complete with mouthguard.
- Satoru Iwata will once again refuse the desperate need for a translator. Nintendo E3 conference artificially extended by about 20 minutes.