It's that time of the year again. If you didn't come here by mistake, then chances are I don't need to explain what E3 is. Every gaming news outlet on the internet - and even some non-gaming news outlets - are plastered with the latest from the Expo. For the next few weeks, you won't be able to open your browser without seeing some kind of speculation or analysis or reveal or something or other. And we gamers will eat up ever word of it.
Who can blame us? This is the biggest gaming event of the year. It's where pretty much every relevant company in the gaming industry sticks a funnel in our collective mouth and pours in all the juicy details of their current projects. We get to get pumped about what games we'll get to play down the line. We can root for our favorite consoles and developers. We pore over all the things we want to hear. And it's all presented to us on a grand stage with the biggest executives personally the delivering the news.
During E3, I'm always glued to my computer screen along with everybody else. I watch as many live conferences as I can. Between them, I have about a dozen tabs opened to different gaming sites which I constantly refresh in case a new story breaks. Even many of the topics I generally have no interest in, like consoles I don't own or genres I don't play, still grab my attention. It's because E3 is like a second Christmas. It's not only where all of our wildest dreams come true, it's where many of them begin.
It's also a farce.
For all of its positives, there is a huge slew of flaws that come from the Electronic Entertainment Expo. They are well documented. For starters, the very purpose of the event itself could be summed up in one word: hype. For the consumers, that might be misconstrued as being synonymous with "excitement," but the real translation is what the companies are after. Everything about E3, from the big screen stages with the light shows, the rock music montages, the gameplay demos, all the trashing of the competition. It's all engineered by the presenters with the hopes of securing our dollars.
On top of that, we take stock of the individual conferences to pick out a "winner," an act which serves no purpose other than feeding our misguided fanboy egos. We get pissy about what's not shown, or when what is shown doesn't match our hopes. We mock the presenters for anything that might come off as a little bit weird. Don't even get me started on "vertical slices" and the hype fiascos like Colonial Marines and Watch_Dogs.
In fact, E3 might just be the single biggest act of decadence in gaming culture. All of this, the good and the bad, the millions of dollars and all the effort and manipulation happen because of video games. These big reveals take on godlike proportions. When we see something we like, the cheers and excitement would make you think of some kind of religious epiphany. A new Zelda! The sky has been torn back and Link is going to defeat the seven headed Bowser as foretold in the Third Epistle of Saint Miyamoto!
These facts are not lost on the gaming public. There are plenty of critical and sarcastic pieces about the event popping up before, after, and any other time of the year. Unless we're not in the middle of the event itself, it's pretty hard to find an article about E3 that doesn't reference Giant Enemy Crabs®.
So if we know all this, why do we love it so much? Why do we put up with all this crap and buy into all this hype? Just to get an idea of what video games we might want to play a few months down the line? Do we really wallow that much in our own consumerism?
Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago, I was going through a pretty dark time in my life. Some personal events had left me pretty down in the dumps for months on end. To take my mind off it, I decided to take up a couple new hobbies. One of them was magic. David Blaine and Criss Angel were fairly popular at the time. I enjoyed watching them, so I bought a deck of cards and a beat up old magic book and started learning how to pull quarters out of people's ears. It was pretty fun at first. As I got more accustomed to it, I wanted to learn more, so I went shopping online and came across a website that sells magic stuff. It's a fairly well known website. I won't name it because of magicians secrets and whatnot, but if you've ever tried to buy magic supplies on the internet, I guarantee that it was one of the first sites you came across.
When I discovered this online store, I caught magic fever. They had everything a budding Houdini could want. There tons of cool custom decks of cards, there were all kinds of little trinkets, instructional DVD's out the wazoo. It just so happened that I found this website right around the time I got my first job, so guess where most of my newfound disposable income went?
The website featured plenty of great magicians, but what they were even better at than magic was marketing. These people know how to sell a product. Whenever you click on one of their product pages, you're greated with a trailer. It starts out with some avante garde music with some moody shots of a sunset over a bridge or something. There will be shots of the instructor in sunglasses and a trench coat and some kind of trendy facial hair while he gives a voiceover that sounds like some kind of vague beatnick poetry. This goes on for a minute when suddenly MUSICAL STING! followed by a quick montage of crowds screeching and freaking out over how awesome that magic trick was OH MY GOSH HOW DID HE DO THAT AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd
I bought every bit of it. Not literally; magic tricks are expensive. But I invested a pretty sizeable chunk of my income into whatever cool new thing caught my fancy each week. For a while, that was great. I'd get them in the mail, excitedly study whatever it was, perform it for all my friends and relatives... and then put it on my shelf to collect dust. After a while I started to notice that it didn't take long for my zeal for these new tricks to wear off. For as much as I looked forward to getting each one, each one left me a little - dare I say it - disappointed. Sure, it was fun to watch people's eyes bug out the first couple times I would perform it, but it never quite had the magic that I was looking for.
The magic I was looking for.
That's why. It dawned on me one day while I was browsing. The reason I was always disappointed wasn't because the products weren't good but because I was expecting something that it couldn't possibly deliver. To put it bluntly, I wanted real magic. I knew that every trick had a secret, but when I watched those trailers or whatever, some giddy little kid buried in my sub-conscious was secretly hoping that it would be real. That this DVD might actually teach me how to do this for real. I was buying a magic spell, and getting a magnet on a string.
That might sound silly. It is, it really is, and I admit that freely. I got caught up in the hype. That's the power of it. Everybody knows about advertising and marketing and all that. We all think we're smart enough not to fall for it. Yet when it comes to something we like, we still get sucked right into it. It's because we want to believe.
It's the same deal with E3. All the pomp and circumstance, the anticipation, it turns gaming into something larger than life. We forget that these things are just time killers to play on our gadgets. We get lost in the bombast, we see the video games as real magic. Maybe the same thing that all materialism stems from. We feel like we are missing something inside of ourselves and only this new thing can fill that void, even though it won't because it isn't God and the novelty will just wear off when the light shows are over. Man, that got really deep, really quickly.
I can't tell you how many times I've been watching E3 and said "WOW! I would buy a console just to play that game!" Then release day rolls around, and that becomes, "Hey, I should pick that up if I can round up the extra cash." That turns into, "Maybe I'll get that when the price drops," to "That would be a good choice during the next used game sale," to "Hey, I remember that game, I wonder if it was any good?" It doesnt' always go that way. I remember watching Nintendo a few years ago and thinking "WOW! A new 2D Mario game just like the old ones except now I can play with three other people AT THE SAME TIME AAAHHHH!!!!!;alksdjfhglkasd." We all know how that turned out.
Am I saying that we shouldn't love E3? Absolutely not. For all the negative that comes with it, the reason all of that showing works so well is because it's fun. It's great to see the montages and lights and the speakers. It's awesome to see what our favorite companies have been working on. We love to get an idea of what we might want to play down the line. For the majority of us, the best experience we're ever going to have with most of these games is watching their reveal trailers.
There's no shame in liking E3. I'm watching it too, analyzing the conferences and reading all the news coverage. I love it. You should too. But with all of that love, let there come some discretion.
It's okay to enjoy the show as long as we remember that the magic is just an illusion.