Fool mE3 once
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about the most horrible thing that’s happened to anyone ever. Like, ever-ever. A snail bit my uncle’s wiener off, and even that wasn’t as horrible as the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. But before I further hyperbolize an event more or less meaningless in the grand scheme of life, let’s take it back a little.
Do you remember E3 growing up? I do. I’m 30, and back in the days before the internet we had to go to the Barnes & Noble’s with our step dads and camp in the magazine section while Terry read Guns, Germs, and Steel chapter-by-chapter because he was too cheap to buy the damned thing for $17.99 (like, seriously Terry, just skip the Molson’s for one weekend and buy the book!). Anyway, while Terry was getting his step dad on, we nerdy, red-headed step children would plop down in front of EGM, GamePro, and, my personal favorite, PSM and ingest all of the wonderful gooeyness drip-fed to us once a month in print publications. Did it suck that you really only got news once every thirty days? Kinda. Did that one day out of thirty fucking rule? You know it.
Call it a mixture of naivete and youthful exuberance, but back then reading up on all of the gaming news from a monthly magazine at once was like Christmas. Armed with the most up-to-date gaming news this side of your friend’s uncle who works for Nintendo, you felt invincible. With that monthly deluge of content came the most exciting time of the year: E3. Publications would put out their E3 summaries mere weeks after the show ended, many delivering an extended – or even a fully dedicated – issue to commemorate the industry’s biggest event. Again, since this was largely before the internet’s ubiquitous stranglehold on information, you were pretty much surprised at everything. Sure, the odd rumor here and there leading up would be printed and actually come to fruition, but for the most part announcements were a genuine shock. It was a simpler time, and one these old bones find themselves longing for.
Then all hell broke loose. The internet had always been a looming and growing force throughout my adolescence, but at some point between me graduating high school (when you still needed a college email for Facebook lol) and showering off the alcohol/shame the morning after my high school graduation party, the internet blew the heck up. In what felt like mere hours, I went from having to wait on that fusty old pervert Jeeves to retrieve the answer to my query from the Library of Congress’ archives to being able to fart into my smartphone’s receiver and have it automatically Google what I had for lunch on Monday. (If that isn’t an App already, I just made one of you a nice little fortune. Please send me royalties.)
It was really almost a loss of innocence for people like me who can still remember a time before the internet. Like the moment after having sex with someone other than your hand, we gained all of the knowledge and shame from that biblical apple, never to return to the bliss we once had. With that knowledge came great power. And we immediately used that power to ensure that no one would ever be surprised by anything again. There are entire news outlets dedicated to leaking out information well ahead of its intended release – and to what purpose? Companies spend so much money putting something together to get their fanbases riled up, and some dork in accounting leaks it out, ruining all of that hard work. And we, the people, are just as culpable. We scour everything in a counter-intuitive attempt to spoil it all ahead of time.
So, why the hell am I going on about the Medieval times before we could find sex fetishes we never even knew we had until we accidentally stumbled across them looking for oatmeal cookie recipes? Because this leads us back around to E3. What was once the biggest event of the year, full of shock and awe and other overused catchphrases from the Bush administration, has really lost a lot of luster for me. It might be partially from getting older and partially from being at a point in my life where gaming can no longer comprise the brunt of my (increasingly and depressingly limited) free time, but I can name three specific reasons that contribute to the bulk of my sunny, get-off-my-lawn disposition.
The first, obviously, is drowning in constant information. Hell, as it stands we’re still a day away from the start of the conference, and already we’re receiving tips of leaks and rumors from “reliable sources” hellbent on ruining the surprise. “But Wes, you’re part of the staff of a major gaming site, so of course you’re privy to a lot more of that stuff than the average reader. Also, you’re handsome and have great hair and I heard you’re not nearly as bad at sex as some of your former lovers have said.” Well, all of this is true, dear reader, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. That feeling of cynicism has crept in and taken full control over all of my mental reflexes. I’m not even sure I can be surprised any more, because I don’t think it can even happen at this point. It’s tiring, and I just want to feel something again. Anything. Hit me. Hit me as hard as you can.
The second reason is just that: cynicism. I’ve become old and jaded since the frivolous days of yore. I expect not to be surprised, so it kills the fun. I expect a bunch of sequels to games I either haven’t played or have no interest in to be announced, because I’m a shit. I expect a lot of pomp and circumstance to take precedence over actual content, which is a shame. I’m thinking Ubisoft here, trying desperately to meme-ify every single part of their presentation, as opposed to focusing on games (though they did focus quite a bit on Just Dance: White People Edition, which earns a very juicy *fart noise* from me). I guess overall, I’m just at a point where I don’t expect to be wowed. That’s largely on me, sure, but the direction E3 has taken over the years has helped me to get there. Is it too much to ask for Booth Bros to balance out the sordid history of Booth Babes?
But the third reason. The third, my dear friends, is why I’m here today. Almost three years ago on August 12, 2014, Sony took to gamescom (from what I can gather it’s like a European E3, but don’t quote me on that because I have no clue what the hell it actually is) to innocuously announce a new demo. That was pretty much it. Not a ton of glitz behind it. “Here’s a new demo. Go play it. Or not. I don’t care. You’re not my real son anyway, Chad.” We game-obsessed, red-headed step-Chads slowly gravitated toward the strange demo throughout the course of the evening, the word of the spooky, loopy apartment spreading like herpes at a Newsboys concert. By the end of the day, the damned thing was a phenomenon, and the way I looked at gaming conventions had changed forever.
You might know this little-game-that-could as P.T., the playable teaser to what was inevitably discovered to be the newest and most ambitious title in the fabled Silent Hill series. I know it more affectionately as God Damn You Konami Why The Hell Did You Cancel This I Hope You Rot In Hell And Your Dog Runs Away And Gets Found And Adopted By A Nicer Family Arrggghhhhhhhh. But, that’s a story for another time. The cryptic nature of the game – as well as the scares and scenery that made my wife actually retch in disgust (sink-fetus really did her in) – was not only beautiful in design, but completely compelling. You were given so little as far as direction or context, but could discover so much if you were clever and persistent – as gamers were, apparently, because the mystery was promptly solved later that night and posted online. (As an aside, does the fact that the game was almost instantly spoiled, despite the developers allegedly thinking it would take people weeks to figure out the mystery, invalidate my point of spoilers and the like earlier? No. Why not? Because this is my blog, so go eat shit, Terry.)
I don’t want to mince words here: P.T. is one of the most creative and complete experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. It wowed and scared me all at once, and the image of the one-eyed Lisa jumping me as I rounded the corner on my seventh or so traversal through the apartment will haunt me forever. Strong words for a game that only used three buttons, right? Even stronger words for something that wasn’t even a full game, but instead a demo for one. It was special. It was truly unprecedented. And it was something that I will never, ever forget playing.
And now no one will ever fucking play it again.
Through a series of unfortunate events that would leave Lemony Snicket’s top hat spinning in midair above his head (that’s a real person, and he wears a top hat, right?) Silent Hills was summarily canceled less than a year later. While unfortunate as hell, the bigger travesty in the whole ordeal is that Konami torched the demo in the same fire in which Kojima’s legacy at the company burned, pulling the project entirely from the PlayStation Store. You can’t download it, even if you “owned” it to begin with. The only way it survives today is on YouTube videos and those who (unlike me) didn’t upgrade their PS4 in the meantime. Think about this: I strongly considered not getting a new PS4 just so I wouldn’t lose P.T. It legitimately had that big of an impact on me.
I know what you’re thinking. “But Wes, you’ve spent 1,700 words bitching about a demo of a game that wasn’t even announced at E3. You’re sexy and probably smell pretty good and also when are you going to tie this thing together?” I’m glad you asked. Despite being announced at whatever the hell gamescom is, and not actually E3 itself, it still exhibits the problem I have with the idea of massive gaming shows on the whole: They’re selling you entirely on promise. Don’t believe me? Consider the trailers you’ve seen for some of the more famous flops in show history: Aliens: Colonial Marines had an exciting pre-rendered trailer, and we got The WB Dancing Frog Simulator as a final product; No Man’s Sky showed planets of varied and endless life, teeming with color and life, only to deliver a slightly less interesting – but more expensive – trip to the Dayton, OH zoo; and Star Wars 1313 enticed gamers with the promise of playing as a bounty hunter or maybe Jedi or something Star Wars, but rated M, only to be canned when Disney decided they didn’t like games for that five-year span. These are recent examples off the top of my head, but I’m sure you can go back and list dozens more that had a big games conference showing, only to turn out immensely disappointing – if they turn out at all.
While fairly recent, I’d say the announcement and subsequent mania that surrounded P.T. was the last time I felt genuinely excited about a video game. The handling of the whole thing was comparatively small and organic, allowing the gaming community to handle the hype. It was completely out of the blue, with no apparent leaks as to what it could have been coming out before the show. It was also still exciting, so that feeling of cynicism hadn’t totally ruined what fun I could still have. It was a perfect storm.
Still, it was a storm nonetheless. The rain came in. The damaging winds. The death and destruction. The third reason I can’t enjoy E3, or really game announcements in general, is because I can’t get hurt again. I took a pretty big blow when P.T. died like that fetus in the sink (seriously that shit was gruesome), and for my own protection, I can’t let that happen again. I bought into the hype machine. Hard. And the hype machine did what the hype machine always does: it ground me down into the sinewy, meaty, fleshy bits that comprise my incredibly svelte physique, put me right where it wanted me, and spat me out into the sewer, lumps and all, to be fed on like the filthy animal I am. I entered full of hope and whimsy, and left broken and defeated. It was basically like Beyond Thunderdome, except instead of Tina Turner, I was one of those stupid jungle kids from the end. Nobody liked those stupid jungle kids from the end.
With all of that said, where does that leave me? As anyone who knows me or my writing can tell you, I don’t exactly take joy in negativity. It brings me no pleasure to admit to you, dear reader, just how churlish I’ve become toward E3, and games shows on the whole. While I feel justified in my reasoning for how I got here, I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve totally given up hope.
A small part of me still looks forward to E3 and the various gaming conferences, because as we proved just under three years ago, anything can really come along and take you for an unforgettable ride. While we live in an age where legitimate secrets are rarer than contraception at a Justin Bieber concert, we do have rare instances where something comes as a genuine shock. It’s easier to be cynical than it is to just let go and enjoy the ride; and while producers of consumer goods have a responsibility to not oversell or be disingenuous about their products, the onus falls largely on me to temper my expectations when it comes to my interests. Maybe one day I can be like all the cool kids and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year for game announcements, but for now I’ll simply sit back hoping for the best but expecting the worst, wishing I could be forever young.