One week ago today, I staggered onto a Southwest flight headed to Oakland, having just spent a grueling week in LA covering the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo. I took a seat near the back, along the aisle, because I was sick and hung over and felt a star-flecked stumble to the bathroom could be in my future.
As the time until takeoff approached zero, the seat between me and a taciturn old man remained empty, and I thought to myself, "Wow, I'm actually going to catch a break. Please, 47 sweet sweet airborne minutes of serenity, come to me!" Serenity is an uncooperative jerk, as we all know, and what came instead was a 20-year-old socialite, who plunked down next to me, managing in the process to splay her bag across my lap.
As the few final minutes before takeoff ticked away, she phoned a friend, and I listened in as she explained how infuriating it was to be heading up to Napa Valley for the weekend with a friend. Just one friend, I should emphasize. Others who had promised to also come up had unexpectedly backed out, leaving her and this mysterious loathsome creature alone to share a big empty house in Napa. If she'd known in advance, she wouldn't have bothered with Napa…
A flight attendant walked by and asked the socialite to power down her phone. She smiled her reply, "Of course I will, dear."
…she'd have just gone to New York or Chicago. In the end, though, it was probably for the best, because it would have ruined her diet to hang out with a certain gentleman caller who doubled as an excellent chef. At 5' 5" and what the hell do I know, say, 120 pounds, she was on a diet. I'm not making this up; these words actually came out of her mouth.
As the plane began to roll, she ended her call and noticed for the first time that her gaudy-yet-somehow-fashionable sack of a purse covered basically all of my left leg. Another plaintive smile. "Sorry, of course I'm sorry," she said, and indicated that an "Oh, no big deal" wouldn't be necessary on my part by flipping open a copy of US Weekly.
As I sat and brooded and thought to myself, "Holy Jesus, this chick needs to live life for a day on a journalist's salary," I realized that her affluence and condescending politeness reminded me of E3 and the neurotically narcissistic gaming companies that populated it.
Truth be told, my E3 experience consisted of little more than sitting in a Plexiglas cage, being photographed like an animal while pouring over press releases and media briefing videos. I played, literally, a single game while down there: Dynasty Warriors on the PlayStation Vita. My exclusive hands-on impressions: Arthritics need not apply. Kind of fun. 7 point 0.
Toward the end of the show, when my options were to either write about Konami's BurgerTime World Tour or take a stand against muscular atrophy, I chose the latter. (Fine, I technically did both. Now would you please just be quiet and listen to my story?)
I won't attempt to describe what I saw from within the booths when you all would be better served by watching our video team's extensive booth-tour coverage. However, I will talk about the spaces in between the booths. Corridors, I should say. Canyons, perhaps. Vast and mighty crevices. No, no, crevasses! OK, I'll stop. (Coulees!!)
As you all may have noticed, publishers erected massive structures to house the games they brought to E3, and winding through the LA Convention Center's West and South halls made me feel more than anything else like a rat after cheese. Uncurdled cheese, at that, because while these games were largely in an advanced stage of development, they were anything but done.
But we wouldn't understand that an in-development product isn't the same as a shipped and purchased product. Of course we wouldn't. How could we? We are but silly, silly peons.
So we have these walled gardens, where the assembled media and various industry persons are funneled into highly controlled environments. Play sessions are closely monitored by a PR representative or member of the development team, who offers useful tips such as, "The X button attacks." They assure us that the eight minutes of available play time is but a segment of the full game.
Or, for the particularly apprehensive, we're offered a chair so as to watch a professional play the game, a professional who evidently can't stop oohing and aahing at scenes he's already demoed 100 times in two days.
Also, we are repeatedly informed that all instances of jank will be unjanked by the ship date. It's all quite exhausting, which is probably why I opted to play one of the few games that are beautifully unapologetic about their jank. That, and it was the only way to touch a PS Vita without having to queue up in a turnstile.
I've come to see E3 not so much as a proving ground for the year's latest and greatest, but more as an obligatory and unwanted parting of the curtain. The show lays bear the fear and anxiety that rules the industry's business-minded sect, and their reaction is to throw up a front of superficial perfection, in vain, instead of embracing the deliciously ugly creative process.
However, publishers realize that they'll raise more eyebrows by not showing up. There is an expectation for them to be there, and they can't just flee to some other city, to carouse on safer streets. So to regain some semblance of control, they resort to monolithic structures, glossy smiles, and questionably helpful guidance.
Last week being my fifth E3, it seems entirely possible that I'm just jaded on the whole experience. But perhaps it isn't entirely unreasonable to want a genuine look at how a game is progressing instead of being saturated by what E3 has largely become: a deer-in-the-headlights marketing bonanza.