Adolescent fantasy is the strongest motivating factor in our entire lives. The fevered dreams we concoct during that magical age without limit, rational thinking, or sexual restraint haunt the rest of our lives. We settle for less, fearing to lose what we have. You probably did the same – thought “how cool would it be,” only to later find out that the Power Rangers don’t actually exist, and if they did they probably wouldn’t hold open tryouts. One of my many pubescent dreams involved attending E3. Receiving my confirmation to attend this year’s conference was thrilling, but I had to carefully manage my expectations at that point lest my irrational and unrealistic fantasies sour the experience.
A bunch of sweaty nerds packed together in one building – who wouldn’t want that?
Because of this, I can’t say that E3 wasn’t what I expected; I made sure to not expect anything. It was, however, an unpredictable experience. Hindsight being what it is, it’s now obvious to me why my experience was what it was. The crux of it all is this: journalists go to E3 to work, not to play. Ironically enough, the lucky few that can make a living off of game writing have turned play into work, but that’s beside the point. Obligating yourself to the needs of your publication, and thus to the wants and desires of its readership, changes the E3 experience in a number of ways that one’s inner teenager may not expect.
Oddly enough, at E3 I didn’t play that many games. After returning home and checking over my notes, I only dealt with fifteen games or so – half of which I just saw a demo for and never actually got to play. Most of these demos were impersonal; hurried and well-rehearsed presentations to a room of 20-30 writers with a hurried Q&A following. I understand why this happens; companies want as much exposure as possible. Additionally, writers can be brutally misunderstanding when it comes to unfinished products. Rather than risk a journalist finding a bug or glitch in a beta demo and proclaiming the product “buggy” despite not being finished, they’d rather show them a controlled and practiced demonstration. It makes sense – hell, I’d do that in their situation. That being said, E3 is not a place to play the fall’s hottest games before they come out.
That’s only with appointments, however. There are tons of games out on the expo hall floor, waiting for anyone to walk up and play (after waiting in line). Only problem is – if you attend E3 under the auspices of a website or magazine, you’ll have almost no time to schlep around the show floor. Journalism involves a lot of mutual back-scratching. If you want to get coverage of certain games from any one publisher, you have to return the favor by covering the rest of that publisher’s catalogue. The same goes with PR firms that represent several publishers; to get an appointment with Publisher A, you need to meet with Publisher B and C. Don’t take this to mean that we change how we cover things, just what we cover (though don’t kid yourself, several websites put out favorable reviews to earn brownie points).
Pictured: a thoroughly uncomfortable man
This means that for every Blur or Assassin’s Creed II we see, we’ve got to put in dues elsewhere. I’m not saying these other games aren’t worth our time – for instance I played a game based on The Secret Saturdays that was very fun – just that schedules fill up fast. Any given day affords about thirty minutes on the show floor after meetings and the need to eat. What limited time I got at E3 to actually play games, I generally spent it on titles that I wasn’t personally interested in.
So while E3 wasn’t the place where I could play all the hottest games – or necessarily even play the games I wanted to – one aspect of my teenage fantasy came absolutely true. Everyone at E3 is a gamer in some form or another. On the shuttle ride from the airport to the hotel, at the hotel, on the show floor, in every meeting room, hell – even on the plane ride back home I could start a random conversation with anyone and always learn something interesting. Being in a community, however temporary, of gamers provides an amazing feeling of belonging.
E3 isn’t the place where you can play any game you want. It’s not the place where the greatest games are laid at your feet, designers and developers eagerly awaiting your opinion. It’s certainly not the place where you’ll rub elbows with Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima (though you will probably see them walking around). E3 isn’t a magical valley with unicorns and pixies dancing around while Peter and the Wolf lilts on the air. It’s a gaming conference, and people go there with agendas that far outweigh how much you really want to play DJ Hero. I learned a lot about the conference and its place in the industry this year – which is far more valuable than playing any game a few months before release.