One Very Odd Circus Of Video Games

They call it E3, which isn't that cool a name. Absurdly, you may have also heard, that E3 is Video Games, or what (some/most) of the big, rich companies in the gaming industry would have you believe is Video Games.

That's kind of right.

Each June (sometimes July), the ESA does this E3 thing.

The people who put it on, the ESA, represent the gaming industry. They represent them in the Supreme Court, where, last year, their lawyers tried to convince nine justices that California shouldn't make selling really violent video games to kids a crime. (They're still waiting for an answer from the Supremes.)

The E3 show, therefore, is supposed to represent The Games Industry, though one gussied up and pinned with pop-stars to really prove to television cameras that video games are a huge deal. Hulk Hogan shows up to these things. Any sign of Angry Birds doesn't.

There is a land where Facebook games don't exist and iPhone games are a rarity.

E3's weird. It gets criticised for being too full of first-person-shooters, for being too full of sequels, too full of unoriginal ideas, a paean to safe profits and creative bankruptcy. But those critics either aren't looking beyond the gun barrels or are too embarrassed to admit they played with the Kiss Controller.

The show is - and was, this year - full of magnificent lunacy, a phrase that I believe sums up the game industry and makes it so much fun to cover and enjoy.

Yes, E3 reminds us with just a glance at its badge-holders - the things that wring every attendee's neck - that the video game industry is tawdry. The sexed-up block-pushing game Catherine... no need to finish this sentence. There is a block-pushing game coming out and it's sexy. That's the video game industry. (Note that the game isn't a first-person shooter).

Stop at the right corner and you run into a hard-working p.r. man, carrying his company's biggest new games, one under each arm.

Stop at the wrong corner and you're face-to-something with a guy who swears he's dressed as Ms Pac-Man.

If you watch the Oscars, you see a movie industry that tries to acknowledge its pop and indie branches, that gives an award to the best director and to the best foreign-language film, throws a bone to the best cartoon and even shows a montage of great people who died. That's a big tent they've got there. E3, born as a shown intended for the selling of future games is a shade less-inclusive. The people who made FarmVille don't show up, for example. Hell, they're not even a member of the collective of publishers who help this thing get put on.

The omissions are as interesting as the inclusions at E3. Surely, the game industry gets credit for letting the folks at Indiecade have a booth and then letting the guy who made Deep Sea freak showgoers out by putting reporters (like me, picture here), in a mask that blocks all light, creates the sensation that you're underwater and then, without visuals expects you to calm your breathing - so as not to excite the bubbles - and battle an undersea monster. Its creator remarked that, without any visuals to see, we make our own graphics. He's right. Deep Sea for Best Graphics of Show. Try it if it comes to a city near you.

Deep Sea, a little indie project, is in at E3. Big new Metal Gears, Castlevanias or even the artsy-person's Most Anticipated PlayStation 3 game, The Last Guardian are not. Perhaps it's because they weren't ready or because they're made in Japan, a country whose own version of E3, Tokyo Game Show, has been fading in excitement and relevance and sure could use some high-profile games to show fresh. (TGS is open to the public; E3 is only open to working folks, despite anything you've seen on YouTube).

You can have things at E3 without them being at E3, which is that magnificent lunacy again. Take the Wii U, a brand-new console with a wild new controller. It was the co-biggest thing at E3, but who got a good look at the console itself? Mostly just the people who got into a Nintendo private meeting room and snapped a pic. There were very few of us who did that.

No matter. E3 is the place where you can play video games from the trunk of a car.

E3 is a place where the women in the foreground have been paid to sexily promote a Jimmy Buffet video game. (Margaritaville, the last syllable there being one of the few hints about what's really popular in video games these days). And E3 is a place where the woman in the background, wearing a fox's tail, is photographed while testing the full-body-motion-controlled UFC personal fitness game for Microsoft Kinect.

E3 is more circus than horror show. It's a place you must attend ready to laugh. This is video games, the un-ironic M-rated signals next to the display of some game (I think it was The Witcher 2 outside one of the expo's main halls. Oh, yes, thank goodness the sign warned us we were in the presence of a game for the grown-ups.

This is video games, the pre-E3 party at a bar that included this red-lit shaft decorated to promote Gears of War 3 told us. (Ice-T played that party, reuniting his band for the sake of a video game that he will guest-star in - the first time a band reunited for a major video game, perhaps?).

The stereotypical coverage of E3 involves some ogling of giant monitors playing Call of Duty trailers, maybe some shout-interviews with evenly distributed representatives of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo products. Drop in a mention of several thousand this and a billion bucks of that. Look at all the kooky people, the smelly slobs, the nerds, the 100:1 male-female ratio (10:1 if you count people paid to be there).

I can't hate E3 because I see E3 as I see the video game industry: it's a bit of a nuthouse. It makes half-sense, wilfully ignoring everything that is popular and wonderful about video games, but certainly not ignoring all of it or even most of it. It's magnificent lunacy. At least, it was this year.

I hope it will be next year, too.


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