E3 2015 isn’t total shit caked with more shit. The cynical games press almost don’t know how to deal.
As soon as the last of the big E3 conferences ends, the op-eds and think pieces roll out. Who “won” E3? we ask, rhetorically, before giving one of several well-worn answers. The available options include gems like “[Company X] smashed it to pieces”, “[Company X] won by default because everybody else sucked” and “Everybody lost and the industry is doomed”.
This last one was quite popular for several years running around the turn of the decade when all the money seemed to run suddenly out of triple-A development due to financial crises and the ballooning costs of development. Publishers began trying to double down on predictable hits, medium-scale development pretty much vanished, and all the experimental money in the mainstream industry was being poured into mobile, social and free-to-play, with mixed results. Profit lines wavered, jobs were lost, and we all looked nervously over our shoulders at the looming spectre of E.T.
It was a grim time, and I feared for my future, but I also really enjoyed good old “everybody lost”: it was incredibly easy to write. Anybody can watch an E3 livestream and make hilarious cynical comments (which is why Twitter becomes entirely useless for a week in June every year). Watch me go: Square Enix is a doddering dinosaur that spends so much time hunting for its spectacles between pieces that the audience has fallen asleep by the time it has sorted out its cards. Bam. Bring on the hits. (Soz Squeenix, love you really.)
It’s not really that much harder to take the opposite tactic and go for “everybody wins”. Who won E3? Gamers won! Because of all this amazing content! It’s raining games about things blowing up and also games about having feelings! All you have to do is list all the highlights and round it off with a suitably cute analogy or pithy – yet inspiring – quotable.
That sort of thing really gets up my nostrils, because I am incapable of enjoying anything authentically. And yet here we are at the end and I am so shellshocked and bewildered that I can’t formulate any opinion beyond what a time to be alive and video games are amazing. This is quite embarrassing and I am probably going to have to hand my lifetime membership card back to the Cynics Club.
Like most games press I regularly go through bouts of estrangement from games. Everyone I know who works in this job does. I don’t know whether it’s over-saturation, the disenchantment that results from peeking behind the curtain, or just the persistent fashion for being a miserable bastard, but we all get in this state where we’ve just had enough. All the games look the same: burly man runs around shooting things, occasionally pausing to press X near a lever. Usually there’s something on fire. Sometimes he has a sword instead of a gun.
You can’t be bothered. You’d rather read a book or work in the garden. Games are creatively bankrupt money making exercises and everyone who likes them is an idiot. You should have done your homework and gone to law school and become a human rights advocate, and then you could buy a bigger house and also not feel like a parasitical by-product of the worst excesses of exploitive capitalism. The most time you spend gaming is with something like Tiny Tower while you avoid putting a disc in the tray or opening Steam.
In my case, these periods tend to get especially bad just as we come up on E3. June is when winter really kicks off in Australia, and nothing winds seasonal affective disorder up a notch like starting work before the sun comes up, sitting at a desk for 16 hours, then going straight to bed to suffer monitor-burn insomnia. E3, where all the gross business wheelings and dealings happen behind closed doors, where the most interesting and bold efforts in the world of games don’t even get a look in and where people scream and cheer and go nuts over annualised sequels, drives me mental – or certainly nudges me further down a path I’m generally already tottering along.
In short: E3 is, for me, the time of year when I am most likely to want to give over video games writing forever and do literally anything else, up to and including just sitting quietly in the shower cubicle with my friends the slugs until the debt collectors discover my slimy, half-digested corpse.
“It’s been a really good E3 very devoid of the usual corporate ennui which besets me every year. Maybe games… are…. are fun? I don’t know, I need to play some.” — One of my games press BFFs, bewildered by E3 2015.
But: this year things are different. I’m at a much better station on the delightful round trip train journey of annual depression, which certainly helps, but have you noticed that this year the mainstream games industry isn’t creatively bankrupt? It’s still a soulless money making machine, obviously, as pretty much everything is. But it’s a soulless money making machine which is enabling and building audiences for transformative, beautiful, explorative experiences along with old fashioned mainstream gaming fun – which is itself once more spreading out and becoming less dully homogenous.
This is the bit where, as discussed above, I’m supposed to list all the highlights – the new triple-A IPs, the heart-cracking indies, the risk-taking, the glorious sight of money seemingly flowing in to E3 rather than slowly bleeding out – before winding up with an adorably pat conclusion.
Looking back over the show so far, I was very tempted to give it a go. But it’s unnecessary – if you’re reading this, you were almost certainly there with me. You saw it. You saw the growth, the proliferation and the diversification; you saw the smiles and the cheers. You saw a future for an industry with more creative, emotive and communicative potential – and bloody explosions! – than any entertainment medium that has come before it. You saw the very heart of video games, for better or worse, beating on unbroken and unbowed.