This is a guest post by Michael Mendis, who has written for Gaming & God in the past. Check out his blog over at The Heartland Gamer and his previous guest posts here. If you are interested in submitting a guest post, feel free to contact me.
Summer has arrived, and that means the hype for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) is in full swing. Every year, video gaming’s biggest conference tantalizes gamers with the promise of amazing new experiences, overloading them with game trailers and marketing jargon. Major companies in the industry make their biggest announcements, revealing new games and hardware in an effort to grab people’s attention and whet their appetite for future products. Yet the result of this incredible advertising blitz is a contradiction: E3 becomes a spectacle that leaves gamers both excited and skeptical about what the future holds for their hobby. How does this come to pass, that an event designed to thrill its audience sometimes has the opposite effect?
The reasons for excitement and optimism about E3 are easy to identify. Perhaps the most obvious reason, of course, is all the new products that get announced and shown off at the event. This is the world’s opportunity to get a peek at the future of the gaming industry: whether you’re seeing the biggest games coming out during the holiday season or the new consoles that will set the pace for the next five or more years, there’s always something for every gamer to get excited about.
Another great reason to watch E3 is that we get to see indie games shine in one of the biggest spotlights that the industry can give them. This is a recent development, too; for a long time, only the biggest and most well-funded companies grabbed any headlines at the event. But the gaming world has taken notice of the unique and creative talent found in the indie scene, and the big dogs want a piece of that action. Console makers receive attention and positive press by letting smaller studios showcase their talent on the big stage; in turn, indie developers benefit from getting a level of exposure that would otherwise be unattainable for them.
Despite all this, however, there are valid reasons for cynicism as well. Over the years, gamers have learned the hard way that what you see of a game at a press conference isn’t necessarily what you’ll get when the game releases. Gameplay features that are shown off at E3 don’t always make it into the final version; other times the graphics take a hit, and the end product doesn’t look as pretty as it did in on stage a year earlier. These discrepancies are a byproduct of the fact that E3 demos are often created outside of the normal process of game development; members of the dev team take time away from creating the actual game in order to make a short, highly polished demo, one that may be more representative of what they hope the game will be like when it is completed, rather than where the game currently stands.
This is, of course, assuming that the game actually makes it to store shelves. But that isn’t always the case. In certain instances, games announced at E3 have been canceled entirely, leaving fans feeling burned and understandably skeptical about future products. How can you get excited about a new game when in the back of your mind you doubt that you’ll ever play it?
The insane amount of marketing that goes into these events also contributes to the cynicism that gamers experience. Gamers have a love/hate relationship with video game marketing; on one hand, they love the anticipation and excitement that comes with new announcements and new gameplay footage. On the other hand, gamers (like many other people) have grown weary of the incessant advertising and commercialism present in modern Western society, and E3 adds yet another heavy dose of just those things. Since E3 is one of the few times of the year that mainstream media outlets are likely to report on the gaming industry (and for reasons other than to debate whether or not gaming is ruining society), companies go to great lengths to catch the attention of a large audience. Famous people from other industries (such as film, television, and professional sports) are trotted out on stage and then promptly disappear from the gaming scene as soon as their five minutes in the spotlight are over. Other tacky attempts to attract attention – such as when Microsoft hired Cirque de Soleil to perform during their 2010 E3 press conference, or when Mr. Caffeine peppered the 2011 Ubisoft conference with cheap, crass humor – may drive a few clicks in the short run, but ultimately leave gamers feeling suspicious: if a company is relying on dumb marketing gimmicks to sell their game, it may be that the game isn’t very good on its own merits.
So, what does one make of E3? Given its contradictory nature as an event that both excites and frustrates its audience, is it worth watching?
The answer lies in an element of the experience that is often overlooked: the opportunity to share it with other people. My strongest memories of E3 aren’t about any of the surprising new announcements or cringe-inducing attempts at humor or sophistication; rather, they’re the chances I’ve had to watch the event with friends, getting excited together about the games that leave us floored, and shaking our heads when the presentations fall flat. Moments like these help us learn about the interests of our fellow gamers and form friendships with them. For the church in particular, this is an opportunity that we can’t afford to pass up; the gaming world is desperately underserved by the church and in need of the gospel. Take some time to share E3 with gamers, either watching it together in person or chatting about the event on social media. It’s a fun and easy way to share Christ’s love and build bridges with the gaming community.