Some Thoughts on E3

The Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2014 both excited and deeply unsettled me. Mostly the unsettled part.


I watched most of E3. I sat in my living room and digested the press conferences, watching as trailer after trailer popped up on the screen depicting people maiming, shooting, and stabbing each other.

I used to get really jazzed about E3. I never watched it on G4 or Spike, but I’d always scour the internet for streams of the show, just to see what the big wigs were up to. Usually, there were five or six games that I could definitively say I wanted, that I’d point to and say, “Hell yeah!” And then I’d mull over what news came out, which console stacked up nicely and which console didn't seem to have much hope. Not this time.

And yet, I wasn't even surprised when I felt this way. I couldn't even get mad at what was being presented because somehow I knew it wasn't going to be all that. And I've been digesting why ever since.

Unsurprisingly, there was barely any differentiation between protagonists. But that’s not quite the issue.

First of all, if you told me years ago that one day, I’d get tired of white, male protagonists with obligatory five-o’-clock shadows, I’d say, “I already am.” I've always looked to the indie industry for that kind of representation in games, because it’s almost always more meaningful and done in a much more tasteful way. You almost never see anything but overly-sexualized female protagonists, and even when they do have character or agency, it’s often over-shadowed by the trauma they had to experience to get there. Not to mention the lack of any real representation of people of color, non-binary folks, etc.

Granted, some companies do make the effort, and that’s wonderful! We need more of that. But, we also need to get out of this bubble that we've trapped ourselves in that suggests that only narratively driven games have access to that kind of expression. If my game is an action game, we can’t be saying anything about representation, because that’s out of our jurisdiction.

“People don’t like politics in games,” they suggest, while putting a task force of policemen armed to the teeth to face off against non-existent criminal masterminds. It’s a double-standard, and it’s one that came out especially in this year’s E3.

After hearing about the comments that Ubisoft recently made about the new Assassin’s Creed and why they decided against giving players the option to choose gender in multiplayer sessions, I laid my head in my hands and whispered, “This. This is why.” They continued to back up their decisions with tepid excuses like, “It would have doubled our workload,” and, “We didn't allocate the funds in that direction.”

Okay, I get it. After a game is almost ready for release, it might be difficult to go back in and add something that could change the way a story is played out. There’s a lot of issues there, sure. And you wouldn't want to rush it, that makes sense. But, when you’re developing a game and nobody even mentions the fact that we don’t have any female representation in the game, you've got a problem that reaches far beyond funding and work-loads.

Last I checked, cloaks aren't gendered articles of clothing.

Second, the trailers. Holy shit there were a lot of trailers. Barely any numbers were tossed out, actually. Just trailer, after trailer, after trailer. Normally, that’d be pretty cool; except they were all cinematic ones.

Guys. We’re not paying to watch cinematic masterpieces, we’re paying to play your game. MGS gets a pass because, hey, that’s kind of the whole point of Metal Gear games, but almost every single trailer I saw at E3 was a pre-rendered string of bland dialogue and gratuitous violence. But, y’know, after the fifth one? Not really interesting anymore.

These are supposed to be video games, and I think we’re beginning to forget what makes up our games. No one buys Call of Duty for the awesome cinematic sequences; they buy it because it’s a solid shooter with tight controls and lots of replay value. There’s a reason why trailers exist, and its for people to get psyched to play the game. Remember Watch_Dogs? Remember how the thing that got people jazzed to play that game was simply showcasing the hacking mechanics?

And yet, once people were really excited about that stuff, they went in the complete opposite direction upon release! Sure, the hacking mechanics were there, but most of the game was just a mish-mash of a mediocre batman plotline and overly repetitive GTA misions. The hype for that game probably made the developers go the safe route again, since they had already given the crowd something new and interesting. The crowd wasn't excited for a GTA clone, but that’s what they mistook it for. And look what happened.

There’s that old adage that goes something like, “There’s beauty in simplicity.” Take that to heart. If your game can stand out on its own, don’t stifle that with shooter mechanics and a gritty CGI trailer. Just show us the damn game, already.

BOOOOOOORRRING~!

Third, shooters. Oh my gosh, there are way too many shooters. Like, so many shooters. Why are there so many shooters? Who the fuck keeps greenlighting all of these shooters?

The fact that the AAA-industry is saturated with shooters is disturbing, especially considering the climbing rates of shootings in America right now. I’m not one of those whistle-blower conspiracy theorists who blame games for this, but we also aren't saying anything to help stop it.

Sure, violent games don’t promote violence necessarily. But, they are complacent in allowing it as a source of entertainment. I've never been more aware of just how many bland shooters there are in the industry than when I watched this conference. I don’t want to condemn these, but seriously, if 80% of your line-up is shooters? Nobody is going to pay attention to half of them. I don’t care what kind of mechanics you've shoehorned into your game or how “atmospheric” it is. You've done this same song-and-dance twelve times already, and we want something new.

It’s a small wonder why Nintendo made out well this year. They showed a single shooter in their entire conference, and guess what? It was colorful, and interesting, and actually had tight gameplay instead of gimmicks. The reason why people are talking more about Splatoon than Battlefield: Hardline is because it’s inherently more interesting.

And that’s not even taking into account Nintendo’s diverse line-up! They showed a clone of Dynasty Warriors, and even that was more interesting than Dead Island 2. There’s not just a trend here, people; there’s a massive neon sign pointing down that says, “Take the hint, guys!”

Hell, it might not do well in stores, but it’s much more interesting than Shoot-em 4: The Redux.

And lastly, stop promising games you cannot bring. It’s that simple. EA’s entire line-up consisted of games in development, and if there’s any sure thing about games in development, it is that they are completely and utterly subservient to their publisher’s whims. There is nothing set about these games, and rushing them out the door doesn't help anyone. Remember Mass Effect 3? Y’know why it was bad, EA? Can anyone tell me why ME3 was bad, guys?

Not much more to say. Stop doing it. Unless you can give a solid gameplay trailer with actual info about the game, getting us hyped over absolutely nothing isn't going to help you sell your products. It will simply make us mad at you when things don’t go the way you said they would.

I don’t normally even care about what the industry does, but this is important. It’s not something we can just ignore anymore. The AAA-industry is literally making money hand-over-fist with barely any creativity or innovation, and that’s really bad. Normally, I’d just look to indies to save our souls, but since way more people play these games, we have to do something about all of this misrepresentation, blatant violence, corporate excuses, and shooters!

Phew!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go marvel at Smash Bros. and Zelda pictures and pray that I have enough money for that Wii U.