Beneath the commercialism, E3 takes us back
There was a magical moment during this year’s E3 when I finally got it.
It was during Bethesda’s last night conference. Well, late for the east coast, anyway. Though my girlfriend and I were tuning in to learn more about Fallout 76, we started talking about all the first person shooters being shown off during the first half of the show.
“Did you ever play Doom?” She asked during the trailer for Doom Eternal.
“I played the original a million years ago, but not the newest one,” I told her. “I hear that one is really good.”
“I’d love to try it out sometime,” she suggested. I agreed.
That’s when I realized that me, a guy who routinely overstuffs himself with Japanese role playing games on a weekly basis, was considering playing a classic first-person-shooter for the first time in literal years. And not only that, my girlfriend with even more niche tastes in gaming was considering the same.
It was an amazing moment for me, but far from the first time it had ever happened. In fact, before the days of widespread internet news, this moment happened to me all the time.
Classic game magazines expanded my horizons.
Once upon a time, gaming news didn’t appear on your computer the minute it came off the presses. Heck, in the days of dial-up internet, I was happy just to load a text-only walkthrough on GameFAQs. If you wanted gaming news and reviews, your best option was to subscribe to one of the many video games magazines that existed at the time. My magazine of choice was Electronics Gaming Monthly.
For our younger readers, I want to clear something up right away: a new gaming magazine was like having Christmas at the beginning of every month. You had at least 30 days worth of info and reviews to catch up on, and I’d have the best bits skimmed by the end of day 1. By the end of week 1, I’d be done reading a chunk of the reviews and some of the feature articles. By the end of week 2, I’d have the whole thing read cover-to-cover.
And after that, I’d still read it. It didn’t matter if the hottest game of the month was an adventure game, a platformer, or even a sports game. I’d know every detail about every title that was written on those pages.
This created an interesting phenomenon where my interests in games got diverse as heck. I loved every Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game as a teenager, even though I vocally disliked sports games. It was because the reviews I kept reading made the games sound so fun. Once I bought my first Tony Hawk game and overcame its learning curve, I was totally hooked on the series. Up through Tony Hawk’s Underground, I played the every installment to completion.
Nowadays, I’d never look at a game outside my comfort zone like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It’s hard enough to keep up with all the gaming news on the internet, let alone all the non-gaming news and social media posts that fill my life.
Yet as I sat there, actually thinking of playing Doom, I felt that slight nostalgic pang that hits you every now and then. For just a brief moment, I was a preteen looking at Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the latest game of the month.
E3 unites gamers.
In game magazines, E3 was treated like a magical event. The issue prior to the event would tease it to high heavens, and the issue after would always be a “mega-issue” that was about 1.5 times the size of a normal issue. It could take days to chat about all the E3 announcements with your friends.
Though gaming magazines are largely a thing of the past, E3 still remains. But even if our way of enjoying it is different (since we get to actually watch it), it’s still that one vestige of the old days that still endures. Even if all your friends like totally different video games, gathering around to watch the show stays fun all the same. Maybe you aren’t excited about Fox McCloud in Ubisoft’s Starlink, but how wonderful is it to see someone you know freak out at the exact moment of the reveal?
Streaming platforms have unfortunately become synonymous with toxicity, and E3 is certainly no exception. On the other hand, you can’t help but smile seeing a chatbox fill up with “OMG!” and “LET’S GO!!!” after an amazing announcement. It’s rare to get that experience in a world of instantaneous news, and you don’t realize how much you miss it until you’re a part of it.
Sure, perhaps you wouldn’t want to make popcorn to watch new game trailers if they were always being revealed in press conferences every month. But once a year, is it a lot of fun to do just that and maybe laugh at the awkward E3 moments that come along with it? I mean, you can probably guess my answer by now.
It’s okay to enjoy E3 and be skeptical of it.
E3 has gotten a lot of heat in recent years. Games have had misrepresentative trailers, publishers start pushing preorders the moment a trailer goes live, and promised features get wholesale cut or compromised by the time a game is released. With all that in mind, it’s only natural if you don’t buy into the hype as hard as E3 would like you to.
The key is this: it’s okay to be cautiously optimistic. While some pundits advocate for always expecting the worst and hoping to be pleasantly surprised, I say that’s no way to live. Most games announced at E3 aren’t coming out for at least half a year, so it’s okay to get a little excited in the moment. If a game starts looking like a train wreck, you’ll probably know closer to release. But really, fear of disappointment shouldn’t always be a reason to deny yourself something fun. As the late and great Mitch Hedberg would say, you wouldn’t turn away an apple because it’ll eventually be a core.
Gamers are often accused of hopelessly clinging to nostalgia. But in the case of E3, I think its ties to classic gaming media give it plenty of reason to exist on its own merits. Can it get cheesy and cringey? Sure, but that’s just more material to laugh at later. Besides, the unintentionally laughable moments will have us all laughing, which reinforces my point about community even further.
Though some people call E3 Christmas for gamers, perhaps it’s more like Thanksgiving. You’ll see a lot of people you haven’t thought of in a while, and you may not exactly like all of them. But the important thing is that you’re all together to enjoy a wonderful event together. Even if the turkey is overcooked, you’ll find a way to make it memorable all the same.
Also, I can’t wait to finally play Doom.