JUNE! I bloody love JUNE! It’s the time of the year I get to try to explain to a sea of disinterested faces just how amazing video games are. I spend a lot of my time doing this anyway, but in June there’s so much to talk about I have to do it a little bit quicker to make sure that my audience doesn’t frantically jam a biro down their ear canal just to get the noise to stop.
Because JUNE! is E3 month. If you’ve spent any length of time with me or with one of my fellow apostles (you can tell us apart from normal people because we occasionally take annual leave for no apparent reason; hint, it’s because we want to spend the day peeking through the letterbox waiting for the postman to deliver a video game) you’ve probably heard of E3. It’s the biggest annual event in gaming when all your Nintendos, Sonys and Microsofts get their mates in and jump around on stage to show off what they’ve been working on. In your head you’re probably imagining something like an episode of Justin’s House, and you’re not a million miles away from the truth. But E3 is so much more than this and deserves to be enjoyed by more than just the people you speak to when you don’t know how to work your phone.
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 to give it its totally radical, nineties-style abbreviation, doesn’t really have an equivalent in other forms of entertainment. It’s sort of like a cross between The Oscars, Glastonbury and the World Cup, except instead of being fronted by towering icons of sport, music and the silver screen it’s hosted by someone who looks like they’ve come to sell you refurbished ink cartridges.
Because what was always meant to be (and still essentially is) a trade only event now has an audience streaming straight into their living rooms. What was designed to be a closed door, week long wankathon between the gaming press and the industry bigwigs, is now the annual focal point for a huge, global community. The end result is a vast, mishmash of a show that doesn’t quite know if it’s trying to impress the stakeholders, the journalists or the public, but it’s pretty sure that a fifty year old businessman in a blazer with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, awkwardly stuttering through an hour long presentation of lasers and dubstep is the way to go about it.
It’s a beautiful mess and even when the announcements are shit, which they very often are, it’s still incredibly entertaining. For one, you get to see a procession of successful suits having to give one of the most nerve-wracking presentations imaginable. It was probably stressful enough in the olden days when all they had to do was put down the caviar spoon and goblet of employee tears to speak to a room of scabby, sweaty press. But now they have to do so in the knowledge that thousands of pairs of eyes are scanning every microsecond of their performance for meme material. One misplaced comma, one technical hitch, one over enthusiastic and misguided attempt to appear like a trendy uncle, and you can safely assume that the full force of the internet is laughing and pointing at you like a version of the disembodied hand from the old Lottery adverts driven mad by schadenfreude.
Feeling superior to people objectively better than you is only one piece of the puzzle and is probably why Nintendo stopped doing a traditional presentation a couple of years ago. Yes, after a few years of some truly terrible performances, everyone’s cuddliest corporation now releases a slicky made video towards the end of the event. Where this would appear to dramatically reduce the lol potential (and granted, we’re unlikely to ever see anything along the lines of the Wii Music reveal again which looked like an impromptu busking session by a religious cult of cranial injury survivors) what we do get is often so bizarre it’s like an episode of Live and Kicking directed by David Lynch.
Last years saw chief executive Satoru Iwata reimagined as one of Jim Henson’s muppets proudly holding a bunch of bananas. The year before they had Iwata square up against his American counterpart in a fight that was seemingly inspired by the video to Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. On one hand they are obviously attempting to head off the gif generators and dictate the jokes on their own terms. On the other hand they’re redefining WTF.
The more faceless companies who are yet to try and turn the highest echelons of their management structure into children’s entertainers, occasionally wheel out a big name to try and give their moment in the spotlight a bit of je ne sais qua and this is always a terrible idea. Paul McCartney once took time out from his busy schedule of following the Queen around and forcing crowds to sing Hey Jude whenever she stopped for five minutes to promote Rock Band. As you can imagine, the personification of the colour beige didn’t exactly manage to put across his magnetic personality and stopped just short of going DEFCON 4 and whipping out the na-na na nas.
Last year when faced with the enviable task of trying to get people excited by progress they’ve made in capturing Jordan Henderson’s face, poor old EA wheeled out Pele to promote Fifa. To the surprise of no one, a 75 year old viagra salesman wasn’t exactly best placed to big up a video game and his painfully protracted interview lasted approximately a trillion, billion years until it was thankfully ended by the heat death of the universe.
Most attention is normally directed to the Sony and Microsoft conferences and we’re normally presented with a ‘winner’ (although a few years back their showing was so unfathomably poor that Ubisoft managed to win by unveiling Watch Dogs; a game that manages to make The Silence from Doctor Who a reality, insofar that you forget the game exists the instant you look away from it).
This rivalry hits its peak during new console reveals and the PS4’s success is largely credited to the manner in which Sony looked at the Xbox reveal and did the exact opposite like a live action production of Brewster’s Millions. If you want to gaze into the eyes of the embodiment of awkwardness, look up the video of Phil Spencer (nope, not that one) revealing the One’s launch price; an announcement that even a room full of Americans couldn’t quite muster the enthusiasm to borishly whoop about.
In something that only made the blindest bit of sense at the time, the biggest borish whoop that year was when Sony announced that the PS4 would play used games. Microsoft had managed to paint themselves as such a bunch of evil bastards, that all Sony had to do was pop on stage and proudly proclaim “NOTHING IS CHANGING” and everyone went bananas. What other treats could they have up their sleeves I wonder? PlayStations powered by electricity? Each machine to come packaged with a wire that allows you to display images on your television? We are proud to reveal that in 2017 the Earth will continue to orbit the sun and rotate upon its axis?
Sony have had their fair share of clusterfucks of course and just as their recent success can be credited to that glorious day when they did naff all, the PS3’s relative failure can be seen as a result of years of disastrous E3s; including one memorable year when they did a bit about giant crabs. I feel I should point out that I’m not writing this while high; this genuinely did happen. I mean, hats off to them, they were some fuck off huge crustaceans, but I’m one of those traditionalists that doesn’t factor in the size of the sea life when purchasing my electronics.
Last years E3 is generally considered one of the best, and by that I obviously mean worst, because everyone put on a fairly decent show and there was less to point and laugh about. Nintendo’s vid was a bit wonky and Ubisoft and EA had shows that were as entertaining as the film about picking up boxes they make you watch when you when you start a new job, but actual fuck ups were few and far between.
Microsoft had a couple of blinding announcements as they desperately tried to convince the world that Jekyll was back for good and Hyde was buried deep within their gut, honestly he’s gone for goooaaaaAAAAARGH MWAH HA HA HA, cough cough, sorry about that, he’s definitely gone, honest. And Sony stopped just short of confirming the existence of Father Christmas by announcing three games that most of us were convinced would never happen; The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III. The best thing about these games is that normal people have never heard of them so trying to describe their significance is like trying to explain Memento to a swan. But rest assured that before last year their existence was the kind of thing that a wandering minstrel might strum his lute about. We were all very excited.
E3 then is either brilliant or awful, but even when it’s awful it’s brilliant, so if you have ever picked up a pad you owe it to yourself to get it down yer. I for one can’t wait until my kids are old enough to stay up and watch it with me so that they resent me for it and pick a new hobby like cricket or decoupage instead. JUNE!