I’ve watched a few presentations from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo over the last few nights, mainly out of idle curiosity. Overall, it’s all broadly been what I expected. This is not your run of the mill promotion and advertising. No sir. This is targeted marketing, delivered with all the vigour and verve of “old time religion”, preached by a “fire and brimstone” minister to the faithful. It’s a curious symbiotic relationship between awkward, forty something tech guys as they stand on stage and strive to remember their media training and an audience of fundamentalist gamers who are there to whoop and clap on cue. Information about forthcoming games is not merely imparted but presented as gospel or the party manifesto. I’ll stop there with the religious and political analogies but they come very easily because that’s what E3 reminds me of; a church congregation or a political rally. And when you consider that we now live in an age of “feelings” rather than “thought”, it’s easy to see why enthusiasm for new products has been replaced by an eagerness to climb aboard the hype train and ride all the way to the “promised land”.
E3 follows a clearly established pattern and certainly this year’s show has ticked all the usual boxes. I will now put aside hyperbole and try and articulate what concerns me about this situation. The triple A video game industry has had a very tumultuous relationship with both the gaming press and its core customers in recent years. Early access, broken games, egregious monetisation and a general lack of ethics are just some of the iniquities that are prevalent. Then there’s the broken relationship with the media, “influencers” and a need to “control the message”. And let us not forget that some companies have a track record of institutionalised bullying, sexism, crunch culture and general “douchebaggery”. So I find it somewhat contradictory that such companies have the unmitigated gall to stand on a stage and make out that they’re gamer’s best friend. The very companies that have patented algorithms for trying to squeeze every possible penny from their core customers. It’s also weird that the people who have been burned by such business practises, develop temporary amnesia for the entire duration of E3 and happily participate in this charade.
There is a lot of truth in the old adage that politicians are only as good or bad as we allow them to be. We are now seeing a similar race to the bottom spill out of government and become de rigueur in business culture. So unless we call out the video game industry loudly and clearly whenever it lies, acts unethically, abuses customers good will and doggedly perpetuates “bro culture”, we as gamers are just facilitating the ongoing decline of very thing we allegedly love. As for this year’s E3 presentations, sure there do appear to be some good titles coming our way, but if you have a functioning intellect, you’d be well advised to take it all with a pinch of salt. Bear in mind previous games that were much lauded when announced, that subsequently failed to live up to expectations upon release. Do you really want to pay up front purely on the strength of a promise, from “an old liar with honey on his forked tongue”? If gamers truly want the industry to change then they need to stop enabling its failings and encouraging its excesses. Otherwise we are doomed to endure more hysterical, hyperbolic presentations such as those we’ve seen this week.